Elected officials, members of the public and Queens Library employees gathered Tuesday on the steps of the Flushing Library to decry a $29.6 million fiscal buzzsaw in the mayor’s proposed budget looming over the institution.
The gathering starts what has become something of an annual cut-then-rescue ritual inspired every year by Mayor Bloomberg’s budget. Inevitably, hizzoner puts out dollar figures that cause lawmakers to use terms like “unacceptable” and “draconian.”
And so Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilmen Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) stood on the steps of the city’s busiest public library to, once again, decry the unacceptable draconian cuts slated by the borough’s public library system, as well as over $100 million in library cuts citywide.
“We are tired of having this rally,” Van Bramer said, after leading chants of “Save our libraries!”
“One day we’re going to celebrate more money for libraries,” said the one-time Queens Library employee, who worked there for 11 years before becoming chair of the Council’s Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee.
The mayor’s executive budget calls for the nearly $30 million cut to take effect in the fiscal year beginning July 1, representing a 35 percent reduction from current funding levels.
The library quantifies the cuts in other terms: 428 layoffs; 36 libraries closed altogether and a slashing of weekly operating hours from an average of 43 to 21.
“The budget has gone for the jugular of the library,” Van Bramer said.
The lawmaker and some of his Council colleagues are working on legislation that would turn down the beat on the annual “don’t cut our libraries” dance by baselining funding for public libraries. Van Bramer has some hopes the bill will be signed into law.
“I do sense that there’s more momentum than ever before,” he said. “It would finally take this ridiculous budget dance and make it a relic.”
The ritualistic nature of the proposed cuts and their resolution could breed complacency of the “boy who cried wolf” variety, which led Koo to call upon everyone to call 311 and “Leave Mayor Bloomberg a message.”
“We need the libraries open to be competitive,” he shouted.
The proposed cuts come at a time when studies have found the Queens Library is facing an overall popularity boom.
A report released in January by the Center for an Urban Future found that the city’s three public library systems experienced a 40 percent increase in attendance at programs held within branches, as well as a 59 percent increase in circulation.
The Flushing Library is far and away the city’s busiest. Saddled in a largely Chinese and Korean community, its circulation ranks tops in the city, but also in the top five in the nation. Five of the city’s 10 largest libraries by circulation are in our borough, with the Flushing Library leading the pack with over 3 million. Six of the 10 branches are in high-immigrant neighborhoods, including Elmhurst and Fresh Meadows.
The report also lauds the Queens Library’s “huge repertoire of immigrant programs and resources,” which “stands out and may well be unequaled anywhere in the world.” The system’s focus on immigrants is so key, it even has its own demographer who coordinates resources for even small immigrant groups in the borough. As a policy, the library accumulates a collection for any language that has over 3,000 speakers in Queens.
Yet in the last decade, as circulation has increased 59 percent, city funding has fallen 8 percent.
The borough’s councilmanic representatives expressed frustration with the library’s rank as a perpetual budgetary target.
“It’s a very big issue in my district, where you have a lot of middle class families where both parents have jobs,” said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens). “They need to give children a place to go after school, where they can go and learn. Cutting libraries means you are cutting something that is used as a resource for everyone from seniors to young children. The programs are both entertaining and educational.”
“Mr. Mayor, we will not let you tear down what we worked so hard to build,” Marshall said.
You can now stay connected by just standing on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel, thanks to the Queens Library.
If you have a free library card, you can connect to the internet wirelessly within a three-block radius of the library at 16-26 Cross Bay Blvd. using a system the library is calling “wider-fi.”
The program is a prototype that will be expanded to other communities in Queens, and that the library hopes, eventually, will cover the borough from end to end. By the end of summer 2013, wider-fi is expected to be rolled out at Queens Library branches at Langston Hughes, Long Island City, Richmond Hill and the new library at Hunters Point.
Every Queens Library branch has free wi-fi access within the building. Community-wide wi-fi access was already being planned when Hurricane Sandy hit. It was fast-tracked in Broad Channel to assist the community in rebuilding, and because the physical environment is conducive.
The Queens Library plans to extend the range even farther in Broad Channel and will seek partnerships in order to finance and construct the infrastructure needed.