New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
Committee on Libraries
Hearing on the Preliminary Budget
March 8, 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 Linda E. Johnson, President & CEO of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). Joining me are the Presidents of New York Public Library (NYPL) and Queens Library (QL), Anthony Marx and Tom Galante, respectively. Thank you to 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 talk about the collective impacts of budget cuts on all three New York City library systems and also about how much more we could all accomplish if our libraries were fully funded.
As many of you are aware, in January, the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) released a report titled Branches of Opportunity, describing the crucial and growing role that New York City libraries play in the communities they serve. While there has been speculation that with the rise of the internet, eBooks, and search engines, the relevancy of libraries would decrease, the increase in usage of our libraries shows that the exact opposite is true. As stated in the report, “In FY 2011, the city’s  public library branches greeted over 40.5 million visitors, or more than all of the city’s professional sports teams and major cultural institutions combined.” The report shows that over the past decade, our libraries have experienced a 24% increase in program sessions, a 40% increase in program attendance and an incredible 59% increase in circulation. These gains occurred even though our systems suffered a decrease in City funding over the same period.
Unfortunately, City funding is not living up to New Yorkers’ clear need for more library service. Despite impressively increasing usage, across the entire City of New York only eight libraries currently offer Sunday service and nearly 30% of our libraries are closed on Saturdays. In fact, New York City’s libraries already rank well behind Columbus, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Toronto; Chicago; and Detroit in average hours per week.
Every day our doors are closed is a day New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds miss out: children are deprived of story time, students can’t borrow books, jobseekers lose access to computers and the internet, and immigrants can’t attend English classes. Our libraries should be accessible for everyone. The rising demand shows our amazing potential to reach even more New Yorkers if we had the necessary funding to offer additional hours every week. As the CUF report states, “No other institution in New York serves so many different people in so many different ways.”
Workforce Development & Business Support
Today, each library system will detail some of the important services we provide to New Yorkers and discuss how much more we could be doing if the City were to adequately fund public libraries. One of the most important ways we help New Yorkers is through workforce development and business support programs. During the recent recession, many New Yorkers visited their local library to search for jobs online, access career assessment and exploration software, learn the computer skills needed to compete in the modern workforce and receive help editing resumes. Our libraries encouraged the creation of many new jobs by helping entrepreneurs learn how to open and manage small businesses. Though our libraries offer countless services to assist jobseekers and entrepreneurs, today I will focus on two of our most popular initiatives: our Workforce1 Career Centers and Business Plan Competitions.
To help address rising unemployment during the recession, the three library systems collaborated with the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to open Workforce1 Career Centers in libraries in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. At the Centers, qualified jobseekers are prepared and matched with companies looking to expand their workforces. In calendar year 2012, the four Workforce1 Career Centers referred more than 9,000 jobseekers to interviews and made nearly 2,000 job placements. In a wonderful example of how our library programs can complement each other, just this week, two students from BPL’s Young Adult Pre-GED program attended a Workforce1 recruitment event and were hired by Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. In recognition of the Workforce1 Expansion Center initiative, the three libraries received a “2012 Top Innovator” award from the Urban Libraries Council.
Through Brooklyn Public Library’s PowerUP! Business Plan Competition and New York Public Library’s and Queens Library’s StartUP! Business Plan Competitions, our libraries promote local job creation and entrepreneurship. As part of the contest, participants attend classes and are introduced to resources to help them write a business plan then start and actually run a small business. Sponsored by Citi Foundation, top contestants win thousands of dollars in startup capital to help launch their businesses. Since their inception, the three competitions have received applications from more than 6,600 individuals, awarded over $585,000 in prize money and helped launch dozens of businesses that are still in operation and contributing to their local economies.
One of the latest ways we are supporting the City’s workforce is through the new Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons at BPL’s Central Library. The Info Commons offers 25 computer workstations, including 10 iMacs running advanced creative software; a large co-working space with seating and electrical outlets for 70 people; seven meeting rooms that can be reserved for use by the public; and a 36-seat training lab offering free programs such as resume writing help, internet basics, digital storytelling and podcasting, computer topics for seniors, and community workshops with the New York Writers Coalition. The Info Commons is an incredible resource for freelancers, creative professionals, students and anyone who wants to learn more about computers and the internet, but our capacity to deliver more spaces like the Info Commons is constrained by our limited funding.
Now, to speak about the potential impacts of the proposed budget is the President and CEO of Queens Library, Tom Galante.
