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Queens Chronicle

‘Mini City Halls’ in the public libraries

Quinn-Van Bramer plan is to provide select services at various branches

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Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:32 am, Thu Apr 25, 2013.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) recently announced a new proposal to use libraries citywide as “one-stop” community resource centers for the public to access governmental programs and services.

The pilot program will provide services such as immigration, tax preparation, healthcare screenings and English classes, depending on what is needed in a given community.

It will cost about $50,000 in each of the five boroughs, according to a spokesperson for the City Council. The program is still in the process of being developed in conjunction with potential private partners who have indicated an interest in the initiative, the spokesman said, so not all details can be provided yet. Three different systems operate the city’s public libraries.

Quinn, a candidate for mayor this year, said in announcing the plan that libraries are a tremendous, trusted resource in communities across the five boroughs.

“Our libraries go above and beyond in their service to New Yorkers,” she said. “I’m proposing a new way to tapping into this incredible resource, a citywide system of ‘Mini City Halls’ that will serve as a one-stop shop for help in navigating access to important programs and services. With Mini City Halls, we’ll bring all that City Hall has to offer right to New Yorkers’ doorsteps.”

“I applaud Speaker Christine Quinn for amplifying the important role libraries play in the development of New York City’s working class, our youth, elderly and immigrant populations,” said Van Bramer, who chairs the Council committee that oversees libraries. “By enhancing the strengths of our three great libraries, we’ll make them even more invaluable to the millions who rely on them for information and technology every day.”

The program will be created through a public-private partnership that will work to expand city services and programming at local library branches. After a few selected neighborhoods are identified, they will collaborate with stakeholders and partners to cater to the needs of the community. Library staffs will be provided with training for the tools needed to help individuals seeking services navigating government resources, according to Van Bramer’s office.

Jennifer Manley, vice president of government and community affairs for the Queens Library, said they’re sure of addressing any concerns that might come up along the way as they plan.

“We welcome a program of the Small Business Administration-Workforce 1 — into our Flushing Library,” Manley said, referring to the entity that provides unemployment benefits and other jobs-related services.“This partnership allows library patrons to access critical information on workforce development from the city’s foremost experts right in the library that they trust and are probably using for other things — such as getting books or taking classes.”

Manley noted that Queens libraries already offer many programs such as story hour for children, English and computer classes, environmental education, and cultural programs.

Tom Galante, the Queens Library’s president and CEO, supports having the Mini City Hall program in all libraries.

“Libraries are important information crossroads in every community,” Galante said. “Queens Library is grateful to Speaker Quinn for her leaderhip in helping us bring out even more valuable resources, and thanks the whole City Council for their support.”

According to libary spokeswoman Joanne King, the program will be tried out in a limited number of locations to determine best practices, and the lessons learned will be applied as the project is built across more locations.

Questions on issues such as the legality of non-city employees providing public services and liability in case they give someone incorrect information were referred by Van Bramer’s office to Quinn’s. But the speaker’s spokespersons did not respond to numerous requests for further details.

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