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Statement by Thomas W. Galante, President and CEO

Library Director

Testimonies

Statement by Thomas W. Galante
Chief Executive Officer, Queens Library 
 

Testimony before the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations and the Select Committee on Libraries

Preliminary FY 2013 Budget Hearing


March 13, 2012

            Good morning, honorable members of the committees, Chairman Jimmy Van Bramer, and Chairman Vincent Gentile. I am Tom Galante, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Library. Thank you for the invitation here this morning. Thank you, moreover, for your incredible, faithful support of libraries, especially in the face of challenging budget cycles.

            We are fortunate to have champions in government who truly understand and believe in the value of public libraries. I want to thank City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Domenic M. Recchia, Jr.; and the Chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, Jimmy Van Bramer, for your leadership on this issue. I also want to thank Council Member Leroy Comrie and the entire Queens Delegation to the City Council for your tremendous support.

            Thanks to the enormous restoration made at adoption last year, the Queens Library has kept our doors open for families in every community we serve. Our 62 community libraries are open a minimum of five days per week. We have 18 locations open six days a week and Central Library in Jamaica, along with the adjacent Children’s Library Discovery Center, remains open seven days a week. We welcomed nearly 13 million visitors last year and added a new 13,000 patrons to the rolls of 900,000 current cardholders. Despite significant reductions in the materials budget, we continued to loan books, DVDs and other materials at an increasing pace, approximately 10,000 items every hour we are open.

            Our seven Adult Learning Centers are on track to shepherd another 6,000 students into a new stage of their education through English language and pre-GED classes this year. Our Adult Learners Program, already the largest library-based literacy program in the country, recently expanded services on the Rockaway peninsula, thanks to a New York State grant that pays for the teachers and materials.

            We have also expanded our services for job seekers through the Federal Broadband Technology & Opportunities Program, our Job Information Centers and through expanding strategic partnerships. Job seekers can now find nearly complete services at Queens Library, from resume and cover letter writing classes, to one-on-one career counseling sessions, to links with job placement through Workforce1 at two locations. Approximately 1,000 times a month we help someone along their job search path.

Program attendance at Queens Library is higher than ever before. In FY 2011, nearly 600,000 people attended a formal program at a Queens Library. The topics covered in these free sessions range from music and cultural presentations to financial literacy education, health information and computer training, to name just a few.

            Every afternoon, we welcome thousands of students into the library. Afterschool programming in the library serves as an extension of the academic experience for Queens students. In addition to resources and information, students find helpful tutors, constructive ways to spend their afterschool hours, and a social environment that is both safe and enriching. These programs also serve as a critical resource for many working families. As many as 10,000 students a day visit a library; of those, over a third participate in our Best Out of School Time programs. Attendance in this program has jumped significantly this year. We anticipate that it will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, especially if cuts proposed to the Department of Youth and Community Development in FY 2013 are realized. As other alternative afterschool programs fill up, more students will find their way to the library.

            Our afterschool program is just one of many library programs that is in jeopardy this year. In a moment, I will outline the potential effects on library service that this proposed budget will have. A breach of 5-day service, which is absolutely inevitable without a restoration, is not just a sound bite. It will have a tangible, detrimental effect on the academic lives of these tens of thousands of Queens’ students.

            The City’s 2013 Preliminary Budget proposes a significant reduction to Queens Library. In fact, at a total potential loss of $26.7 million, it is the deepest reduction we have ever faced. (This proposed loss is inclusive of the 6% FY 2013 reduction plus the loss of funds restored at adoption in FY 2012 but not included in the FY 2013 plan.)

            The proposed cut in the operating budget of 31%, if adopted, will cripple our ability to provide free library service in the borough. In Queens, this means cutting deep into our workforce with a staff reduction of over 600. With a third less staff, it simply would not be possible to keep library doors open to serve the public. We anticipate a loss of this magnitude forcing the outright closure of 18 libraries. Sunday service would be completely eliminated. Most community libraries would be closed four or five days each week. On average, communities would be reduced to just two days of library service a week.

            One can begin to imagine the detrimental effects on students, adult learners and job seekers in this scenario. In most communities, all those students who rely on us after school might have nowhere to go for computer access and homework help. For adult learners, their centers could be closed more often than they are open.

            Our network of public access computers is growing and the connections are getting faster. Each week, Queens Library provides close to 50,000 sessions of computer access on one of our machines and thousands more through our wireless network. Without access to our buildings, we can expect hundreds of thousands of Queens residents to be cut off from this resource. Imagine life today in New York City without internet access for five days of your week; then, on the few days you can access it, you have to wait in a long line for a half hour session.

            The impact of new proposed reductions has to be considered in the context of several years of successive cuts. When compared to the funding levels of 2008, Queens Library is down 18% of our staff with14% fewer hours of service. The current proposed reduction would bring those figures up to an unimaginable 69% loss of staff and a 61% fewer hours. At Queens Library, we have found efficiencies and stretched our resources to be able to provide maximum hours of service for our patrons. With a full 90% of the operating budget dedicated to core expenses of staff and materials, trimming around the edges can only go so far before it cuts deep into our staff, and has serious detrimental effects on the public. We have already slashed the materials budget 60% in order to preserve staff and hours while also sustaining mid-year cuts both this year and last.

            This will be the fifth consecutive year of serious proposed reductions in the City budget. Despite the herculean efforts that resulted in enormous restorations each of these years, we find ourselves again facing an even deeper cut. In an environment of such uncertainty, it grows increasingly difficult to realistically plan ahead for the coming year. This cycle also takes a toll on staff whose livelihoods hang in the balance, yet again.

            Free public libraries are more critical to the fabric of our democratic society than ever before. We are no longer just temples to books. We are community spaces, centers of lifelong learning and the place where new opportunities are realized.

            This year, we received a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal about the gift, Carnegie President and our friend, Vartan Gregorian, said, “At a time when everyone says the book is dead, it’s not true in libraries. Libraries have survived all the technological developments, and demand is growing.”

            He is absolutely right. While there are new directions today that Andrew Carnegie would never have imagined, our mission today remains as true to his original intention as ever. It doesn’t matter if we loan a paper manuscript or we loan an e-reader. What matters is that we continue to break down the barriers for all people to access free information, get an education, and achieve self-improvement.

            I want to close with a testimonial from one of our students at the Peninsula Adult Learning Center. Elif Mehdi came to Queens struggling with English and with few employment prospects. She discovered the Adult Learning Center, now takes classes regularly, and is a volunteer there as well. She also landed a job. In her own words,

            “I feel like the library is the foundation of the community. You get information, you get benefits a lot here. Everything is free, classes are free, information is free. … when I came here I could not do anything, I was scared to meet the people, but the library changed me. Now I am outside and I find a job.”

            Again, on behalf of the millions of people who use public libraries in Queens, I want to thank you for your leadership in the face of difficult choices. Your work has made it possible for public libraries to remain open to serve all who rely on them. Today, we ask you again to stand with us to recognize and support public libraries. Thank you.