Despite five consecutive years of budget cuts that eliminated more than $16 million in operating expenses, the Queens Library will begin a new chapter — with all jobs and service hours retained.
“Given the staggering cuts we were facing, to not have one library close, not one library reduce its hours, to keep libraries where they’re at, was a tremendous victory,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the City Council’s committee on libraries.
The libraries’ budget was threatened with $26 million in reductions, which would have forced 18 of the borough’s 62 institutions to shut their doors. Thirty more would have had to close at least four days a week.
Rallies were held throughout the borough to prevent the city from closing the book on Queens libraries.
“We’re very, very grateful the council kept the libraries a priority,” said Joanne King, associate director of communications for the Queens Library. “We will stay open in every community and everyone in Queens should be very grateful for that.”
Six hundred staffers’ jobs were also saved with the restoration.
“I heard when [the budget] was announced there were workers literally in tears knowing their jobs had been saved,” said Van Bramer, who worked for the Queens Library before being elected. “That’s something I’m really proud of, that we saved jobs.”
Though the “doomsday budget” did not pass, the library still had $1.8 million slashed for this fiscal year, which began on July 1. The ongoing hiring freeze will also reduce staff. The library employs about 200 fewer staffers than four years ago.
Less staff means the library needs to get creative so no service is affected, King said.
To prevent further cuts, Van Bramer said libraries’ budgets can’t be radically reduced in early financial plans. Steep cuts to the preliminary and executive budget make restoring all the money more difficult and puts “libraries’ backs against the wall,” the councilmember said.
“We have to not start so far behind,” said Van Bramer, who added the council will look to restore funds as the economy improves. “What we’re going to need to do under a new mayor is not cut libraries to the bone in the preliminary budget.”