Closures on Saturdays, restricted hours on weekdays, cuts in educational programs and a freeze on the opening of new branches.
Those are some of the drastic measures New York City’s public library systems may be forced to take if Mayor Adams goes ahead with his bid to cut their budgets by more than $36 million this year, according to damning testimony from the City Council on Monday.
The testimony, presented by the directors of the city’s three public library systems, underscores how damaging they fear Adams’ city’s first budget proposal would be if approved by the Council.
Introduced by Adams in January, the $102.7 billion budget offer 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 cut a $15.7 million “Library Initiative” created by the Council last year, reducing general funds for the three systems by $36.2 million.
New York Public Library President Anthony Marx, whose system is the largest in the city serving Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, said the “painful” funding reduction proposal would touch every corner of the city. Her organization.
“The scale and magnitude of these cuts will affect our operations across the board, whether it’s the ability to open new branches, maintain our current hours, maintain our collections or offer programs,” he testified before the Council’s Library and Cultural Affairs Committees. .
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and her fellow Democrats have vehemently rejected the mayor’s preliminary budget, which they argued balances the need for public services with concerns about the city’s long-term fiscal health.
The library cuts have emerged as a particularly contentious provision of Adams’ plan, 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 life-saving public safety infrastructure,” Queens Democratic Socialist Councilwoman Tiffany Caban said at a rally on the steps of City Hall ahead of Monday’s hearing. “Give the libraries all the money.”
A spokesman for Adams said the mayor’s administration appreciates the “vital role” libraries play in the city, but disputed the idea that buckled down could result in reduced service.
“All agencies have been informed since September that any savings initiative must not affect services or include layoffs,” said spokesman Charles Lutvak. “We will continue to assess their needs and work with them through the budget process.”
Local politicians and advocates have long pushed for city library branches to stay open on Sundays, arguing they are critical resource centers for low-income New Yorkers because they can access Wi-Fi, help with homework, job fairs and a variety of other services there.
But Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson said the funding levels put forward by Adams wouldn’t just make Sunday service impossible. She said they would also likely force branches in her system to suspend service on Saturdays.
“If these cuts are implemented, we will be forced to shorten hours or have closings on Saturdays, even though the number of library visits continues to increase,” he said.
In fact, the demand for library services has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Brooklyn alone, Johnson testified that his system issued a record 143,000 new library cards last year. His system is on track to issue another 170,000 this year, he added.
According to Marx, a reduction in library service would ultimately affect the most needy in the city.
Programs that could be on the chopping block include “Storytime” for school-age children and literacy workshops for adults and children, he said.
Joined by Queens Public Library President Dennis Walcott, Johnson and Marx urged council members to not only reject Adams’ proposed cuts, but also push for funding increases for library systems in the next budget.
In particular, the three library honchos said they have extreme capital needs at their branches totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. That includes replacing old boilers in libraries and repairing bathrooms, they said.
“New Yorkers need and deserve modern, sustainable, up-to-date spaces that match the promise of public libraries,” Walcott said.