During a recent Community Board 3 meeting at East Elmhurst’s Louis Armstrong Middle School, a question was posed: What if our libraries were only open two or three days a week?
With proposed budget cuts for the Queens Library, outlined in February by Queens Library President Tom Galante, a doomsday scenario was announced with potential job layoffs, reduced hours of operation and closed libraries, based on Mayor Bloomberg’s preliminary Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
Jeff Orlipk, a Queens Library patron, knows firsthand how it would affect him if the library he frequents were to operate only two or three days a week.
“It would be a big inconvenience if I’d only have limited hours. If they were open only a couple days a week [for instance], I wouldn’t schedule myself to come here at Thursday at 2 p.m.” Orlipk said.
“I get books delivered here from all libraries. I get books you can’t find in a typical Barnes & Noble,” Orlipk said outside the Jackson Heights library, a branch within the Community Board 3 district, where roughly 25 people were observed bustling through the library doors in a five-minute period early Monday evening.
The proposed financial plan reduces the city’s funding by 31 percent from FY 2012, which was approximately $83 million, to approximately $56 million for FY 2013.
That is roughly $26.5 million less funding from the city for library services, which include public-use computer sessions, educational programs, job search resources and homework help for students after school.
“[About] 10,000 kids every single week get homework help 20 hours a week after school. Where would a parent get affordable child care like that? It doesn’t exist,” said Joanne King, director of communications at the Queens Library.
“It would be a catastrophe. We pump so much value into the borough with after-school care and helping people find jobs. There is no where else in the borough to go,” King added.
Richard Mosher, a Jackson Heights resident who frequents his branch, is equally concerned by proposed worst-case scenario budget cuts.
“First the bookstores, now the library. The forces of darkness are conspiring to prevent the elevation of intelligence,” Mosher said, who was returning DVDs through the Jackson Heights’ library’s automated computer window.
“The less it’s open, the more devastated I will feel,” he added.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Library Committee, has been championing for libraries and the services they offer for many years and considers library advocacy his life’s work.
“These are the most valuable institutions in our communities,” said Van Bramer, who before being elected was chief of external affairs officer for the Queens Borough Public Library.
“I’m concerned with how the cuts hurt children and seniors, the most vulnerable among us,” he said.
“Many seniors may have no place to go. Once you close the doors to the library, you really shut people out. When temperatures get too high, seniors go to public libraries for cooling centers. You close the library, you close the cooling center,” Van Bramer said.
Last year temperatures reached 104 degrees in July, beating a 54-year record set for the same day.
Every year without fail, the mayor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year’s financial plan is particularly low for the library system, but by June, after City Council members have time to weigh-in and rallies are held, a great deal of funding is recovered.
Though the notion of libraries being closed for four or five days per week would be the worst-case scenario, it’s lasting effects would be felt right away by the residents of Queens.
“They’d be cut off from the single best information source in the borough. Many students don’t have access from home. They would be out of luck,” King said.