7:00 am Jun. 8, 2011
In front of the Central Library in Jamaica on Tuesday, unionized librarians and elected officials staged a protest against $25.3 million in cuts for the Queens Library system. The amount represents a loss of almost a third of the system's funding.
Members of DC37 and the Queens Library Guild Local 1321, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, provided the noise, chanting, “They say cutback, we say fight back.”
So far, 234 layoffs have been announced for this year from the Queens Library, which was recently determined to be the largest library system in the country by circulation. The budget cuts would also mean many of the libraries in the Queens system would be closed more often during the week. The Central Library would be the only library in Queens that is open Saturdays.
Opponents of the budget cuts make the case that the libraries aren’t just for books, and that they’re increasingly in demand as affordable places for New Yorkers to get access to the internet, enroll in after-school programs and take adult-education classes. On day that almost reached 90 degrees, the speakers also reminded the crowd that people go to libraries to cool off.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district is in Western Queens, told the crowd that he had stuck up for libraries, and for Queens, at a City Hall budget hearing yesterday.
“I got into a little bit of a shouting match with [City Budget Director] Mark Page, who’s representing the mayor,” he said. “Because he had the audacity to say—in public, on TV—libraries maybe weren’t so important anymore.”
The crowd booed when he paraphrased Page: “Maybe we can close them and create something better.”
“I want you to know I nearly jumped out of my seat when he said that,” said Van Bramer. “And I told Mark Page, and it was on New York 1 a couple of times, that was the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
Last year, the administration threatened to cut the Queens Library system by $17 million, but the money was eventually restored by the City Council.
A representative from the office of Councilmember Daniel Dromm, of Jackson Heights, predicted that Council would be able to achieve a similar result this time.
“It’s gonna be a little bit of a dance, but I think at the end of the day, funding will be restored,” said the staff member, Celeste Balducci.
Van Bramer was less certain.
“We’re going to try and restore as much as possible, but I prefer not to play games with people’s lives and people’s jobs,” said Van Bramer. “So we have to assume that this proposed cut is for real.”
The Council and the Bloomberg administration will debate where to deepen cuts or restore money before the fiscal year starts in July. Citywide, the proposed cuts to libraries total almost $100 million. The administration has also proposed to eliminate more than 6,000 teaching jobs and close 20 firehouses.
“I also know there’s lots of city services at risk,” said Queens Library CEO Tom Galante. “And the more we get the word out on what this means for libraries and what this means to communities that we serve, the better chance we have to save every single job.”
He said the money they were seeking to restore was a tiny fraction of the city’s overall funding, but would avert a big social cost.
“Every time we close our doors, we lock kids out,” said Galante.
Greg Toussaint, a student at LaGuardia Community College stood outside after the demonstration. He said he takes the 45-minute ride to the Central Library from Laurelton, Queens, often to use the computers during final exams. He said students would feel the brunt of closed libraries.
“Where are they going go; where are they going to read?,” Toussaint said. “Where are they going to do projects and stuff?”
John Hyslop, president of Local 1321, said the mayor was devaluing libraries and should instead review city contracts to find more revenue streams.
“I’m surprised that Bloomberg does that to libraries every year,” he said. “He puts the onus on the City Council to restore these funds.”
At the Central Library, Hyslop works part-time to digitize the library’s archives, including old maps and newspapers of Brooklyn, Queens and parts of Long Island. He said that prior budget cuts have already cost the library access to people who scan old documents, and that he hasn’t been able to get any more work done.
“Digitizing this stuff would be invaluable,” Hyslop said.
As the protest ended at 1 p.m., the librarians rushed back inside the building. The library was closed during the protest, and a line had formed at the entrance.
More by this author:
- Director Andrew Bujalski celebrates 10 years of 'Funny Ha Ha' with a big fan, Lena Dunham
- A festival built on the hope that film can bridge the deep political divide over Israel