Budget Impacts Citywide
Good afternoon. Thank you, Linda and thank you to the City Council and this committee for inviting us to testify today. This year’s City Budget proposal is as grim as it has ever been. Each year for the last four years we have faced enormous proposed cuts. Thanks to the diligent leadership of the New York City Council we have preserved the minimal 5-day service in every one of the 212 communities served by a public library. This is a victory. But despite these efforts, every library across the city has sustained annual and mid-year cuts that have added up. We are currently funded at minus 18%, or over $57 million below our 2008 funding levels. Our ability to purchase new materials has been crippled.
You all are no doubt familiar with the term “Doing More with Less.” We are, too. As a result of year after year of funding reductions, the library workforce in this city is down 19% or over 900 talented staff. We could surely use their talent now. 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.
Despite our record of resourcefulness, this year’s City budget proposal is the largest reduction NYC libraries have ever faced: A 35% reduction below current funding, or $106.7 million. This is a staggering 51% below 2008, when every city library was funded to be open at least 6 days a week. This comes at a critical time when library usage and demand is clearly on the rise. We cannot sustain another funding reduction. There is nowhere else to cut. In short, the effects on library hours and workforce will be drastic. Citywide:
1,445 staff members will be laid off and another 124 lost to attrition.
At least 66 libraries will be closed altogether and dozens of others will have their hours drastically slashed.
Today, the average library in New York City is open about 44 hours per week. This proposal would bring that average down to a dismal 22 hours per week. This is certainly not sufficient to serve working families and students.
Public libraries are a critical component of the City’s education infrastructure — offering after school care, homework assistance, recreational programs, support to parents and youth development, all rolled into one. Because we already have a trusted presence in every community — in walking distance for many students — we are able to provide these services reliably and cost-effectively.
In Queens, our attendance for young adult programs doubled between 2002 and 2011, and the story is similar across all systems. In FY 2012, attendance at all after-school and out-ofschool programming at public libraries exceeded 1.1 million. These students got homework help, participated in summer reading and more.
All our library systems place special emphasis on the teen population: offering special “teen rooms” and other programs that engage young people with books and homework help, as well as comics, web surfing and video games. In Far Rockaway, the Queens Library for Teens provides a separate space tailored to the interests and needs of teens who live in a neighborhood challenged by violence and who especially need help improving their academics and finding opportunities to improve their lives. Libraries also provide robust programs for at-risk youth and for students of all ages who need to prepare to get their GED. According to the CUF report an alarming 30% of New York City residents don’t even have a high school diploma. In a world that increasingly requires a bachelor’s degree for entry-level work, this is a looming crisis.
This year, in collaboration with the Department of Education, all three libraries are rolling out the MyLibraryNYC Initiative, in which 250,000 students across 400 public schools will be able to search the catalogs of all three libraries and have those materials delivered to them at their schools. This should greatly expand students’ access to the kind of quality information that will enable them to develop the key skills for the Common Core curriculum. Older students aren’t the only ones who benefit from free library services. Emerging literacy is, and always will be, a primary goal of public libraries. Many of us can trace our earliest love of reading to library story times. Libraries across the City hold early childhood programs, and many have early-childhood computers to teach important skills when they are most easily cultivated. Little ones from non-English-speaking families come to the library to learn English and get a head start in their academic careers.
Libraries also offer Early Literacy, Numeracy, and STEM Literacy Programs, and supplemental education services for students with autism. Our libraries served 600,000 young learners in this service category last year. Imagine the impact on families if those services were no longer available.
Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Library are also primary destinations for immigrants who need help to navigate this vast city. About 37 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born. In Queens, nearly half the population was born in another country. One-fourth of New York City is less than fluent in English.
Of the ten public library locations in New York City with the highest circulation, six are in immigrant-dominated neighborhoods, including Flushing, the Queens Central Library in Jamaica, Kings Highway in Brooklyn, Elmhurst in Queens, McKinley Park in Brooklyn and Fresh Meadows, Queens. Our Flushing library serves New York’s largest Chinese community and boasts an annual circulation of over 3 million, which puts it in the top five branches in the entire U.S.
So many immigrants turn to the library to gain information and skills that many people now hear about the library before they even leave their home countries. With that track record in mind, there’s no wonder that New York City’s libraries pride themselves on offering free citizenship, naturalization and educational services tailored for that community. Last year, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Library offered thousands of hours of programs that support the newest New Yorkers.
At Queens Library, we’ve been providing free citizenship, naturalization and bridge educational services to new immigrants for over 35 years. We’re the borough’s leading provider of free ESOL instruction and we’re recognized internationally as one of the world’s leading informal education providers for new residents.
Libraries offer programming such as Citizenship Eligibility and Naturalization Preparation, Civic Engagement and Access Courses. Queens Library’s Family Literacy Program gets parents and school-age children learning English together so they can better navigate the city’s public education system, improve their career options, and better understand the public services available to them. Last year, 75% of parents who took part in that program reported improvement in their reading levels, 8% obtained jobs, others earned their citizenship, and all reported an increased ability to get involved in their children’s reading activities.
