Statement by Thomas W. Galante
Chief Executive Officer, Queens Library
Testimony before the Queens Borough Board on the FY ’13 Proposed Executive Budget
February 6, 2012
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking Borough President Helen Marshall and the Queens Borough Board for the opportunity to testify today and for your unwavering support of Queens Library. Borough President Marshall – with your vision over the past several years, we have literally grown Queens Library to better serve neighborhoods in every corner of the borough, from the Rockaway Peninsula to the East River. I also want to thank the City Council and the Queens Delegation for unwavering support in difficult times including City Council Speaker Quinn, Council Member Leroy Comrie and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the Chairman of the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations. Your leadership in public libraries is really unparalleled. These remain challenging times. Together, we have preserved public library service and enhanced the critical educational and cultural resources we provide to the people of Queens.
I am here today to ask you to stand with us again in the face of the largest budget challenge we have ever faced. Last week, the City’s Preliminary FY ‘13 Financial Plan was released. This budget includes a proposed reduction for public libraries in Queens that totals $26.7 million compared to adoption last year. To put this in perspective, our current budget has already been reduced by $14.6 million, or 15%, and our workforce is down more than 200 positions, compared to the days when six-day-a-week service was funded for every neighborhood. This proposed $26.7 million additional cut on top of the funds lost thus far would bring the total cumulative losses to a staggering $39.7 million since the recession began. I don’t need to tell this body that when times are tough, people need libraries more than ever.
Last year, I stood here and testified that the budget before us was nothing short of devastating. This year, the scenario surpasses even that. If the budget were passed as proposed today, we would be facing job losses and library closures to a degree that is almost too absurd to detail. It is a reality I am confident that this body, and the people of Queens, would find unacceptable.
Under the City’s proposed plan, Queens Library would start next year with 42% less City funding than we had in 2008. Picture dozens of libraries open just 2 or 3 days a week. Picture over a dozen libraries closed outright. Pictures hundreds of talented, dedicated Queens Library staff without employment. Such a drastic reduction is truly painful to contemplate, especially as demand for our services continues to grow.
Last year, with the help of library champions in the City Council, the lion’s share of the proposed reduction was restored in the adopted budget and we were able to maintain our commitment to keeping the doors open 5 days a week everywhere. We currently offer weekend service at 19 locations in the borough. We provide afterschool programs in every single library every single school day.
We are harnessing the power of private monies and competitive grants to bring even more innovative programming to our patrons during those open hours. Workforce One Centers are busy as ever and our $3.2 million federal BTOP grant is putting more laptops and computer knowledge into the hands and minds of residents who have already slipped into the digital divide – in the Rockaways, Jamaica and Long Island City. Our Mail-A-Book program is reaching the homebound and engaging them in meaningful ways. Queens ConnectCare, a new, grant funded program is connecting Queens residents with a trusted source of health information and access to key medical screenings through a partnership with Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center. The Discovery Teams that buzz about the Children’s Library Discovery Center each day are making science, math and technology learning accessible, and fun, for children right in downtown Jamaica and who travel there from all over Queens.
I know that none of us here wants to imagine shutting the doors on the teen looking for tutoring, the new immigrant looking for English language classes, the young mother in need of an enriching environment for her children or the unemployed person looking for resume help and a computer on which to conduct job searches. Of course, if our budget is slashed by over 40% as is proposed, that is exactly what would happen. We would be forced to close doors all over the borough many days a week. In short, somewhere around half of the 45,000 people who visit us every day would find their local library closed.
Since its founding, the public library always served as a guardian of our collected knowledge and the protector of every person’s free access to information. At Queens Library, we pride ourselves on the ability to leverage information and turn it into empowerment opportunities. Our role as the distributor of free information remains a key mission, even as the method of information delivery evolves. When the Central Library in Jamaica opened in the late 1960s it was praised for its sleek, seemingly endless stacks and seats for over 1,000 “readers.” If you visit today, you will still find stacks, but you will first notice a line winding out of our new state of the art Cyber Center, where 72 computer stations stay occupied, and connecting patrons to information, every hour we are open. When information went digital, we went digital. When the web opened up, we opened up to the web, equipping all our libraries with Internet ready computers and wireless network. Now we face a new frontier where literature and other information continues to migrate to yet another form – the e-book. This transition will open a world of opportunities for readers, students and learners of all ages. However, it also presents a robust challenge for public libraries to build and maintain a library of digital material to meet this growing need while maintaining current print collections as well. E-material, like the printed and bound book, is expensive to acquire when you circulate the kind of volume we do – over 20 million items each year. Our materials budget has suffered tremendously in the last few budget cycles. In January, we sustained a mid-year City funding cut of $1.7 million from our book budget, choosing yet again to maintain staff and hours of service. Sacrificing books, magazines and digital materials is not a sustainable path if we are to be positioned to lead our patrons into the new digital age. Transitioning into this new phase for customers, and bridging this growing digital divide, will require increased financial support, not less.
At the same time, our communities are enormously proud of our bricks and mortar, as libraries are the community hubs in many neighborhoods. The list of capital improvements we have implemented with the support of the Borough President and our elected leaders at all levels of government is lengthy. We continue to roll out 24/7 self check-out and check-in machines at all community libraries. We are moving forward to meet the needs of new and growing communities with the library service they deserve. The new library in Glen Oaks is nearing completion while a new library is now underway in Elmhurst. The expansion of Kew Gardens Hills library will begin this month, as will improvements in Queensboro Hill and Bayside. We are looking forward to breaking ground in Far Rockaway and Hunters Point. These libraries will serve all ages in both traditional ways and with services that meet the unique needs of today’s patrons in today’s times. And we must keep them all open.
Again, I want to thank you for the leadership, including yours, our Borough President, our City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her colleagues in the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, all of whom have historically stood up for libraries and achieved restorations to the budget. Because of the work that you do, we are able to continue to do our work, connecting Queens residents with knowledge, with jobs, with financial and civic empowerment. We welcomed over 14 million visitors last year and we look forward to doing so again next year.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.