Hoping to curtail city budget cuts that could cost their jobs and slash service to the public, Queens Library staffers demonstrated at the Central Library in Jamaica last Friday evening.
Several dozen librarians and clerks from branches across the borough turned out to picket at the library’s front entrance on Merrick Boulevard.
Some held signs that decried the library’s management, while others shouted “No Layoffs” and marched in a circle.
All of them were angry at the library’s decision to eliminate jobs, either through attrition or layoffs, beginning July 1st.
“We want to stop the layoffs, and let people know that this place could have been better run,” said John Hyslop, who has been a librarian for six years.
Last week, the Queens Chronicle was the first to report that the Queens Library system was planning to drastically reduce services and cut nearly 10 percent of its staff in response to city budget cuts.
Beginning May 5th, 50 of the Queens Library’s 63 locations will be closed on the weekends. The hours of operation at the 50 branches will also be trimmed to thirty hours a week, with only one evening and one morning day of service.
Then in July, the library will reduce 144 full-time positions if the city approves a budget plan drafted by Mayor Bloomberg. The library currently employs 1,025 full-time and 500 part-time staffers.
The layoffs and cutbacks were unavoidable because Bloomberg and the City Council have slashed the library’s funding by 18 percent since the September 11th attacks, according to library director Gary Strong. Some youth and summer programs have already been terminated, while book budgets have been severely reduced.
But demonstrators last Friday raised questions about the severity of the job cuts compared with other local library systems.
The Queens Library has a smaller budget and fewer staff than the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries, but accounts for 47 percent of the proposed layoffs.
The New York Public Library system, which serves Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, plans to eliminate 110 jobs, while Brooklyn will lay off or attrit 50.
Jane Jacobs, who has worked for the Queens Library for 13 years, said that the administration could avoid the layoffs by ending contracts with outside companies and freezing management salaries.
“A lot the people who are going to be laid off are trainees,” Jacobs cautioned. “They have been here for a few years, and are working two jobs between work and school. They are giving their all for the library.”
Mike Wong, a librarian for three years, said that the reduced ranks will also leave a service gap that other staffers would have to fill. “The work load will be higher, and the reduced hours at the other branches will not be great for the customers,” Wong said.
Library spokesman Joseph Catrambone said the layoffs would hit every department in the library, including back-office and clerical staff.
A spokesman for City Council Speaker Gifford Miller did not return calls for comment before press time, though Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) last week was not optimistic about avoiding the cuts.
“It’s a tight budget time. We are committed to not raising real property taxes again, so a lot of it depends on what happens in Albany and Washington,” Weprin said.
Mayor Bloomberg is expected to unveil his budget plan to the public next week.