By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Library advocates are pressing the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to restore $65 million in funding to maintain and improve services at the city’s three public library systems.
They are renewing a pitch they made last year for the city to make that commitment so that the library systems would return to the funding level before the financial crisis hit in 2008. The economic downturn led to years of downsizing, budget cuts and reduced services.
To make their case this year, DC 37 leaders and activists joined community supporters and the heads of the city’s three library systems for a news conference on March 23 in front of City Hall and a later budget hearing.
Speakers noted that last year’s campaign, the group convinced the City Council to add $43 million of the $65 million to the library budget. This year, they want the City Council to make the $43 million increase in fiscal year 2015–about half of which is cut in the proposed budget–permanent and boost funding by an additional $22 million to return funding to its level before the 2008 crisis.
“We want to expand our services,” said Dennis Walcott, the new president and CEO of Queens Library.
With the infusion of the new funds this year, the three library systems have been able to expand their staffs and provide six-day services at neighborhood libraries.
Information on placards placed near the speakers pointed to a need for expanded services:
- 27 percent of New York City households do not have Internet access,
- 30 percent of students do not finish high school in four years,
- one in four New Yorkers need help to learn English, and
- 70 percent of third-graders do not read at their grade level.
“We cannot take our libraries for granted,” said Tony Marx, the president and CEO of New York Public Library. “We need more.”
DC 37 Associate Director Oliver Gray spoke on behalf of the union.
“We are concerned about a process where year after year, there is this budget dance where people have to come begging for money,” Gray said. The restored funds would give the library systems crucial financial stability, he suggested.
Linda Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, said the library advocates also seek $100 million for capital funding. The libraries need to refurbish existing buildings and open new facilities to meet demand for services, she said.
Afterward, leaders of the union’s four library locals entered City Hall to attend a City Council hearing on the budget and to call for additional funding support.
DC 37’s continent included Valentin Colon, president of New York Public Library Guild Local 1930, John Hyslop, president of Queens Library Guild Local 1321, Cuthbert Dickenson, president of Quasi-Public Employees Local 374, and Catherine Skrzpek, librarian vice president of Brooklyn Library Guild Local 1482.