Select Committee on Libraries with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Fiscal 2010 Preliminary Budget Hearing
March 13, 2009
Good afternoon. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking Chairmen Domenic Recchia and Vincent Gentile and all of the members of the City Council for your incredible ongoing support, especially in these challenging economic times. More than ever we seek to protect the critical services that serve as a lifeline to those most in need and I know that you share our commitment to public libraries.
Since our most recent meeting last December, Queens Library’s situation has grown increasingly dire. The City’s proposed Financial Plan for FY ’10 budget, effective July 1, 2009, reduces funding to Queens Library by $13,931,000. This cutback comes on the heels of the $2,849,000 cut on July 1, 2008. Funding in FY ’10 would be 18% less than FY ’08 funding, and, after consideration of costs paid by the Library that are not paid from City agency budgets, such as retiree health insurance, the PEG is 24%. In addition, FY ’09 funding was further reduced by $2,174,000 this past December. Too much has already been lost but those losses pale in comparison to what is on the horizon if these cuts are not restored.
These drastic reductions being proposed to our budget would devastate library service in Queens. If enacted these cuts would close every community library all weekend long with some libraries going below five days per week. It is unthinkable that the greatest City in the world would see public library service brought to its knees but that is exactly what we are facing. It is tragic that the Saturday and weekend library service that we all fought so hard to bring back is in jeopardy of being eliminated once again. We must not let this happen.
In my testimony in December ‘08, I shared with you the very hard and real decisions that were made in the wake of the $5 million funding reduction already sustained. We adapted numerous measures to cut costs without reducing library service hours and staff. Sadly, I must report that additional cuts to our budget will force us to drastically reduce both our days of service and our workforce. If the newly proposed cuts were enacted, Queens Library would need to reduce its workforce by 24% (279 positions) with 240 through layoff—and this is a heartbreaking revelation. In a time of our country’s desperate economic state, our aim is not to add to the country’s swiftly growing unemployment rate, recently reported at 8.1%, the highest it’s been since 1983.
In financially difficult times such as these, library usage dramatically increases. In February, circulation at our libraries surpassed 15 million items and we recorded our 12 millionth visitor! There are still four more months left in the fiscal year and we are on target to break our own records in both these areas. The truth is that 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. This would be the worst possible time to scale back our hours and service.
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.
We have always served seniors in large numbers but we are seeing more than ever as a result of the financial crisis. We’ve seen an influx of seniors requesting computer classes, not only for their personal development, but out of a desire to be computer literate as they seek to re-enter the job market and freshen up resumes. Our Special Services staff is reporting numerous stories of seniors telling them that they need to get a job so they can pay their rent as well as buy food and medication. As long as we are open we will continue to serve the senior citizens who have come to rely on us now more than ever.
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. Unfortunately the City’s proposal to cut our capital budget by 30% would cripple our capital program and end or delay indefinitely much needed renovation and expansion plans. Let me reiterate 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. 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. We cannot singlehandedly erase rising unemployment. But we can be a bridge of hope for all New Yorkers. We ask that you help us to keep our doors open longer and on the weekends.
Libraries are essential services that people rely on. 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.