QBP Richards, advocates rally to demand Mayor Adams restore funding to City’s libraries

Queens Borough President Richards, QBL President Dennis Walcott and Library advocates demanded Mayor Adams restore Library budget cuts.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

A rally was held at the Queens Public Library at Forest Hills on May 16, during which Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott, union reps and library advocates called on Mayor Eric Adams to reverse the proposed $58.3 million budget cuts to the New York Public Library (NYPL), the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), and the Queens Public Library (QBL) for Fiscal Year 2025, which begins on July 1, 2024.

Library advocates demanded Mayor Adams restore budget cuts at a rally at Forest Hills Library. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Mayor Adams already slashed the budget for New York City’s public libraries by $22.1 million in November 2023, forcing the closure of virtually all neighborhood library branches on Sundays. The leaders of the city’s three public library systems say further cuts would force them to cut services to five days a week, among other drastic measures.

Mayor Eric Adams’ proposed Library budget cuts would cut hours and vital community programs. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

QBL alone faces nearly $17 million in budget cuts, 12% more than the library’s operating budget. Besides cutting library services to five days a week, the cuts would also mean a delay in reopening three recently renovated Queens library branches due to staffing shortages, investments in new books and technology, vital programs like homework resources for students, workshops, English language classes and building repairs and maintenance.

Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Since becoming Queens Borough President, Richards’ office has allocated over $23 million to 20 library branches. Richards called libraries “the heart and soul of our communities” and stressed the importance of having libraries open seven days a week.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards speaks at the rally, demanding Mayor Adams restore library budget cuts. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“I often will say and remind people that you cannot criminalize your way out of poverty. And if you want to talk about making our streets safer, libraries are an intricate part of public safety,” Richards said.

Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Richards also called for baseline funding of the city’s three library systems because he was “sick and tired” of having to do a “budget dance” around the library budget every year.

Calling on the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council, Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-28), Richards said, “So Mayor Adams, Speaker Adams, this is our opportunity to really get this right this year. [And] to make sure that we end this budget dance [and] that we no longer have to see or talk about closures to our libraries. And I know you both are true believers in libraries. So let’s put our money where our mouth is, and I say Queens get the money; libraries get the money this year.”

In 2023, QBL welcomed over 5,300,000 visitors at its 66 locations, and more than 880,000 Queens residents visited QBL locations on Saturdays and Sundays. Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott pointed out that QBL serves the public.

QBL President Dennis Walcott speaks at the rally. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“If there are fewer dollars in our budget, that means there are fewer services going to the public,” Walcott said. “That means there are fewer books that are being ordered by the library. That means while we’re not laying off people, our hiring has slowed down to a trickle because we can’t fill those positions.”

Besides serving the educational and cultural needs of the community, libraries became vaccine centers during the COVID-19 crisis and act as cooling centers during heat waves. Walcott recalled an extremely hot 4th of July a few years back, when, on short notice, the city asked to open the libraries to New Yorkers seeking refuge from the scorcher.

“What did we do? We opened our doors to serve the public. Flushing Library alone, with maybe 12 hours’ notice, had 4,000 People come to their door to [cool off]. That’s who we are as a library,” Walcott said.

John Hyslop, president of Queens Library Guild, Local 1321, said that between February 2020 and February 2024, the union lost close to 100 members, including librarians, clerks, custodians, IT workers and human resources. The Forest Hills Public Library has one custodian who takes care of the three-story building because QBL cannot hire additional staff.

“It’s very important that we, all of us, tell our mayor that he does need to support us; he does need to support our libraries; support our staff, who provide the excellent library services that we provide,” Hyslop said.

Wanda Best, vice president of Cambria Heights Library Friends, was filled with “heartfelt sadness” at the possibility that libraries might be closed on Saturdays because [libraries] are the “pillar of the community.”

Best advocates for young people who participate in programs at the Cambria Heights Library or women who attend “Circle of Transformation,” an empowerment group that provides a safe space for women to network and exchange resources.

Wanda Best, vice president of Cambria Heights Library Friends, speaks at the rally, demanding Mayor Adams restore Library budget cuts. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Sadness is that the libraries, in some situations, are sanctuaries for women living in abusive relationships,” Best said. “They come to the library to get away from the home. So if the library’s closed on Saturday, where would they go?”

In a statement regarding the proposed Library budget cuts, a City Hall spokesperson said, “Facing an unprecedented $7.2 billion budget gap in November, the Adams administration balanced the budget and strengthened the city’s recovery — without layoffs, tax hikes or major service disruptions. Thanks to our responsible, effective fiscal management, we have protected the city’s library systems from multiple rounds of cuts and invested $15 million in their teen centers that are now opening across the five boroughs. We will continue to work with our partners in the City Council to support our libraries as we go through the budget process.”