City libraries target six-day service, eventually
The return of full six-day service at the city's libraries isn't happening this year.
The city's three library systems collectively asked for an increase of $65 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the explicit purpose of opening all branches six days a week. They got $10 million.
The vast majority of the city's libraries have not been open six days a week since 2008, when their budgets were last increased.
Hours at the library branches—an average 44 a week—pale in comparison to other big city library systems, according to 2011 data from the Public Library Data Service used in "Branches of Opportunity," a report by the Center for an Urban Future. Libraries in Columbus, Ohio, are open an average of 72.1 hours per week. In San Antonio, Texas, they're open 58.8 hours per week and Chicago's libaries are open an average of 49 hours per week.
The report made the point that despite the fact libraries are now used in poor communities for free WiFi, as job searching centers and classes for immigrants and children, "public libraries have been hugely undervalued by policymakers and are absent from most policy and planning discussions about the future of the city."
Asked by Capital about the hours comparison, City Council majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Council's cultural affairs committee, which oversees city libraries, said it was not a valid one.
"Comparing and contrasting is not always an exact balance, or picture. Our systems are funded differently than other libraries in other cities or municipalities," Van Bramer said. "However, it’s not debatable that we do need to do more."
Van Bramer said the libraries "are doing everything they can with what they are given, but we need them open more hours more days. ... Libraries do an amazing thing for New York City. They provide amazing services and are sometimes very unappreciated.”
Library administrators say full six-day service remains their target. And they're more optimistic about seeing hours restored than they have been in recent years, mainly because of the $10 million bump, which was the systems' first increase since FY 2008. In the intervening years, the libraries suffered a series of cuts for a total of 16 percent of their collective budget.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, the total FY 2015 budget for all three library systems is $311.4 million, up from $301.3 million in FY2014.
The three library systems are the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Library and the New York Public Library for Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx.
New York Public Library head Tony Marx, who testified at a June 3 City Council budget hearing, said in written testimony that the $65 million increase the three systems requested would "ensure an average of 50 hours and 6 day a week service."
Technically, the NYPL has six-day service, though on Saturday the libraries are open fewer hours. The increase would have allowed NYPL to add hours at its branches.
Thomas Galante, head of the Queens Library, said this year's budget was "a step in the right direction," and that six-day service remains a goal for Queens.
"We're hoping to see more funding come next year. We didn't lose all the money in one year. I guess you're not gonna get it all back in one year," he told Capital.
"Six- and seven-day is a goal," he said. "It really is about increasing access to all of the resources that are behind those doors—that's your hours of service thing. And then making sure when you come in, you've got a robust program."
Galante said the funding increase Queens saw this year would go toward increasing library services, but not hours.
Brooklyn officials said they would increase hours this year, but in a limited amount.
David Woloch, the B.P.L.'s executive vice president for external affairs, said in an emailed statement: "Brooklyn Public Library will put additional City funds toward the expansion of hours and services across our system, including the creation of six day service at some branches."
A B.P.L spokeswoman said system-wide six-day service would cost $10 million more, in addition to the $2.8 million increase the system got for FY2015.
--additional reporting by Gloria Pazmino