Testimony before the Select Committee on Libraries jointly with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations
March 16, 2010
"Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking Speaker Quinn, Chairman Van Bramer, Chairman Gentile, all of the members of;these important Committees, and the entire City Council. Thank you for inviting us here today to share with you the impact the proposed budget will have on Queens Library. We know that you truly understand our mission and the value we add to the communities we serve and we thank you for the fierce advocacy and unwavering support you have shown us in the past. We are here today to implore you to stand with us again, this time in the face of a truly unprecedented challenge to Queens Library and its more than 850,000 library card carrying members.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the FY'11 preliminary budget proposal is nothing short of devastating. The cuts on the table would force hundreds of workers onto the unemployment rolls and cause libraries in communities throughout the borough to be closed more days per week than they are open.
In the proposed Financial Plan for FY11, funding to Queens Library would be reduced by $14.4 million effective July 1, 2010. Combined with reductions of $8 million in July and $3.5 million early this year, the total city reduction from FY;08 to FY11 is a total of $25.9 million or a staggering 27%.
The effect on every essential library service under this proposal will be deep and widespread. We have already been forced to close 14 libraries completely on the weekend and eliminate Sunday service at three of our busiest libraries. These were unfortunate but necessary steps as the funding that this body fought so hard to secure in 2007 for six day service has been totally eliminated.
Going forward under the proposed financial plan, 24 community libraries would be closed five days a week (open only 2 days per week) and another 24 libraries would be closed four days a week (open only 3 days per week). Central Library in Jamaica would be the single library in the borough to remain open on Sundays and just 13 others would be open one weekend day. Our average weekly hours will be brought to a record low of 25 hours per week - down from 47 hours per week in 2008 a reduction in service hours of nearly half.
Just as bad, despite an 18-month hiring freeze and jobs lost through attrition, we would be forced to lay off 350 employees come July. This would be a 38% reduction in our workforce. We have already had to cut purchasing of the most basic library needs, books, by 100,000 items this year and nearly one-third of the essential programming offered at the library is in jeopardy. Under the proposed contingency plan the impacts are even greater - piling on another 10% reduction of both the workforce and the days and hours of service.
But let me pause for a moment from the numbers and try to relate to you the human impact, which is truly what this is about. We hear stories daily demonstrating how libraries have made immeasurable differences in the lives of New Yorkers. There is the mother who took our family literacy class, learned English and is now getting her GED and tutoring others. There is the TSA worker who stopped a librarian at the airport to thank her for helping him find that job. Often, the notes we get are overwhelmingly positive. But just yesterday afternoon I received this email:
I'd just like to express my great dismay regarding the closing of certain library branches. At a time when literacy the high school dropout rate is so high, this seems to be such an unwise decision. In addition, many of our people need the computers to job search during this time of high unemployment.
We look forward to the reopening of these branches, & trust that the powers that be do not close any more in the future.
As the economic crisis continues to stretch government resources and stress families, libraries remain a bastion of hope for the future and a safe haven in the present. The library is a bridge over tumultuous waters to a stable shore.
While the Mayor, the Speaker and City government embark on their ambitious plans to get people back to work, to support small business, to connect students to resources and job opportunities and to educate our adults, it would be counterproductive to shut the doors on an institution with a proven record of accomplishing all of those goals.
We see tens of thousands of students in our libraries after school each week taking advantage of our Best Out Of School Time (BOOST) program. We provide engaging programs and specialized tutors to help these students succeed in school. We employ teens as tutors and activity assistants. Our public computers, which are very often the only Internet access families have, provide a link to essential government services and benefits at a volume of 250,000 computer sessions monthly. Our Job Information Centers help people learn the necessary skills to successfully seek employment. Our adult literacy and English classes open a whole new universe of opportunity for some 6,000 people a year.
Queens Library was recently recognized nationally as the Library Journal’s "2009 Library of the Year," in part because of the quality, depth and breadth of our programs and services. When service hours are reduced by over forty percent - as would happen with this budget - nearly every opportunity library users currently have, to improve and enrich their lives, could be lost behind locked doors.
