Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens borough president candidate, led a rally to demand the Queens Public Library “act with urgency” to find the Court Square Library a new home on Jan. 8, as the library’s last month at 25-01 Jackson Ave. quickly approaches.
“The Queens Library knew that this deadline was looming. The library should have already been diligently finding a new space for this public library, but it doesn’t appear that they’ve done so,” Van Bramer said. “This is not a question of funding; the library received record funding from the city of New York just this past June and [it] never requested additional funding to cover any expected rental increase.”
QNS reported that although Court Square Library’s lease at One Court Square will end in March with public service ending in February, the QPL is committed to staying in the neighborhood they’ve served for 30 years. The library leased the space from Citigroup for $1 a month, but Savanna purchased the building in 2014 and is now seeking market rent for the space.
“I believe they dragged their feet and now we’re in a crisis where this community is faced with the loss of library services,” Van Bramer said. “That’s absolutely outrageous and absolutely unacceptable.”
In response to the rally, QPL President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said that he and his team have worked for more than a year to find a new place for Court Square Library, after Savanna made it clear that they didn’t want to work with them.
“The mischaracterization of our efforts is unfortunate,” Walcott said in the statement. “We are fully committed to having a library in a growing neighborhood we have served for 30 years and continue to work to identify affordable and appropriate space. At the same time, the reality is that we have a fiduciary responsibility to manage the short- and long-term implications of securing a new home in an area with skyrocketing rents.”
QPL announced on Thursday the library will close on Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. Mobile library service will be provided on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting on Monday, Feb. 24 in front of the Court House at Jackson Avenue and Court Square West.
During the rally, Van Bramer was joined by Friends of Court Square Library, Court Square Civic Association and about a dozen residents of the Court Square area who spoke about the value of the community resource in Long Island City — the fastest-growing neighborhood in New York City.
“If we don’t stand together today and say that public libraries stay, full stop, then a precedent has been set. The idea that New York City does not need libraries will slowly but surely become the new narrative,” Friends of Court Square Library President Meghan Cirrito said. “In a time when hate crimes are on the rise, New York City housing insecurity becomes more prevalent and public education is at a critical crossroads, we, all of New York City, need public library service now more than ever.”
Michael Giuppone, a member of the Court Square Civic Association, said that him and his family use the library on a weekly basis. He added that the library has an important “geo location” that serves the neighborhood in many ways, including hosting community events for children.
Representatives from Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, Senator Michael Gianaris and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s office also showed their support of the community’s demands for a new space.
When asked about 5Pointz Towers, one of the new locations that Community Board 2 suggested for the Court Square Library, and how developer Jerry Wolkoff is considering the idea but said it would be “six-tenths of a mile” from the new Hunters Point Library, Van Bramer said that “wasn’t a good enough excuse.”
CB 2 member Sheila Lewandowski said she couldn’t “help but think the time for planning was 10 years ago,” and that a failure to do so on behalf of the QPL is “irresponsible.”
Lewandowski, who was one of the people who proposed 5Pointz for the new Court Square Library, said this is also a zoning issue.
“When buildings come in … and they commit to a public amenity, that public amenity really should be permanent, [because] they’re getting a permanent increase to their space,” Lewandowski said. “Why should they get a permanent increase to their profit when they’re not committing to a permanent public amenity? Had that policy been in place, we wouldn’t even be standing here.”
Court Square Library serves 100,000 people every year, and provides residents access to 10 workstations, free internet, Microsoft Office software and free printing.
The QPL met with members of the community, elected officials, and Friends of Court Square to provide an update about their next steps on Thursday, Jan. 9.