By Karen Frantz
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed deep cuts to city libraries in his 2014 budget that some worry could close Queens Library facilities, force layoffs and slash the number of hours facilities would be open a week.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Council’s Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, blasted the proposed cuts.
“Our libraries cannot sustain cuts of these proposed levels at a time when they are experiencing some of the highest number of visitors in history and providing much-needed resources to the public,” he said.
“Once again the New York City Council has been posed with the task of fighting to restore funding to the institutions and organizations that our city residents love dearly,” he added.
The mayor’s proposed budget cuts nearly $30 million in city dollars to Queens Library, which is a 35 percent reduction below the current funding level, according to library.
The agency projected that if the cuts remain in the final budget, more than half of the 62 libraries in Queens would be forced to close, 428 people would be laid off and the number of hours Queens Libraries remain open per week would be slashed in half from an average of 40 to 21.
The mayor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but it released a general statement saying that until health care and fringe benefit programs are reformed, city services will be left to compete for a smaller share of the budget.
Joanne King, director of communications for Queens Library, said city libraries already offer fewer open hours a week than many other cities.
“The community really values their public libraries, they want more hours, not fewer,” she said.
A report from the Center for an Urban Future found that New York City libraries were open fewer hours than those in other major cities, such as Chicago, Toronto and Detroit, in 2011.
The cuts also come at a time when the demand for city libraries has gone up. Circulation rose 59 percent and program attendance went up 40 percent in 2011, according to the report.
King said libraries are particularly important as a place where people can go to access the Internet.
“That’s not something you can send in the mail,” she said.
She said libraries are often the only place people can use the Internet, which has become increasingly necessary for everyday life.
She said in the past the mayor’s proposed budget has cut funding to city libraries but negotiations with the Council have generally resulted in some of that money being restored — but not all.
“The point is we need every dollar back,” she said.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.