In the last few years, Queens Library has seen a tremendous increase in demand for our services. Thanks to the incredible support of our elected officials at every level we are seeking to meet this demand with major capital improvements. New or expanded libraries are in the works in many neighborhoods. A new green library in Glen Oaks, the Childrens Library Discovery Center in Jamaica, a new library in Far Rockaway, a new library in Elmhurst, and an architectural gem in Hunters Point are all among them. Major library expansions or renovations are underway right now for community libraries in Arverne, Cambria Heights, Central Library, East Elmhurst, Flushing, Kew Garden Hills, McGoldrick, Queensboro Hill, Ridgewood, Rochdale Village, Seaside, and Windsor Park. But without your support to roll back the expense budget cuts already sustained and to stop the proposed cuts, these buildings will end up standing empty many days every week. We cannot abandon the incredible investments we are making together in these communities.
Queens Library has never been forced to close a community library outright. Even during the depths of the Great Depression, the original vision of Andrew Carnegie remained intact and libraries remained open seven days a week to serve a population desperately in need.
Today the people of Queens are in need and they know that libraries are a place to turn. We rise to the challenge of serving the nearly 50,000 people who pass through our doors each day. We will continue to meet the changing needs of the communities we serve; to build out our libraries, to invest in education, to utilize modern technology to become more efficient. But we can’t do any of that tomorrow without your help today. We ask that you also rise to the monumental challenge before you and ensure that we can keep this vital service available in every community, every day.
QUEENS LIBRARY FY’11 CITY FINANCIAL PLAN IMPACT
The City’s Financial Plan for FY’11 would reduce funding by $14.4 million effective July 1, 2010. That is on top of $11.5 million already cut. State funding has been reduced $1 million, bringing total reductions to $26.9 million. This compares to $11.3 million provided in 2007 to open all libraries on Saturdays.
Current FY’10 funding levels have caused the closure of all community libraries on Sundays; 48 of 62 libraries will close all weekend long by the end of calendar year 2010, as our workforce diminishes through attrition to cut 160 jobs.
Proposed FY’11 funding levels would cause further service reductions, to the lowest levels on record
* Layoff 350 employees in July, a 38% reduction in workforce. Added cost of $4 million for unemployment insurance.
* Central Library would remain open seven days a week.
* Much needed library expansions, including the opening of a remarkable 14,000 square foot Children’s Library Discovery Center in FY’11 - will require considerable resource allocations, further stretching staff and reducing service in other libraries.
* 13 community libraries (the largest, geographically disbursed) would be open six days a week.
* 24 community libraries closed five days a week.
* 24 community libraries closed four days a week.
* Further deep reductions in books purchased, programs, building maintenance, furniture, and needed equipment.
A reduction in hours of service eliminates access to all the free library services that nearly 50,000 people now enjoy each day. This includes jobseekers using computers, school kids getting homework help, immigrants taking English classes and seniors. Given the severity of the proposed reduction, the outright closing of some community libraries will be evaluated so more service would be provided in the libraries that remain open.
Testimony before the Queens Borough Board on the FY ’11 Proposed Executive Budget
February 9, 2010
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Chief Executive Officer 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 challenging economic times. Borough President Marshall has actively and enthusiastically demonstrated her support of libraries and the life-enriching services we provide. And I want to thank the Queens City Council delegation for your past unwavering support. 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 an anchor today and an investment in Queens’ future, one that must be preserved, and I know that those here today share my view.
Let me first review the challenge before us. The City’s proposed Financial Plan for FY‘11 reduces funding to the Queens Library by $14.4 million effective July 1, 2010. That is on top of $8 million cut on July 1, 2009. FY’10 funding was further reduced $3.5 million last month. Our total City cut from FY’08 to FY’10 is $11.5 million, with $14.4 million more proposed, for a total of $25.9 million. That's a loss of more than 27%. In addition, State funding has been cut another $1 million. These are drastic reductions to our budget. Unless these cuts are restored, library doors all over Queens will be closed all weekend, every weekend, and some during the week as well. Some libraries will be open only two or three days per week.
Sadly, the six-day-a-week library service that we all fought so hard to bring back is no longer funded, as of right now. The $11.3 million provided by the City in 2007 to open libraries six-days-a-week has been completely reversed given the budget cuts of $12.5 million we have received to date. This month, the doors closed at 14 libraries all weekend long. As our workforce continues to shrink from a hiring freeze to balance our budget in the future, 34 more libraries will be closed all weekend long before the end of the year; many more will close during the week if the proposed reductions are adopted.
