The Queens Library plans to drastically reduce service and slash its workforce by nearly 10 percent in the coming weeks, according to library officials.
The cuts, which are deeper in Queens than in any other borough, are the latest round of reductions at the library, which has lost 17 percent of its funding since September 11th.
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.
That leaves 13 branches open on Saturdays: Bayside, Broadway, Elmhurst, Far Rockaway, Flushing, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Jackson Heights, Laurelton, Lefferts, Queens Village, Ridgewood and the Central Library in Jamaica.
The Central Library, Jackson Heights and Flushing branches will also be open on Sundays through May 18th, when the libraries traditionally end Sunday service for the summer.
At the same time, the library plans to reduce 144 full-time positions through attrition and layoffs. The bulk of those positions will likely be librarians and clerks. The library currently employs 1,025 full-time and 500 part-time staffers.
Outgoing library director Gary Strong, who will step down at the end of the summer, said that the library had no choice but to enact the cuts.
Since September 11th, Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council cut $12 million from the Queens Library’s $96-million budget, three-quarters of which comes from city funds. In addition, the mayor asked the library to plan for another $2 million in cuts if city revenues continue to fall.
For the fiscal year 2004, which begins July 1st, things get even worse; the library is slated for an additional 3 percent cut.
“Keeping libraries open is important for the quality of life in Queens. We are struggling to do our best with the budget allowed, but reduced service is inevitable,” Strong said. “We’re out of options.”
Since the library broke the news to employees last week, the mood has been grim, according to John Socha, president of the labor union that represents Queens librarians and clerks.
“Some people are very angry, almost all are very afraid, some are a combination of the emotions,” he said. “Even people who have been here five or seven years, who have some seniority, even they are concerned.”
Under labor contracts negotiated a generation ago, the layoffs will take place based on reverse seniority, meaning that the less time individuals have been with the library, the more likely they will be to lose their jobs. The cuts account for over 20 percent of the 720 members in Local 1321, Socha’s union.
Socha voiced concerns that the cuts will disproportionately affect lower-paid library staffers, since they render the services that are being ended. Basic office aides at the library earn an annual starting salary of $21,800, while librarians make a minimum of $33,850.
“What about the non-public service, the mainline administrative staff?” Socha asked. “That’s probably where the salaries are higher.”
He also raised questions about how the Queens Library, which reports the largest circulation in the country, could lay off more people than the Brooklyn or New York Public Libraries. Brooklyn is expected to slash 50 positions, while New York will cut 110.
Library spokesman Joseph Catrambone said that the cuts would impact every department in the library. The higher number of layoffs is because the Queens Library has more branches, yet has a smaller budget than the other two systems.
Catrambone added that the library had already cut hours of operation, curtailed book purchases and ended some children’s programs.
“After that whole list, I don’t know what else we can do,” he replied when asked if there was any way to avoid the layoffs.
Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), who chairs the Finance Committee, said that the council hopes to restore the library’s cuts in a proposal due next Monday. The final budget, however, will be the product of more negotiations.
“We are committed to maintaining five-day service in all the branches, and weekend service in all of the boroughs,” Weprin said.
“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.”