By Sadef Ali Kully
Queens Library president pleaded for severely needed funding for library repairs across the city in a joint appeal with the New York and Brooklyn Public library presidents last week before the City Council’s Finance Committee.
The appeal, called “Long Overdue: NYC’s $1 Billion Library Fine,” said the city owed an estimated $1 billion to the public library system for maintenance, repairs, and services, according to a 2014 report by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based think tank.
In addition to the appeal, the three library groups have launched a citywide campaign, Invest in Libraries, across social media to bring attention to the neglect that the city’s public libraries have faced for almost a whole decade.
“I want to tell you what has happened at Queens Library right now,” Bridget Quinn-Carey, the interim president and chief executive officer of the Queens Library, said in her testimony on capital funding needs. The Queens Library is one of the busiest in the nation.
“In the first half of the fiscal year 2015, visitorship is up. Attendance at the free library program is up 6.7 percent in the past year, and up 43 percent over the past five years. The demand for library programs and services continue to grow,” she said. “For the past several years, you have heard us talk about how vital our library services have been to our communities during the recession. You have heard about how we have provided digital access for people who cannot afford it, the pivotal role our Job and Business Academy has played in helping people prepare to go back to work, how we have helped families survive by helping them apply for benefits, and, of course, serving as an access point for city services, such as disaster recovery information, IDNYC and more. Community wellness, adult basic education, digital literacy, academic support — we have struggled to provide it all during the bad times.”
According to the Center for an Urban Future’s report, “Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries,” there is over $1 billion in unmet city funds in the five boroughs and the Queens Library needs $400 million to meet basic requisites. More than 35 million people visited Queens public libraries in the last year, according to the president.
Queens also has the largest share of small branches—41 are under 10,000 square feet, compared with 26 in Brooklyn, 14 in the Bronx, seven in Staten Island and six in Manhattan.
“Areas in Queens that have traditionally been industrial space are now becoming newly residential, and there is no library nearby. We need to serve those new communities,” Quinn-Carey said, after mentioning that the city projects that the population of Queens will increase by more than 300,000 people by the year 2030.
The New York Public Library serves the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. The Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library system are separate systems. Cumulatively, the three library systems operate 207 local library branches throughout the city and four research library centers in Manhattan. The three libraries are independent non-profit corporations, but a substantial portion of their funding comes from the city in the form of tax levy funds for operational support and capital funds for maintenance and the creation of new branches, according to the New York City Council.
“Our city’s library branches are literally crumbling,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee. “Without increasing the operating and capital budgets for the city’s three library institutions millions of New Yorkers will continue to lose access to the very resources and programs that are pulling them into the middle class. Now is the time to act. By securing this much-needed funding we can continue improving the lives of all New Yorkers for generations to come.”
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull