Mar. 21, 2023 By Bill Parry
In the annual right of spring known as the “budget dance,” the heads of New York City’s three public library systems testified Monday at the City Council to call on the city to reverse a planned $36.2 million proposed budget cuts that would impact hours of service, fewer programs and classes.
The cuts decreased opportunities for underserved New Yorkers, including those most in need, such as teens and immigrants.
During his testimony, Queens Public Library President Dennis M. Walcott said the city and its libraries have come a long way in the past three years through the challenges posed by the pandemic shutdown.
He noted that the library is back to full-scale operations, offering universal six-day service and hosting a wide range of dynamic programming regardless of one’s background, identity, socio-economic circumstances or points of view.
“Public libraries and their dedicated staff have supported and strengthened New York City for more than 125 years, offering information, knowledge and opportunity for all,” Walcott said. “The potential cuts to our budgets would undoubtedly affect our hours, programs and collections, even as we work to support individuals who are recovering from the pandemic, help asylum seekers adjust to their new home, address food insecurity, assist job seekers, expand opportunities for teens and so much more. We hope the City Council will help protect our funding and protect the vital services New Yorkers rely on.”
He noted that from Arverne to Hunters Point, Ridgewood to Glen Oaks, QPL’s customers increasingly visited their local libraries. Throughout its locations in 2022, the library had 4.8 million visits, and physical and electronic circulation surpassed 7.2 million. Walcott expressly noted the expansion of services under the mayor’s teen initiative, giving young leadership opportunities and providing communities with alternative responses to youth crime.
“The expansion of opportunities for teens includes podcasting, robotics, coding, songwriting and a series of programs focused on mental health, which we know is particularly crucial for adolescents right now,” Walcott said.
Walcott also addressed the wave of new migrants.
“With the influx of asylum seekers coming through our doors, LanguageLine has been incredibly useful,” he said. “These newly arrived individuals visit our Central Library each day to apply for an IDNYC card. Library staff volunteer their time to provide interpretation services to assist the application process.
“We also conducted outreach in shelters, providing asylum seekers with books, games, school supplies and gloves, as well as information on free library services like ESOL classes, our hotspot-lending program and other QPL resources.”
Walcott noted that in this fiscal year, QPL had a mandatory $3.9 million cut from its operational budget, and under the FY2024 budget, QPL would face a $5.9 million cut.
Prior to the budget hearing, library leadership, staff, union allies and supporters rallied in front of City Hall to protest the proposed cuts.
“Libraries are vital for our community; they are more than just a place to read books,” Councilman Francisco Moya said. “Libraries help ensure people can access the information they need regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language or geographic barriers. So we are doing everything we can to ensure they receive the right funding.”
The mayor’s executive budget will be released in April, followed by negotiations with the Council before a final budget agreement is reached.
“Libraries serve people of every ethnicity, age and economic class. We already devote just a small fraction of the city’s budget to funding our libraries, but the return on that investment is immeasurable,” Ung said. “It is unconscionable that we are now considering asking them to do the same with less by asking them to accept damaging budget cuts. I will work to ensure that our city’s libraries have the funding they need to continue to provide vital programs and services to our communities.”