New York City Council Committee on Finance, jointly with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations and the Select Committee on Libraries
Hearing on the Executive Budget
JUNE 3, 2013
Joint Testimony of Linda Johnson, Brooklyn Public Library, Anthony Marx, New York Public Library and Thomas W. Galante, Queens Library
Good morning. I am Tony Marx, President and CEO of the New York Public Library. Joining me are the Presidents of Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library, Linda Johnson and Thomas Galante, respectively. We want to thank Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Members Domenic Recchia, Jimmy Van Bramer and Vincent Gentile, as well as the entire City Council for their strong support for New York City libraries. Today we will tell you what your public libraries do for your communities, even as funding continues to dwindle. We will tell you how much they improve the lives of their customers, and how much economic benefit their services provide for the City. And we will tell you how much more they could do with adequate resources.
Overview of Library Services
In short, no place does more for more New Yorkers than public libraries. Together, our three systems have 207 locations. That means a public library is easily accessible to nearly every neighborhood in the city. Today’s libraries are about far more than just books. We are hubs of education and culture. Last year, in addition to circulating 66 million items, we recorded nearly 40 million visits and had 2.6 million attendants to our free programs. We serve everyone, democratizing information in a digital era. That means we provide free services and programs for: • 1.9 million children and teens • 3 million immigrants • 2.9 million New Yorkers who lack access to broadband at home • 1.5 million adult New Yorkers who need literacy services • 370,000 New Yorkers who are actively looking for a job • 250,000 New Yorkers who are small business owners And public demand for our resources continues to grow. Between 2002 and 2011, our circulation grew by 40% and our program attendance climbed 59%.
Return on Investment
Based on multiple state, regional and local studies, for every dollar invested in public libraries, the City gets up to $6 in economic benefits. How many investment options offer a 600% ROI? People go to libraries to make their lives better. They learn English. They study for and pass the GED that qualifies them for better work. They take classes that give them new job skills. They rely on libraries to be safe places for their children to go after school so that they can go to work. All of that translates to higher household incomes and more dollars going to small and mid-sized businesses in this city.
New York City’s libraries have been able to continue providing high quality service despite consistent cuts in essential funding by seeking out innovations and partnerships. These include a campaign to bring greater e-book access to library patrons in New York and around the nation. As a result of our efforts, all of the nation’s Big Six publishers will now make available thousands of e-book titles that were previously unavailable to public libraries, shifting the dynamic between ourselves, the vendors and the publishers. This is a huge step towards ensuring access to information for millions of library users. We are also founding members of the ReadersFirst movement, a global coalition of libraries working together to shape the future of e-publication availability and usability. We are partners in MyLibraryNYC, which makes public library books available for delivery to more than 300 public schools in the city. This partnership with the Department of Education has been so successful that the public libraries in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Sacramento have reached out to us to learn more. Moreover, we are implementing technology and new ideas as quickly as we can. Queens Library has led the way with self-check-out terminals and self-check-in kiosks that let customers return materials on their own time and have the system register it instantaneously. Brooklyn Public Library has opened its new technology and creative space, the Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons, offering cutting-edge digital learning opportunities, computers running advanced creative software, and a large open workspace equipped with seating areas, free WiFi and numerous outlets for laptops and other devices. And New York Public Library is planning to open the nation’s largest research and circulating library in the renovated landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The project’s innovations include an increase of more than double the amount of public space, improved preservation for research materials and expanded spaces for scholars and writers. Now, to discuss the soaring public demand for libraries, let me introduce my colleague Thomas Galante, President and CEO of Queens Library.
Good morning. Thank you, Tony and thank you for the opportunity to speak. New York City’s three library systems are already dealing with more demand than they have the funding to accommodate, and the number of New Yorkers using our programs and resources continues to grow each year. We hate turning people away, knowing how many of them could benefit from our adult literacy services, technology training, job search support, health information, and early childhood education, all with the help of a trained, professional librarian. After the Department of Education (DOE), NYC public libraries are now the leading free provider of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction. Unfortunately, we know firsthand how many more thousands of New Yorkers would like to enroll in a class but can’t, because we don’t have the resources to accommodate them. Given the proper resources, New York City’s libraries could do so much more. We could serve 3 times more ESOL students than we do now. We could teach 2.5 times the students we currently serve in tech training classes, and we could serve 2.5 times the number of children and teens currently in our after school programs. We could help 20,000 more people improve their skills and search for jobs each year.
