It was a familiar sight — dozens of people standing on the steps outside the Flushing Library on Tuesday, waving signs and chanting to protest the mayor’s budget cuts to libraries in the city.
The mayor’s executive budget includes a $26.7 million, or 31 percent cut, to the Queens Library, beginning July 1. The system has sustained $48.5 million in reductions since 2008, according to library spokeswoman Joanne King.
If the funding is not restored by the City Council during the annual budget dance, 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 branch in Jamaica would be open on Saturdays. All the borough’s libraries are closed on Sundays.
“Just imagine, one-third fewer library staff to keep our libraries open, one-third fewer books, one-third fewer classes, one-third fewer computer sessions,” said Tom Galante, president and CEO of the Queens Library, eliciting boos from the crowd.
Some 50 people including several elected officials attended the rally, and all seemed to be in favor of not only eliminating cuts, but increasing funding, so more programs could be added.
“It’s a measure of our success as a government — to keep the libraries,” said Queens Borough president, and one-time library worker, Helen Marshall. “Closing them down is just ridiculous.”
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) called libraries the “gateway to success,” adding that they give all people an equal opportunity to educate themselves and have a chance at a better life. And he said libraries should be open seven days a week.
“I can’t believe we have to come here every year,” Koo said of the annual budget fight. “The mayor doesn’t understand — the library is one of the basic fundamental services that we can provide to our citizens.”
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who is running for the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District primary, noted that libraries are used by people of every age, immigrants seeking to learn English and job hunters who use the resources to polish their resumes and look for employment listings online.
Claire Bazinet, 74, a member of Flushing Friends of the Library, took Mandarin classes at the branch and said she visits every Thursday to pick up copies of community newspapers and sometimes attends concerts periodically held at the branch on the weekends.
“If you get involved and you’re doing things, and you’re not just sitting at home doing nothing, it keeps you young,” Bazinet said.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, said closing libraries and reducing their services would be “the worst thing possible,” especially during a recession. “Libraries are as vital and critical a service as any other in the City of New York,” Van Bramer said.
Pat Martin, president of LeFrak City Friends of the Library, said the system is especially important because residents of the apartment complex do not have a community center nearby and since most parents work, the library is “essential for our children.”
“If you walk through our library, you are going to see at least 300 kids in there,” Martin said. “After school, that’s where they are, every single day. We already lost Saturdays. We can’t afford to take another cutback.”