Testimony at the Queens Borough Board Hearing on the City's Preliminary Expense and Capital Budgets for Fiscal Year 2009
February 19, 2008
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking Borough President, Helen Marshall, and the Queens Borough Board for your continued support of Queens Library, a vital institution that is so critical in times of economic peril. I know that Borough President Marshall, who once worked in a library, believes fervently in libraries and the life-enhancing services we provide. And I want to thank you for your remarkable and unwavering support for this institution. These are challenging times. We all know it and feel it every day. But it is precisely at this time that we must protect the critical services that serve as a lifeline to those most in need. Public library service is just such a service, one that must be preserved, and I trust that those here today share my view.
Let me first share with you the challenge before us. The City’s proposed Financial Plan for FY ‘10 reduces funding to the Queens Library by $13,931,000 effective July 1, 2009. The reduction is in addition to $2,849,000 cut on July 1, 2008. FY’09 funding was further reduced $2,174,000 this past December. Our total City cut from FY’08 to FY’10 proposed is $16.8 million. In addition, we face a $1.3 million cut in the Executive Budget in Albany. These are drastic reductions to our budget and unless these cuts can be restored, library service in Queens will be reduced to a maximum of five days with some libraries open only three or four days per week. Sadly, the Saturday and weekend library service that we all fought so hard to bring back is in serious jeopardy of being eliminated once again. We must not let this happen.
This past Friday, the Daily News wrote a timely article about the influx of patrons taking advantage of Queens Library’s FREE services, including those looking for employment, stating that customers “made almost 140,000 more trips to the Library’s 62 branches last year than in 2007.” The article also highlighted the fact that “more people are turning to libraries borrowing books instead of buying—to help weather the financial storm.” The article (copies of which are attached to my testimony) correctly pointed out that in difficult times such as these, library use increases dramatically, and that this is the worst possible time to scale back our hours and services. The truth is that our libraries are the first place people look to for support when times are tough. And if we are forced to close our doors because of budget cuts, we’ll be forced to close the doors on millions looking for a hand up and a way out of despair.
Our library proudly serves as a bastion of hope and opportunity for those among us with the least, those most deeply affected by this enormous economic downturn. As more people lose their jobs, and the incomes they rely on to support their families, libraries are among the first places many will turn to for support and assistance on their personal road to economic recovery.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that the country’s unemployment rate is at a recent high of 7.6%. Unfortunately, that number is expected to rise over the next several months. And under difficult budget constraints Queens Library becomes the crucial life support needed for customers deeply affected by the crippling economy. The library continues to meet increased customer demands for consistent quality services and programs in these vital areas.
Queens Library’s Job Information Center (JIC) serves individuals as well as local agencies offering varying public assistance. We work in conjunction with social workers, homeless shelters, high schools, the Queens Correctional Facility, AARP, and other agencies to meet the needs of job seekers in Queens. As a result of the economic downturn, more seniors are coming to the library seeking jobs and they express concern about needing more money to pay their rent. We assist them through computer classes and our librarians provide one-on-one assistance to teach them how to write their resumes and cover letters. And this was the case with Tyanda Smith of Kew Gardens, who was interviewed in the Daily News article. Tyanda was quoted as saying she goes “… to the library’s job information center on her lunch break to find out what it would take to open a small café.” If our doors are closed, who will help Tyanda, and the tens of thousands just like her, fulfill their dreams?
Our Job Information Centers located at the Central and Flushing libraries have increased their service offerings in response to the growing demand for job related and career enrichment programs. Here, people can schedule individual appointments to learn about the labor market and how to look for jobs online, take an inventory assessment to help them make career choices, have their resume critiqued or offered key tips on networking. Our knowledgeable and friendly staff at the Central Library Job Information Center guided nearly 25,000 people through the job hunting process in the past year. As a result of increased demand, Job Information Services have increased the number of job related training workshops and it has also increased the number of these workshops done in Spanish as well as other languages.
And we continue to maintain a satellite library in the Queens Workforce One Career Center located at the Department of Labor in downtown Jamaica, where we provide job information and referrals to job seekers currently receiving unemployment benefits. This is an ingenious way of capturing a segment of the population that is not only attentive, but who may not have viewed the library as a good resource for jobs and career advisement. Nearly 10,000 people utilized this resource last year as they sought employment.
Despite the enormity of the challenges we face on the expense budget side, we must continue to move forward with renovations and expansions of our existing libraries as well as move forward with plans to build new libraries. And I am pleased that we are moving forward with plans for new libraries at Elmhurst, Glen Oaks, and Far Rockaway. And we’ll keep fighting to build an architecturally significant library at Queens West in Long Island City. We’ll also transform numerous community libraries, including Kew Gardens Hills, with interior and exterior renovations and install the latest technology at all of our libraries over the next few years. None of this would be possible without the generous support of Borough President Marshall, our City Council delegation, and the support of so many others.
In a December of 2008 NYC Feedback citywide customer survey, Queens Library was given the highest rating among the most valued city funded services with 93% of Queens residents rating their library favorably and 64% of respondents in Queens rating library service in the top five of all services surveyed. These findings affirm what we’ve always known. Libraries are essential services that people rely on. And what many already rely on, and what many more will come to rely upon, are the free programs and services we offer which help people find meaningful employment.
Of course we are better able to serve those who need us the most when our hours of service are maximized. A library that is closed cannot help someone looking for a job. We will continue to work to alleviate budget cuts currently being proposed. Restoring these cuts would restore the many job assistance programs, services and workshops that we may no longer be able to offer if the cuts go through. Jocelyn Donaire, a veterinary technician student at LaGuardia Community College was also interviewed in Friday’s Daily News article on libraries. Like so many others, this promising young student, who lives in Jamaica, uses the library on the weekends and worries about the cuts that would end weekend library service. “I just hope that doesn’t happen” said Donaire, who also depends on the library to supplement the cost of her college textbooks. I think we all agree with Jocelyn in hoping that this doesn’t happen. I want you to know that we plan to do all we can to fight these proposed reductions.
We cannot singlehandedly erase rising unemployment but we can be a bridge to hope for New Yorkers, like Tyanda Smith the aspiring pastry chef, and Jocelyn Donaire, a future veterinary technician who both depend on the library as their bridge to a better tomorrow. We take our role as a resource for job seekers very seriously. And we will continue to do all we can to educate and train the workforce of tomorrow. Libraries are much more than just a repository for books – we are a vital part of the economic engine that drives New York City forward.