Budget Impact, Citywide
Unfortunately, we’re talking today, as we have for the last four years, about pushing back a devastatingly large funding cut. It is the same push to return to funding levels that are still much lower than they were in 2008; the last time libraries in New York City were funded to be open six days a week. As a result of 11 consecutive funding reductions (including PEGs), the library workforce in this city is down 20% since 2008. That’s more than 940 valuable staff. We have also slashed book budgets, leveraged private and grant dollars, sacrificed weekend hours, found efficiencies in back-end operations and stretched our staff thin in order to keep library service strong. We know how much our communities need us to be open, and we have done everything in our power to deliver. This year’s city budget proposal is the largest reduction NYC libraries have ever faced: 35% below current funding, or $106.7 million. We’ve mentioned that this comes at a time when library usage and demand are clearly rising, and as the City is just starting to recover economically. Queens Library and Brooklyn Public Library are also struggling with millions of dollars of costs associated with Superstorm Sandy, including the complete replacement of library interiors, the decontamination of books and other circulation materials, and the costs of providing interim facilities while permanent buildings are readied. In short, we cannot sustain another funding reduction. The proposed budget would force us to make dire changes across our three systems, including: • 1,445 staff member lay-offs and another 124 lost to attrition. • At least 66 library closures and dozens of others operating with hours drastically slashed. • Average weekly hours cut nearly in half from 43 to 22. The bottom line is, libraries are critical resources for all populations, and the need is only growing. This proposal will cut the lifeline we offer to people in every community, every day. Now, to discuss the vital importance of stabilizing library funding, please welcome my colleague Linda Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library.
Importance of Stabilized Funding
Thank you, Tom, and thank you for the opportunity to speak. For the last four years, New York’s public libraries have faced enormous proposed cuts. Thanks to the leadership of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Chairs Recchia, Van Bramer and Gentile, and the entire City Council, we have been able to restore significant amounts of funding. We often talk about how difficult this process is for libraries, but it is even harder on the people who need their library. The “budget dance” unfolds each year at the expense of vulnerable populations, and the time to stabilize funding for libraries is now. If we don’t act now, we lock out students who, with the proper homework help, would have been able to improve their grades and get into college. We lock out jobseekers looking to make themselves more marketable. We deny immigrants their best chance to excel in the United States. And we shortchange the New Yorkers struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy who need access to job skills training, the internet and informational resources. If we defer on properly funding libraries this year, many of these people won’t learn about these vital opportunities. For them, it is not just a budget exercise. If library resources aren’t available, they may fall farther behind. They likely won’t be able to make up for that lost year professionally or educationally.
Open Libraries Make a Stronger City
Many people consider New York to be the greatest city in the world. If that’s the case, don’t we owe it to ourselves to offer unmatched library access to our residents? Today, the average library in New York City is open about 43 hours per week. That’s well below other leading U.S. cities, including Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Houston, and even Detroit. This proposed budget would bring our average down to a dismal 22 hours per week. This is certainly not sufficient to serve working families and students.
New York City is a city of opportunity. By offering information and education for free, public libraries democratize the ladder to success and prosperity. Our City has weathered some tough economic times in the past few years, and some belt-tightening may be necessary. But cutting library funding also eliminates opportunities for immigrants, low-income families, senior citizens, schoolchildren, teens and more. It’s a serious threat to the promise of prosperity and social improvement with which New Yorkers so strongly identify. We know that this City Council appreciates the importance of libraries. We seek your support in helping to ensure that New Yorkers receive the library service that they need and deserve. Now is the moment to invest more, not less, in our city’s libraries. Restore our funding this year, and let’s begin the conversation about what we can accomplish in the future. Once again, thank you for this opportunity to testify. We remain available to answer any questions you may have.
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