Testimony before the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, the Committee on Youth Services and the Select Committee on Libraries
April 24, 2006
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking each of the members of the committees here today for your past support of libraries and for the opportunity to speak with you this morning about the impact of youth programs at the Queens Library. I would like to commend Chairmen Recchia, Gentile and Fidler for convening this hearing so we can highlight the great youth programs and services being offered at our libraries. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not thank Chairman Recchia and the entire Council for providing funding for after-school activities through the Cultural After School Adventure (CASA) program.
Queens Library is committed to providing youth with innovative and engaging programs that speak to academic excellence and positive social interaction. As part of our ongoing efforts to serve children and young adults we present a wide variety of programs beginning with toddlers and continuing through the teenage years. Ranging from Mother Goose, Lap-Sit programs, Toddler Time and the Toddler Learning Center through Picture Book, Summer Reading Club and After School programs, our programs change the lives of young people for the better. Our Toddler Learning Centers are presented several times a year throughout the Queens Library. The programs are comprised of a five-session workshop that teaches parents to learn and play in such a way to enhance a toddler’s educational and physical development. The Summer Reading Club features special themes and programs to encourage children and teens to use the library and read for pleasure, as well as for information. The goal is for kids and teens to read for fun and remain lifelong readers. We recognize that reading is the foundation of learning as well as the critical impact it has on a child's future achievement.
The library is part of the “mosaic” of out of school time offerings in any given community. Our customers already see us in this role. Parents want homework help services for their children. Families with fewer resources are looking for greater homework help. Every day our libraries are filled with young people: children and teens who know that they can find help with their homework, print and online resources, fun activities in a safe place, with caring and capable adults. The Queens Library realizes that parents and schools have a big job to do in educating their children. That is why we are committed to being an active community partner in the education of our youth.
One of our key strategic initiatives is to improve the services provided to children in out-of-school times. Through a three-year, $2 million grant we secured from the Wallace Foundation in 2004, we were able to implement a new model for out-of-school time services. BOOST, or Best out Of School Time services, include after school homework help, enrichment activities, collection development, and resource management. Many children come to the library straight from school, and thanks to BOOST services, leave with their homework completed. The Library has a full calendar of exciting enrichment activities for all ages and we concentrate these events in the out-of school hours to boost the learning experience. Poetry workshops, author talks, art programs, music programs, and more offer opportunities for young people to express their creativity and actively participate in favorite hobbies or acquire new ones.
BOOST is not a “program” but is a core “service” that we must continue to provide to children and teens in every library. Those aged 13 to 17 visit our libraries more than any other age group – 80% visit Queens Library on a regular basis. The Wallace Foundation grant is ending and we need your help to keep these services for kids. Queens Library requires new City funding in the amount of $750,000 annually to keep and baseline this needed service beyond the end of the current fiscal year.
Through the hard work of Chairman Recchia and the City Council, Queens Library received $300,000 this year through the CASA program. Three major components of our youth services program have directly benefited from CASA funding:
- BOOST (Best Out Of School Time). This funding provides additional materials and programming in 26 community libraries to expand BOOST. Activity Assistants provide homework assistance and mentoring to youth age 6-14. As part of our effort to engage youth, we provide programming that highlights such activities as reading, music, test taking skills, and character building.
- At-Risk Youth Program: As part of the libraries commitment to funding successful programs, we are continuing the work initiated under a grant issued by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice. The grants have ended, but the need to provide programming, and resources to youth in Rosedale and Laurelton has not. CASA funds have allowed us to continue to provide homework assistance, mentoring through a youth counselor and social work services to youth in both locations. We reach an average of 300 youth per day in both locations through these programs.
- Enhancing After-School Programming for Young Adults, system-wide. CASA funds provide workshops in such areas as financial aid preparation, College Application Preparation, Youth Book Clubs and Art Programs. These programs have been a key to providing safe havens in all 63 locations in the critical 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. after-school hours in all branches, especially for youth 15 and older.
The Queens Library is committed to serving the youth population of the borough. Our customers at all 62 community libraries and the Central Library, between the ages of 1-19, are provided with specific programs, services and materials to fulfill their educational, cultural, recreational and informational needs. All of our community libraries and the Central Library’s Young Adult room have material for teenagers. These include fiction and non-fiction books for completing school assignments and for pleasure reading, computer databases and Internet resources, as well as CDs, videos, DVDs and CD-ROMs. To make certain that teens feel welcome and continue to come to the library, we have created separate teen spaces which give the comfort of home, a space separated from the younger children and adults which encourage greater interaction. We are also looking to include improvements to our teen spaces through the purchase of furniture and renovations which include the participation of youth who now feel like stakeholders in their neighborhood library.
The programs and services available at the Queens library for youth are critical to success and the well-being of our kids and to the future of our City. However, when a library is closed, an opportunity is lost to change the life of a child.
Unfortunately, with all the good work we do when our doors are open for youth, our doors are closed to youth more now than during any other economic expansion in memory. At present, 41 libraries in Queens are closed all weekend long. Just a few years ago, every library in Queens was open Monday through Saturday and fourteen libraries were open Monday through Sunday. As you know, $7.9 million must be restored to our budget so that all of our doors can be open for all kids on weekends. Lastly, the $11 million cut proposed for FY’07 in the City’s January Financial Plan must be restored so we are not forced to close our doors to more kids on weekends and also during the week after school.
I know that the each of you shares our vision to have all libraries open six and seven days a week for kids, coupled with quality services such as the programs afforded through CASA. I thank you for your vision and your recognition of the crucial role that libraries play in our communities.