About two dozen people, most of them children, waved signs and chanted “Save our library” outside the Laurelton branch on Monday to protest the mayor’s proposed budget cuts to libraries in the city.
Many of the youngsters said they go to the library regularly to do homework and conduct research for class projects. Parents consider the branch a safe haven where their children can learn and engage with others of similar age.
The mayor’s executive budget plan includes a cut of $26.7 million, or 31 percent, to the Queens Library, beginning July 1. The system has sustained $48.5 million in reductions since 2008, according to library spokeswoman Joanne King.
Many of the Laurelton library’s visitors, especially the children, walk to the location from their homes after school, making it a convenient resource, according to Robert Glover, the first vice president of the Federated Blocks of Laurelton. The next nearest location is the Cambria Heights Library, about 1.3 miles away.
“It is very important that they do not cut any more,” Glover said. “They are taking education away from our kids.”
If the funding is not restored by the City Council during budget negotiations, it would result in the closure of 18 libraries and jeopardize more than 600 jobs, King said.
In addition, most libraries would be closed four or five days a week and only the Central Library in Jamaica would be open on Saturdays. All the borough’s libraries are closed on Sundays.
“The book I’m recommending for the mayor is ‘How not to balance the budget on the backs of our young people for dummies’ and when he looks in that book, he’s going to find the solution to not having to cut our young people’s services,” said Donovan Richards, chief of staff to City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), who organized the rally. “One of those solutions is taxing Wall Street, making sure Wall Street pays its fair share.”
Another way, Richards said, the city could generate revenue is by cutting tax subsidies for million- and billion-dollar companies, especially those that are not hiring people from the Queens community. Richards recommended that the mayor “baseline” funding for libraries, so that residents won’t have to fight every year to maintain the services they are entitled to as taxpayers.
Several children at the rally spoke about what the library means to them.
“I come to the library almost every day on weekdays,” said Justin Glasgow, 14, of Laurelton. “I come to do work, and I succeed in my work, and that’s why I need the library to stay open.”
Junior Henningham, 15, of Springfield Gardens expressed similar sentiments and said he too visits the library practically every day. “I come to the library to use the computer, read books, and interact with others, and enjoy my free time,” he said.
The library and its supporters have been holding rallies against the budget cuts across the borough, including one Tuesday at the central branch in Jamaica. John Hyslop, president of the library workers union, who attended the Laurelton rally told attendees that many people depend on the free services the library offers.
“If someone doesn’t have a job, and they are counting every penny, where are they going to go for free services, free Internet, free books, free entertainment, free education for their kids? Libraries,” Hyslop said. “It’s all free.”