He doesn’t officially begin the job until March 15, but new Queens Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott is already hard at work at one of the nation’s largest public library systems.
Since Queens Library announced his appointment last week, Walcott — a native of St. Albans — has been touring branches across the “World’s Borough.” He met with staff members and visitors and heard their insight on how their library is performing, and what could be done to make it better.
“I’ve always been a big believer in working with the staff and maximizing potential,” Walcott said in a phone interview with The Courier on Monday. “The goal is making sure we reach every Queens resident one way or another and to enhance what we’re doing on various platforms.”
For Walcott, taking the helm at Queens Library was the natural next step in his public service career. He is best known for his years in the Bloomberg administration, serving first as deputy mayor before being appointed schools chancellor in 2010, a post he would hold through the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure at City Hall in 2013.
Most recently, he served as monitor for a beleaguered public school district in Rockland County, working with the state Education Department to reform its operations and performance. As Queens Library began searching for a permanent replacement to former President and CEO Thomas Galante, who was fired amid scandal, Walcott threw his name into consideration.
“Every job that I’ve had has involved the community, empowerment and education in some way, shape or form,” Walcott said. “This is a natural progression, and I’m picking up on the outstanding work that Queens Library is already doing.”
Walcott plans to improve upon the various reforms instituted at Queens Library in the wake of the Galante scandal, placing an emphasis on transparency on multiple levels.
“I view transparency in a variety of different ways — not just information flowing out, but making sure the customers, card recipients and all the people are engaged with what’s going on and sharing information,” he said.
With city budget negotiations about to kick into high gear, Walcott said he would make sure the library’s voice is heard at City Hall. Within the next month, he plans to meet with members of the Queens City Council delegation as well as the City Council Finance Committee, and will testify at public hearings to advocate that the library is properly funded.
As to the library’s finances, Walcott noted that he would conduct a “cost analysis” to ensure the library is functioning efficiently. The system’s finances, combined with government funding, will dictate whether the library will be able to expand its hours of operation; last year, Queens Library restored six-day service at all of its branches after receiving additional funds from the city.
Walcott added that he would seek capital funds for physical improvements needed at branches throughout Queens, including renovations to the Central Library’s auditorium in Jamaica.
He also noted he would work to recognize the contributions of the men and women working at Queens Library by touting “the excellent work taking place at all the branches.” Walcott also desires programs at the library that celebrate the diversity of the staff and the communities they serve.