Queens Library Testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Group Relations Hearing on the City's Preliminary Expense and Capital Budgets for Fiscal Year 2006
March 14, 2005
Good afternoon. I am Tom Galante, Interim Director of the Queens Library. Throughout my 19 years with the Queens Library, I have been privileged to work with many dedicated public servants such as each of you before me. I want to begin by thanking the City Council and specifically the members of this committee here today for their continued support of the Queens Library. In particular, I would like to congratulate Chairman Recchia on his appointment to head this very important committee. We had the privilege of meeting a few weeks back and I applaud your commitment to libraries. You have already hit the ground running and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.
As we began fiscal year 2005, our city operating support was $8 million less than just a few years ago. And while those reductions have resulted in service cutbacks - the Queens Library continues to move forward - in fact, setting a new national circulation record in calendar year 2004 with 17.8 million items loaned. We work hard to meet the needs of our customers every day.
We are thankful that the FY'05 budget provided for the restoration of $2 million of prior year reductions of $10 million through the City Council's support in adopting that budget. We are also grateful for the Mayor's support in maintaining that funding level in FY'05 in his January Plan. By maintaining the FY'05 adopted funding level, it allows us to add morning/evening hours in 9 libraries, and to open 3 libraries on Saturdays instead of Sundays, with Saturdays preferred over Sundays in those communities as the 6th day of service. I appreciate the support of the Mayor and City Council in allowing us to "turn the corner" in the FY'05 budget so we can begin to restore needed hours of library service that were reduced in the prior two years.
We continue to position ourselves as the best public library system in the United States. In FY'05, you supported a record $31 million in capital funding to expand and renovate our libraries and technological infrastructure. This included $5 million toward the new 50,000-square foot Jackson Heights Library and $14.5 million to modernize and expand the Central Library, including a borough-wide resource for children at the planned Children's Library Discover Center. When completed, this will be a terrific resource for children all across Queens. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the tremendous support Borough President Marshall has provided for each of these worthy projects. The Mayor and Councilmember Leroy Comrie also provided needed support to make the Central Library renovation a reality. Finance Chair David Weprin, who is also a member of this committee, has been a true champion of the Queens Library.
Library customers can look forward to dozens of major improvements in library buildings throughout the borough through your support. Construction of the new Cambria Heights library is ongoing and we have broken ground for a new Long Island City library. The expansion and renovation of the Corona Library is nearly complete and we look forward to a very large celebration this spring as we unveil the expanded branch library and also our first implementation of our enhanced customer service model. This summer we will also complete a terrific expansion and renovation of the Ridgewood Branch with a brand new children's room. All of these projects represent an advancement of library service in our borough and they only happen with the support of our elected officials.
And while these new and expanded facilities have been eagerly awaited by the communities they will enhance, additional funding is required for them to realize their full potential. Because our libraries are literally bursting at the seams, we have undertaken an ambitious plan to substantially expand libraries in Queens. And with these new additions and expansions comes a need for more operating support. Adding square footage to a library requires us to purchase more materials and to hire more staff to meet the needs of the community. Funding these increased costs would allow us to enhance the services we provide in these expanded libraries without pulling support away from other critical programs which must be funded such as the Connecting Libraries and Schools Program (CLASP) for kids.
Looking forward, our primary focus for the coming fiscal year is the restoration of the cut proposed for FY'06 and to baseline the $5.9 million partial restoration at FY'05 budget adoption. We are anxiously awaiting the Mayor's final budget plan, the FY'06 Executive Budget, to be released in the spring. Given the Mayor's support for maintaining the FY'05 library funding adopted by the City Council, we hope and believe the FY'06 shortfall in the preliminary budget plan will be addressed in the Mayor's final budget proposal to the City Council.
Every day a library is open we provide the people of Queens with the opportunity to improve their lives. We educate and nurture the future of this City in every Queens community every day we are open. If we are to expand library service - which I think every one would like to see happen - we need the restoration of $8.06 million that was reduced in prior budgets so that six-day-a-week library service throughout the borough can be restored. I know you share this collective goal to restore six and even seven day a week library service throughout Queens. Together, we can make this happen.