By Alex Davidson
Nyanga Smith, an office aide at the Ozone Park branch of the Queens Public Library, is just two months shy of her third anniversary working at the facility on Rockaway Boulevard.
But if Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed $14 million in funding cuts to the borough's public library becomes a reality, Smith will never see a third anniversary.
“The remaining staff is going to have to work a whole lot harder,” said Smith, who is already making plans for life after the cuts. “I'll start collecting unemployment and look for another job.”
Smith was just one of about 20 people who came out Monday afternoon for a rally led by City Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), protesting the mayor's proposed cuts to the city's libraries. All five libraries in Addabbo's district are now operating on a reduced-hours service, staying open only during the week and cutting back night service to only one per week.
The councilman was joined by Joe Calante, deputy director of finance and administration for the Queens Public Libraries, and other library employees and neighborhood residents to plead for the restoration of funds to prevent further cuts in hours and service.
“People come here on a Saturday and they try to open the door and it's locked. It's a shame,” Addabbo said. “In a $40 billion budget, we can hopefully find some money to get back to Queens' public libraries.”
Addabbo showed charts that point out disparities in how city funding for libraries is dispersed to Queens. Despite accounting for approximately 43 percent of the city's library usage, the borough only receives 29 percent of the city's funding. This formula, as Addabbo put it, should also be addressed in the battle for more library funds.
Other workers at the Ozone Park branch said they have noticed a change in patrons' attitudes since the cutbacks at the library went into effect May 5.
Gail Handley, an office associate, said the biggest impact besides staff cuts have been the elimination of Saturday hours.
“The Saturday closure has really upset people,” she said. “People are so sorry we do not offer those services.”
Barb Conkin, the children's librarian, said the change in hours has affected working parents who no longer have the option of dropping their children off during multiple week nights at the Ozone Park library to do their homework. She said parents have complained that children who now receive weekend homework assignments cannot go to Ozone Park or any of the other 50 libraries in Queens that do not offer weekend service.
“For working people, this has been very difficult,” she said. “We now have a list showing what is open when.”
Conkin said she refers patrons wishing to use a library on Saturday to the nearby Lefferts Boulevard branch.
As of May 5, only 12 branches in Queens offer Saturday hours of operation, while only one, the main library in Jamaica, offers seven-day service. These hours will be reduced, however, during the summer when normal reductions in service are enacted July 1 because of the end of the school year.
“We have a history of being shortchanged and it is just not right,” Addabbo said.
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156