Statement by Bridget Quinn-Carey
Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Queens Library
Testimony before the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and
International Intergroup Relations jointly with the Committee on Finance and the Subcommittee on Libraries
New York City Council Fiscal Year 2015 Executive Budget Hearings
June 3, 2014
Good Morning. I am Bridget Quinn-Carey, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking the City Council and these committees for the opportunity to testify today, including: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Council Member Julissa Ferreras, Chair of the Finance Committee; Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Majority Leader and Chairman of the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations; Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Subcommittee on Libraries; and Council Member Mark Weprin, Chair of the Queens Delegation.
We are incredibly grateful for your unwavering support, which has sustained the quality of public library service in this City over the last half a decade of very difficult budget cycles. Year after year, as annual proposed budget cuts threatened to dismantle the system of public libraries, as we know it, this council spoke up, stepped up, and made libraries a priority. It is only because of this support, and the very large restorations made each year, that we have maintained five-day-per-week service in every community we serve and maintained core services that our customers rely on.
Today, we have an incredibly exciting opportunity for the people of Queens. The Library opens the door to opportunity for all we serve; with your support we can deliver real results for young learners, young adults and for adults of all ages and backgrounds. Together, we can make a real difference tackling some of the biggest challenges we, as a City, are facing.
Just last week, I had the distinct honor of officiating at a ceremony celebrating the graduation of more than 50 of our Queens Library students. These adult learners had turned to the library for free adult education classes preparing for the High School Equivalency exam. They took advantage of classes, small group learning and access to resources and computers. Last week, we celebrated their graduation, as each of them achieved their High School Equivalency Diploma. I could not have been more proud of these students, and the library team that helped them along their way. One of the graduates told the audience that she was a new immigrant only 3-1/2 years ago. She came to the library to learn some English. Today she is enrolled in community college. She said, “I believe that my dream will come true because the Flushing Library gave me the confidence in the very first step.” To perform every day miracles like that, we must keep our doors open as many hours as possible.
In 2008, New York City public libraries were funded to be open 6 days a week in every community in Queens. Queens customers enjoyed a 45 hour per week schedule delivered by a full time workforce of nearly 1200. The materials budget was about twice what it is today. Since that time, a series of large budget reductions, spurred by a faltering economy, began and continued for the next six budget cycles.
Despite the very formidable work of the Council and the Mayor to restore the worst of the proposed cuts, reductions were sustained, both at budget adoption annually and through mid-year “PEGS” to meet budget gaps. Since 2008, the Queens Library has sustained a 17% reduction in funding. This has resulted in a loss of over 250 positions, the slashing of the materials budget by over 50%, and the reduction in average weekly hours to under 40 hours a week. For our customers, it means long wait-times to borrow materials. Today, roughly two-thirds of Queens residents do not have a library open on a weekend in their community.
Our goal, very simply, is to restore the funding lost since 2008, bring back employees, bring back full shelves, and open the doors in every community for customers to benefit from the critical resources they can only get when their library is open. One in four library customers comes to the library just to use the public access computers. When our doors are closed, they simply have no other alternatives.
The opportunities before us are only achievable with your support, and we are encouraged by the current budget proposal. We are grateful to Mayor de Blasio for proposing an Executive budget that sustains the baseline of the FY ‘14 council restoration. We are additionally grateful and encouraged by the council’s response to that budget, with a request for an additional $35 million to New York City public library funding this year, which gets us halfway there. This represents a significant turning point in that for the first time in many years, we can have a conversation about what more libraries can do in every community.
New City funding for Fiscal 2015 will translate directly into jobs, with the hiring of new employees to keep libraries open, and the purchase of materials. With a full, citywide addition of $65 million over the Executive budget proposal, we envision a vast increase in weekend service; meeting the community demand for 6 day a week service in every single Queens Library, facilitated by the filling of approximately 250 positions.
In addition, the materials budget would see a much needed increase. Since 2008, significant changes have occurred in the way that libraries deliver information. Increasingly, customers are demanding digital materials, such as e-books. The loaning of digital materials is up significantly. For libraries, this creates an additional challenge of providing both digital materials as well as print materials, in effect doubling the demands on the materials budget. Queens Library is also providing users with access to mobile devices on which to take advantage of digital materials, lending devices, including Google Tablets, for free, with a library card. This adds expense; but it is an important way Queens Library helps our users keep pace with the ever-changing digital information landscape.