A full 21% of library users access the library on weekends. Full weekend closures will mean shutting the doors in the faces of more than 3 and a quarter million library users who depend on their libraries for education, job readiness and so much more. The alternative – to close on weekdays – means shutting out the 10,000-plus school children and youth who come in after school every day.
We must put a stop to this. The FY'10 funding reductions already received must be restored. The FY'11 funding reductions proposed must be taken off the table.
When Mayor Bloomberg detailed his plans for the recovery ahead and his strategies for the future at his 2010 State of the City Address, he sent a strong message to everyone that he would meet the economic challenges head on, with strategies focused on answering four key challenges:
- How can we help those who've been hit the hardest by these tough times?
- How can we make it easier to open and grow small businesses?
- How can we connect Black and Hispanic young people to the opportunities and support that can lead them to success?
- How do we find new ways to stretch every dollar to the limit?
We know that free and open access to public libraries, seven days a week, is the answer to every question. Every day we are open, nearly 50,000 people walk through our doors to take advantage of Queens Library’s services - thousands of people every day who have been hit hardest by these tough times: immigrants, small businesses, children, adults, seniors, people searching for jobs at the only access point they have to free computers for online job searches, thousands of young people , and every person who is stretching their dollars to the limit by taking advantage of our array of services to lift themselves up.
The other day, I received the following email from a library customer in Ozone Park: Please excuse the fractured English, but I want you to hear what I hear in it: This week we listen our Queens library no longer open in saturday. This news comes to us bolt from the blow. My son goes to first grade in PS 65Q. He got students of the month in kindergarten and first grade. All over the year he got prize for read more books and his standard of reading is above his grades. All the success goes to library. The staff of library alwayse helps us selected good books. Me and my wife comes from job after 7 pm .It is not possible to us go to library in the weekdays. So our demand to you please open the library in saturday , helps our kids acquire knowledge and keep their future bright. Open in saturday Thanks in advance.
The truth is this library customer knows firsthand that we answer the Mayor's questions and strategies to lift up New York, one person at a time, nearly 50,000 people every day our doors are open. Our libraries are the first place people look to for support when times are tough. And as we are forced to close our doors because of budget cuts, we’re forced to close the doors on millions looking for a hand up and a way out of despair.
We offer a wide array of programs to help New Yorkers. Queens Library’s Job Information Centers meet the needs of job seekers. We assist them with free computer classes in English, Spanish and Chinese and our librarians provide one-on-one assistance to teach them how to write their resumes and cover letters. We give them ESOL training, and the means to prepare for high school equivalency exams. Libraries are a vital part of the economic engine that drives New York City forward.
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. I am pleased that we are moving forward with new libraries at Elmhurst, Glen Oaks, and Far Rockaway. We’ll keep moving forward to secure the funding needed to build a library at Hunters Point in Long Island City. Our new Children's Library Discovery Center - that too funded by Borough President Marshall - will be opening within a year. The exterior of the building is nearing completion right now. 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.
But what good is a state-of-the-art library building if the doors are closed. We must continue to work to alleviate budget cuts currently being proposed and to restore the budget reductions already received.
In the past, you have stood with us and I thank you for that. There is much to do – we must turn back the budget cuts already received and we must turn back proposed budget cuts and keep Queens Library open and enriching lives. Thank you.
New York State Senate Standing Committee on Finance Hearing on The Governor’s Proposed Deficit Reduction Plan
October 26, 2009
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Chief Executive Officer 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 members here today 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 Governor’s Proposed Deficit Reduction Plan calls for a 10% reduction in undisbursed funds for Library Aid. Under this plan, the funding reduction for Queens Library would grow from 8% to 10%, a loss of more than $600,000 in State operating funding this year alone. This disturbing cut in State funding coupled with an $8 million City funding reduction represents a double-barreled shot at the heart of our library system. If these cuts are enacted, library service would be cut back even further, at a time when people need their libraries the most.
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. And 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 further 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. When people lose their jobs, and the incomes they rely on to support their families, libraries are one of the first places many 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 people 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 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 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. Job readiness programs are also offered in languages other than English and 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 effective way to capture 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.
Libraries are essential services that people rely on. 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 further cuts go through. We are a bridge to information 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.