Saturday closures, restricted weekday hours, cuts to educational programs and a freeze on new branch openings.
Those are some of the drastic steps New York City’s public library systems may be forced to take if Mayor Adams moves ahead with his push to cut their budgets by more than $36 million this year, according to damning City Council testimony Monday.
The testimony, delivered by the heads of the city’s three public library systems, underscores just how detrimental they fear Adams’ first city budget proposal would be if adopted by the Council.
Rolled out by Adams in January, the $102.7 billion budget bid would eliminate $20.7 million in baseline funding for the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library systems. In addition, the Adams plan would slash a $15.7 million “Libraries Initiative” created by the Council last year, putting the across-the-board funding shave for the three systems at $36.2 million.
New York Public Library President Anthony Marx, whose system is the city’s largest in servicing Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, said the “painful” funding reduction proposal would touch every corner of his organization.
“The scale and magnitude of these cuts will impact our operations across the board, whether it be the capacity to open new branches, keep our current hours, maintain our collections or offer programs,” he testified before the Council’s Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committees.
Adams’ spokesmen did not immediately return a request for comment after Monday’s hearing.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and her Democratic colleagues have vehemently pushed back against the mayor’s preliminary budget, which he has argued balances the need for public services with concerns about the city’s long-term fiscal health.
The library cuts have emerged as an especially contentious provision of Adams’ blueprint, and City Council Democrats are expected to fight tooth and nail to reverse them before a final budget must be passed by July 1.
“This is lifesaving, public safety infrastructure,” Democratic Socialist Queens Councilwoman Tiffany Caban said at a rally on the City Hall steps before Monday’s hearing. “Give the libraries all the money.”
Local politicians and advocates have long pushed for the city’s library branches to keep open Sundays, arguing they are critical resource hubs for low-income New Yorkers as they can access Wi-Fi, homework help, job fairs and a range of other services there.
But Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson said the funding levels floated by Adams would not only make Sunday service impossible. She said they would likely also force her system’s branches to suspend Saturday service.
“If these cuts are implemented, we will be forced to shorten hours or have Saturday closures, even though the number of library visits continues to rise,” she said.
Indeed, demand for library services has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Brooklyn alone, Johnson testified that her system issued a record 143,000 new library cards last year. Her system’s on track to issue another 170,000 this year, she added.
A reduction in library service would ultimately hit the city’s neediest the most, according to Marx.
Programs that could be on the chopping block include “Storytime” for school-aged children and literacy workshops for adults and kids, he said.
Along with Queens Public Library President Dennis Walcott, Johnson and Marx urged Council members to not just reject Adams’ proposed cuts — but also push for funding increases for the library systems in the next budget.
In particular, the three library honchos said they have dire capital needs across their branches totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. That includes switching out old boilers at library branches and repairing bathrooms, they said.
“New Yorkers need and deserve modern, sustainable, updated spaces that match the promise of public libraries,” Walcott said.
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