Testimony before the New York State Joint Legislative Budget Hearing
January 28, 2009
Good afternoon. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking all of the terrific public servants here today for your continued support of an institution so critical in times of economic peril - our State’s public libraries. I know that each of the committee chairs here today, including Queens’ own, Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan, believes in libraries and the life-enhancing services they provide. Thank you for inviting us here today to share with you the work Queens Library undertakes every day in assisting those looking for work in this difficult economic climate.
As you know, the Executive Budget calls for an $18 million cut in Library Aid. Under this plan, Queens Library will lose $1.3 million of the $6 million we receive in state operating funding. This disturbing cut in State funding coupled with the over $11 million proposed City funding reduction represents a double barreled shot at the heart of our library system. If these cuts are enacted 5 libraries will close a day each week and 40,000 fewer books will be purchased.
According to the Division of Library Development (DLD) of The New York State Library, 143.6 million items were circulated in New York State’s public libraries. That means that one out of every seven items loaned by public libraries in New York State is loaned in Queens. DLD also noted 13 million public library visits in our State. With one out of every eight visits to a public library in the State occurring in Queens, I can speak for all libraries when I say that we cannot afford to sustain such draconian cuts in the face of such demand for our services.
Like our colleagues across this State, Queens Library proudly serves as a bastion of hope and opportunity for those among us with the least, those most deeply affected by this giant economic downturn. As more people lose their jobs, and the incomes they rely on to support their families, libraries will be among the first places many will turn to for support and assistance on their personal road to economic recovery.
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.
Our Job Information Centers located at the Central and Flushing libraries have increased their services 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 offer 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 has increased the number of job related training workshops and they have also increased the number of these workshops done in Spanish.
In addition, our New Americans Programs (NAP) sponsors helpful programs for immigrants in the work force or looking to enter it. Last year, the NAP presented over 90 programs in 12 languages throughout our libraries. One particular program, was working with the City’s Small Business Services, where 100+ participants learned how to start and grow businesses. The program was offered in Mandarin Chinese. A few other examples of job readiness programs offered in languages other than English include “How to Start a Business,” which is geared towards women, and “Job Strategies for Immigrant Professionals.” The highly popular “Business Basics” workshop co-sponsored with the Queens Economic Development Corporation is a quarterly program that could be given bi-monthly or monthly if funding were available. “The Business of Arts for New Americans,” co-sponsored with the New York Foundation for the arts, assists immigrants in finding jobs in the arts.
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 employment 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 visited the library as a resource for jobs and career advisement. Nearly 10,000 people utilized this resource last year as they sought employment.
Last month’s New York City customer satisfaction survey found that 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 which included our Fire and Police departments. 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 to 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 longer be able to offer if the cuts go through.
We cannot singlehandedly erase rising unemployment but we can be a bridge to hope for New Yorkers. 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 State forward.