Your investment in people, in jobs for children’s librarians, teen librarians, adult librarians, custodians, clerical staff, youth counselors, adult literacy teachers, case managers and all the staff who deliver high quality library service, will be returned many times over in your communities as library doors are open on weekends and residents gain more access to computers, resources, technology training, English classes, adult education, programs and so much more. The need for more access to all these resources the library offers is clear. The weekend hours are particularly critical for working families.
The library continues to innovate and deliver programs that meet the evolving needs of our communities. The Queens Library’s Job and Business Academy is a growing part of our programmatic offerings, responding to the urgent needs of job seekers and small business owners. Last year, we welcomed over 20,000 people to job search and small business support programs and 3.3 million free computer sessions. Every additional hour that the library is open presents an opportunity for thousands of job seekers to get online. This is especially important for people who do not have Internet access at home. While this program is successful, it is only available in 14 locations. Scaling it to make it available in every location is crucial.
Afterschool support also remains a top priority for the Library, providing an enriching environment for students assisting them along their academic path. In Queens, attendance for young adult programs doubled between 2002 and 2011. We are now welcoming nearly 450,000 students annually. Expanding this core service for children and teens after school requires funding to hire new Children’s and Teen librarians and Youth Counselors.
We are also expanding early learning opportunities. In addition to the traditional library offerings for the very young (such as Toddler Learning Centers and story hours and the STEM-learning focused experience of the Children’s Library Discovery Center), the Queens Library is proud to share with you today that we have been awarded the opportunity, through the competitive process of the Department of Education, to provide Universal Pre-Kindergarten classes as part of the citywide initiative. This initiative will tap into some of the great unrealized potential of libraries as community-based early learning centers.
Last year, Queens Library provided English Language Learning or Adult Basic Education to 7,900 learners. In addition, we are a pilot site for administrating the new online High School Equivalency exam. We know, however, that the need in these areas far exceeds what we can offer in a borough whose population is almost half foreign born. Beginning to restore six-day a week service will begin to make these objectives a reality. We are enormously proud of all our community libraries, their programs, and the value they deliver for the community. We also know it is imperative to protect the investment in the physical space.
The Queens library operates 62 community libraries, seven adult learning centers, the Children’s Library Discovery Center, the Far Rockaway Teen Library, and two Learning Centers.
The Queens Library is currently engaged in one of the most successful capital renovation and expansion plans in its history, delivering modernized, technology-equipped facilities for customers and staff. Currently, the library is underway with a series of expansions, renovations and new facilities that will better meet the needs of those communities. Key projects include the expansion of the Kew Gardens Hills Library, the expansion of the Rochdale Village Adult Learning Center and new library buildings in Hunters Point and Far Rockaway. In addition, the library continues to upgrade infrastructure as funding is committed. Ensuring that buildings are watertight and that the air conditioning and heating systems are functioning properly to allow libraries to serve as City heating and cooling centers, is critical. We are currently conducting infrastructure upgrades at several libraries.
However, many unmet capital improvement needs remain across the borough. These include both critical infrastructure such as roof replacements, elevator and ADA upgrades as well as expansions and renovations, which many communities have long sought. In total, the FY ‘15 capital needs for the Queens Library totals over $287 million. Critical infrastructure needs (that is, exterior envelope, ADA access and HVAC replacements) totals $18.6 million for FY 2015. This investment in the physical infrastructure is critical and valued in the community. We consistently see rises in usage as libraries are modernized and renovated.
Even a brand new library is useless if its doors are closed. Every single additional hour we are open means thousands of added opportunities for a customer to access information on the Internet, to ask a question, to prepare to take the High School Equivalency exam or to attend a community program. Every dollar invested in libraries creates dozens of new learning opportunities.
Public libraries have been, and will continue to be, the most democratic of institutions, offering free educational services and resources to every New Yorker. Now is the ideal time to reinvest in the people that make our City libraries great. We know you face some tough negotiations ahead. As you do, we urge you to remember the testimonials you heard today about how libraries literally change lives.
Again, I thank you for the support you have shown our institutions during the toughest of times. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.