Library advocates fight to stave off budget cuts

Library advocates fight to stave off budget cuts
Photo courtesy Dominick Totino Photography
By Steve Mosco

Queens Library supporters rallied to close the book on budget cuts for good.

Elected officials, along with staff and community members, stood on the steps of Queens Library in Flushing to fight against proposed budget cuts that would slash $26.7 million from the learning institutions.

According to those who attended the May 8 rally, the cuts proposed in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget would threaten library service and dissolve hundreds of jobs in the borough.

“The mayor’s executive budget, if enacted, would cut $26.7 million in funding to vital services provided by the Queens Library,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Council Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee. “These cuts would put over 600 librarians out of a job, close 18 libraries altogether, eliminate Sunday services at all branches and potentially keep 30 libraries closed four or five days a week.

“This cannot happen,” Van Bramer said. “Queens residents deserve a budget — one that preserves all of their services as well as the free educational, cultural and informational programming that make this prestigious institution the strong cultural hub it is in over 60 neighborhoods throughout the borough.”

Thomas Galante, the Queens Library president and CEO, called funds directed toward libraries “money well spent.”

He said the free information, Internet access, homework help, health care information and job search services are essential to the well-being of any community.

“Libraries provide a great return on investment,” said Galante, who directed those concerned with the libraries’ plight to savequeenslibrary.org. “Libraries make a huge impact on the educational and economic landscape.”

The makeup of the new executive budget is $68.7 billion, with $49.2 billion funded by city dollars. Bloomberg said $6.2 billion already has been saved through 11 rounds of cuts made across all of the city’s agencies since 2007. When he released his budget earlier this month, Bloomberg said numerous cost-cutting measures were implemented in the budget to stave off a $2 billion gap. He said while tax revenues have grown, they have risen at a weaker rate than expected.

Borough President Helen Marshall said when she was a schoolteacher, the local library was a place where both teachers and students could expand on school lessons. She also said a borough as diverse as Queens needs a strong library system to support the immigrant population.

“A library is an important resource for every neighborhood. It’s a place to learn, read, explore and broaden new visions and learn how to achieve your goals and ambitions,” she said. “Libraries here in Queens, America’s most diverse county, also bridge the gap for new immigrants to assimilate in a multicultural society while providing veteran visitors with the tools they need to build a better future for a new generation.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.