By GREGORY N. HEIRES
DC 37 is working with a coalition to secure an additional $65 million in operating funds for the city’s three public library systems in next year’s budget.
The $65 million includes a $43 million allocation that the coalition won last year and an additional $22 million it seeks this year.
The coalition is also calling for local legislators to add $100 million to next year’s budget to cover capital spending for renovations and new buildings.
The coalition’s campaign, “Keep Investing in Libraries,” has included budget testimony, a celebrity advocacy letter by poet and musician Patti Smith, online letters, rallies in the five boroughs and a “bike to the branches” in Brooklyn.
On May 25, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido led a group of activists for a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall to appeal for greater support for the libraries.
The group included DC 37 local leaders, the presidents of the three library systems along with City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Council’s cultural affairs and library committee, and several other City Council members.
“Today we are coming out once again to request that the libraries are properly funded,” Garrido said. “We want to see the $65 million restored.”
The $65 million in extra support would return the library system to the level of funding it received before the 2008 financial crisis, which led to years of austerity and downsizing, including layoffs.
Last year’s $43 million investment by the City Council helped the public libraries hire 366 staffers–including children’s librarians and information technology specialists–and remain open longer so patrons could visit branches in the evenings and on weekends. This year’s request for $22 million would ensure that the libraries restore and expand programs and meet the soaring demand for services.
The coalition wants the $65 million increase to establish the regular yearly allocation (or, “baseline funding”) for libraries in the city’s budget. This would guarantee that the library systems continue six-day service and retain staff hired last year. It would also put an end to the annual “budget dance” in which library advocates lobby against proposed budget cuts that would lead to layoffs and a reduction of services.
The $100 million in capital funding would allow the public libraries to spend $250 million to address immediate maintenance needs.