Politicians, library staff and local residents held a rally on Tuesday in front of the Central Library in Jamaica in response to a proposed budget that would cut $29 million, shut 36 libraries and cut 420 jobs in the Queens Library system.
Queens Library President and CEO Thomas Galante, Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and John Hyslop of the Local 1321 Queens Library Guild spoke about the importance of the libraries and also opened the floor up to local residents to share their personal stories of how cutting the library budgets would affect their daily lives.
One vocal Queens resident who introduced himself as Ray spoke specifically about the Central branch, whose library staff said has one of the largest media collections in the country.
“The library in Manhattan with those lions pales in comparison to this media section — I can attest to that,” Ray said. “A library is a place of knowledge. Without knowledge in the world and art and reading, there is no hope and if there’s no hope, there is no future. Save this library— save all libraries.”
The system provides free online access, holds after-school programs and hosts workshops that teach skills ranging from how to use social media to English literacy.
Supporters said while seventy-five percent of New Yorkers use their public libraries, the library budget makes up only less than one half of one percent of the city’s budget, and the proposed cuts would cause Queens to lose half of its current library access, dwindling the average number of weekly hours from 40 to 21.
Comrie called on Mayor Bloomberg to restore the library budget, stating that the cuts are a sign of disrespect.
“Hopefully this is the last go around where we ask the mayor to restore the money for the libraries because we know the libraries are critical,” Comrie said. “We know that the libraries are critical to the lives of immigrants, children, and seniors.”
He asked listeners to contact the mayor and added he will fight for full restoration as a member of the Council’s budget negotiation team.
Yvonne Reddick, district manager for Community Board 12, offered to help protest the budget cuts.
“Every hour, every minute, every second makes a difference,” Reddick said. “We have so many of our youth that go to school that only on the weekend can they take advantage and come into the libraries to do their homework.”
Various parents spoke about how the library has been a resource for books for their children’s homework and school projects.
Resident John Dupont spoke about how the library has serviced his family for years.
“I have six boys and before I was in the position to possess a computer, this library was the only place I could turn to for my guys to get their books,” Dupont said. He questioned why Bloomberg would want to cut the libraries’ budgets.
Margaret Gibson, a library employee, told supporters at the rally how it is more than a place where she receives a salary. As the caregiver for her 84-year-old mother who has Alzheimer’s, Gibson brings her mother to the library before she leaves for work.
She said how important it is, “not just for staff members but for everybody in the community, caregivers and parents that libraries are opened. This is probably one of the only free institutions where you can come to get resources for free.”
These resources come in the form of workshops that teach specific skills. Greg Mays, who grew up in Southeast Jamaica and regularly uses the library, emphasized the value of these free resources as the owner of a non-profit organization. Mays also brings his nephew to the library “so he can be in a community of learners and scholars.”
The libraries have many programs for children who were represented at the rally by employees of the Children’s Library Discover Center, which opened at the Central Library in 2011. It is a place where children can learn about science and get hands-on experiences that they would not get in school.
Natalie Milbrodt, an archivist for the Queens Memory Project, a collaboration between the library and Queens College, spoke about the importance of the Queens Library system to the documentation of the borough.
“The history of Queens is the history of the entire United States of America,” she said. “We have a very important place in the world and if we don’t do it as a public library to record our own history and maintain archives about our own lives and our own histories and neighborhoods, nobody else will.”
Speakers emphasized the importance of relationships among people from all cultures and backgrounds that are made at libraries. Fred Gitner, the assistant director for the library’s New Americans Program, spoke about the effort to help immigrants adapt to life in the United States.
“The whole idea is to bring people together in a community center like the library so that people can understand each other’s cultures, people can improve themselves, immigrants can come and learn English and they can come and find books and DVDs in their own language,” he said.
Selina Sharmin who also works for the New Americans Program, said she owes all of her success to the library.
“I used this library when I came to this country and started working part-time,” she said. “The library supported me and so I went to library school and became a librarian.” Sharmin spoke about the different workshops available at the library, including information sessions on how to find jobs.
Other workshops focus on teaching people how to sew in order to be able to start a business, while another was geared for Bengali speakers to learn computer skills. “Queens library is for immigrants a home away from home,” Sharmin said.
Chief Operating Officer of the Queens Library, Bridget Quinn-Carey, said it is important that elected officials hear these individuals’ personal relationships to the library.
“You see the faces, you see the kids, you see the moms and dads that come in, the new Americans that flood through our doors looking for help and assistance getting established here in a new country,” Quinn-Carey said.
“I thank you all so much for everything that you do everyday with such passion and such devotion,” she added. “Encourage the people that you see every day to fill out a postcard, to go online, and to sign the online petition, to call elected officials, City Council members and the mayor, to tell them how much the library means to you.”
There will be another community rally in support of libraries today, May 30, at 3 p.m. at the Queens Library at Baisley Park in Jamaica, located at 117-11 Sutphin Blvd. followed by a rally tomorrow, May 31, at 3:30 p.m. at the Queens Library at Hollis, 202-05 Hillside Avenue.