Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. kicked off a week of rallies Tuesday at the Howard Beach branch of the Queens Borough Public Library in protest of mayoral budget cuts that would shorten service at the libraries to four or three days per week.
Addabbo was joined by Tom Galante, interim director of the QBPL, and a group of angry senior citizens, who said the library was essential for them and for schoolchildren who use it year-round. “It’s important for educational purposes and for seniors to spend time with others. It’s important for the children to continue their education through the end of the school year,” said Norman Leon, who uses the Howard Beach or Ozone Park branch every day.
The mayor’s proposed budget would cut $13.3 million from the QPBL’s budget, and the state has threatened to withhold another $300,000. Politicians across the borough are seeking a baseline restoration of $4.1 million, to freeze service at 2003 levels, or a full restoration, which is unlikely. The baseline restoration would maintain five-day service at all Queens libraries.
The QBPL has the highest circulation of any public library system in the United States and accounts for 39 percent of the total city circulation and 43 percent of customer visits, according to a 2002 mayoral report. It receives 29 percent of city funding.
Addabbo, who held similar rallies last year that led to a baseline reinstatement, said “the system is wrong.” The New York Public Library in Manhattan receives 41 percent of city funding on top of millions of dollars in annual private donations. “Everybody thinks of Manhattan, and Manhattan gets a large portion of resources in the budget. We have the highest circulation, so why would all the resources go to Manhattan?”
He said 21 libraries would have their hours cut under the new budget, including the Howard Beach branch, which is scheduled to lose Sunday service after June 6th. He vowed to fight the impending cuts. “This is a community center. The doors need to be open, not shut.”
The rallygoers signed petitions to send to the mayor’s office and talked about how the library was important to them, their children and their grandchildren. The Howard Beach branch is currently open Mondays and Thursdays from 1-8 p.m., Tuesdays from 1-6 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays from noon-6 p.m.
Lillian Colombo, who has glaucoma, cannot drive to the library at night and relies on weekend daytime hours. Plus, “they have audiobooks, and that’s a godsend,” she said.
Doris and Al Fine, both Howard Beach residents, regularly check out videotapes and compact discs from the library, avoiding the $5-per-rental fee at movie stores like Blockbuster Video. “We like it because there’s no charge for a couple of days,” Doris Fine said.
Her husband saw the proposed cuts as a harbinger for the library system. “Closing on weekends is the first step toward closing permanently,” he said.
Galante painted a similarly bleak picture when he testified before the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Relations earlier this month. He testified that budget cuts were regrettable but necessary during the city’s fiscal crisis after the World Trade Center attacks, but it was time to restore library funding. “Going below a five-day schedule would be a tragedy for our city. The Executive Budget, if enacted, with its large reductions in library service, would cause that unfortunate reality,” he said.
Last year’s cutbacks reduced the number of books the QBPL purchased by 40 percent, and “44 neighborhoods suffer closed libraries at least three mornings during the week, in addition to finding their libraries unavailable at least three out of five weeknights. To make matters worse, these communities have no library service at all on weekends. The people of Queens deserve much better than this,” he said.
The Howard Beach rally followed similar events in Flushing and Bayside, and Addabbo and Galante will appear at subsequent rallies later this week and early next week in Broad Channel (Friday), Ozone Park (Tuesday) and the two Rockaway Branches, Peninsula and Seaside, on June 2nd and 3rd. All rallies will be held from 3:30-4:30 p.m.
If you would like more information on the rallies or would like to sign the petition, call Councilman Addabbo’s office at 718-738-1111.