Now, I would like to turn it over to New York Public Library President Tony Marx to discuss technology, adult education, and the road ahead.
Access to Technology
Thank you. As you’ve heard from Linda and Tom, libraries provide many different services in one trusted place, serving as a one-stop shop for many New Yorkers. Technology access and training are among those essential services that New Yorkers need and depend on libraries to deliver. Together, the City’s library systems provide access to nearly 7,000 public computers and 26 dedicated computer labs that are used for both everyday technology access, as well as formal computer training. Last year we provided over 9.3 million computer sessions on our library computers and patrons using their own devices logged another 2.2 million sessions through our free Wi-Fi. 9 The important role that libraries play in technology cannot be overstated, since over onethird of the City’s residents and three-quarters of NYCHA residents lack access to broadband at home. Libraries are helping New Yorkers “bridge the digital divide” – not only by providing computers and Wi-Fi, but also by providing vital technology training that teaches them new skills. Our students typically come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds: in NYPL’s most recent technology training survey, 53% of students reported household incomes of under $25,000; 83% were below $50,000. Adult Literacy Public libraries also provide vital adult literacy services. Our programs serve the most disadvantaged New Yorkers, and the need for our services far exceeds our current capacity to provide them. Libraries disproportionately serve adults with reading skills below 6th grade level – New Yorkers who don’t have basic literacy skills that allow them to read the bus schedule and who cannot help their children with schoolwork. With our help, graduates from our programs move on to pre-GED and GED classes at the Library or elsewhere in the City. Patrons that come to us barely speaking a word of English, with no formal schooling, learn how to speak, read and write English. Our programs are an essential building block for their future.
Libraries are already the third-largest provider of adult literacy services, but we need to do more. We hate turning people away, but our funding limitations leave us no choice. At NYPL, during recent registration events for the spring English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class cycle, for every one student who secured a seat, two could not be accommodated. That’s almost 3,000 applicants.
A Way Forward
Today, you’ve heard about all of the essential services that libraries are offering. You’ve heard about the devastating impacts if library funding is cut further. You’ve also heard how more New Yorkers than ever need and demand the free services that libraries provide. No institution in this City is better poised to meet the rising demand than libraries. We are embedded in just about every neighborhood in the City and our infrastructure is already in place. We are eager to have a conversation about how NYC libraries can improve this City if funding is increased, not just restored.
Together we can develop a stronger workforce and small-business community by adding seats in job search, small business and entrepreneurship programs. We can bridge that threatening digital divide by providing more technology training and by expanding our free internet access and Wi-Fi. We can help build a more informed, engaged population by expanding our ESOL programs to help more New Yorkers learn English; by adding adult literacy classes to accommodate more students; and by providing citizenship and naturalization support for more immigrants.
With additional funding, we can increase after-school programming and offer more early childhood programs to help young New Yorkers realize the promise of higher education. We can help more people prepare for the GED and other continuing education programs that will elevate them toward the degrees and careers they dream of. By building up our job-skills training programs, we can keep the unemployment ranks from swelling. And by increasing our hours of operation, we can reach more of those underserved New Yorkers who are just scraping by, but could do so much more with a little help.
We fully appreciate the difficult funding decisions that you need to make and the importance of all of the City’s municipal services, but the time for libraries is now.
As the City’s only free provider of education for all, NYC’s libraries are essentially and uniquely positioned to offer people the solutions they need in the information age. To succeed in this era, we must all be not only literate, but digitally literate, and business literate. That’s not going to be easy for almost 30% of NYC children who live in poverty— or the 20% of the adults living in poverty, including a record 1.8 million relying on food stamps1. If libraries are not funded, these people will fall even farther behind.
In years past, Speaker Quinn and the City Council have championed funding of the City’s libraries. We are truly grateful for your support. But the reality is this: Over the last five years, libraries have nonetheless seen a steep decline in funding. This year’s budget does it again, proposing the most drastic cut yet.
While the CUF study concluded that “New York policymakers, social service leaders and economic officials have largely failed to see the public libraries as the critical 21st century resource they are,” we know that this City Council appreciates the importance of libraries. We again seek your support in ensuring that New Yorkers receive the library service they need and deserve. Now is the time to position our City for success by educating our students, updating our workforce and supporting our entrepreneurs and small businesses. Now is the moment to invest more, not less, in our City’s libraries.
1 http://www.cccnewyork.org/data-and-reports/publications/keeping-track-of-new-york-citys-children-2013-overview/ and
Once again, thank you for this opportunity to testify. We remain available to answer any questions you may have.