Statement by Thomas W. Galante
Chief Executive Officer, Queens Library
Testimony before the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations jointly with the Committee on Finance and the Select Committee on Libraries FY 2013
Executive Budget Hearing
May 14, 2012
Good morning, honorable members of the committees, Chairman Domenic Recchia, Chairman Jimmy Van Bramer, and Chairman Vincent Gentile. I am Tom Galante, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Library. Thank you for the invitation here this morning. We are fortunate to have champions in government who truly understand and believe in the value of public libraries. I especially want to thank City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Chairmen of all three of these committees, Council Member Leroy Comrie and the entire Queens Delegation to the City Council for your tremendous support.
Thanks to your commitment to public libraries, and most significantly the funding restoration made at budget adoption last year, the Queens Library has spent the last year delivering free educational and cultural opportunities to over 40,000 New Yorkers each day we are open. As you know well, the services of the public library are more critical than ever before. The computer access, workforce development and lifelong educational opportunities we provide are the cornerstone of thriving communities in Queens. We are here today to reiterate the disastrous effects the proposed Executive Budget for Fiscal 2013 would have on our ability to continue to serve the public. We are here to ask you, again, to stand with us to restore that funding and preserve this critical investment in the communities of Queens.
First, let me share with you a snapshot of what is happening in libraries across the borough of Queens at the 62 community libraries, seven adult learning centers, and the Children’s Library Discovery Center that comprise the Queens Library system. Nearly 13 million visitors came through our doors last fiscal year, 13,000 new patrons joined the rolls of 900,000 current cardholders, and books, DVDs and other materials were borrowed at an increasing pace, approximately 10,000 items every hour the library was open.
Our Adult Learning Program expanded in the Rockaways and is on track to shepherd well over 6,000 adult students into a new stage of their education through English language and pre-GED classes. Job seekers flocked to the library to take advantage of the complete services Queens Library now offers, from resume and cover letter writing classes, to one-on-one career counseling sessions and links with job placement. New Yorkers who depend on the library for their only access to the Internet use a computer to get online nearly 50,000 times a week. This past year, in our continued efforts to address the digital divide, we greatly increased the basic computer classes and training we offer, we added hundreds of PC and laptops and we began to loan e-readers.
Program attendance at Queens Library is higher than ever before. In FY 2011, nearly 600,000 people attended a formal program at a Queens library. Attendance in our afterschool programs has also jumped significantly this year. As many as 10,000 students a day visit a library; of those, over a third participate in our Best Out of School Time programs where they find resources and information, trained tutors and constructive ways to spend their afterschool hours.
The City’s FY 2013 Executive Budget proposes a drastic funding reduction to Queens Library. In fact, at a total potential loss of $26.7 million, it is the deepest reduction we have ever faced. This proposed loss is inclusive of the 6% FY 2013 reduction plus the loss of funds restored at adoption in FY 2012 but not included in the FY 2013 plan.
The proposed cut in the operating budget of 31%, if adopted, will cripple our ability to provide free library service in the borough. In Queens, this means cutting deep into our workforce with a staff reduction of over 600. The current workforce has already been reduced by over 200 library workers; another 600 would force the outright closure of 18 libraries, Sunday service would be completely eliminated, and most libraries would be closed four or five days each week. On average, communities would be reduced to just two or three days of library service a week.
One can begin to imagine the detrimental effects on students, adult learners and job seekers in this scenario. The situation could become particularly dire for students looking for computer access and homework help. As other afterschool programs are lost to budget cuts or reach capacity, even more students would need their community library.
Adult students would find that their adult learning centers, which currently keep some of the more extended hours including Saturdays, would be closed more often than they are open, rendering them ineffective to serve the working families who need them.
Without access to our buildings, we can expect hundreds of thousands of Queens residents to be cut off from the Internet. Imagine life today in New York City without online access for five days of your week. Imagine the lines for computers should we be forced to slash our hours in half.
The impact of new proposed reductions has to be considered in the context of several years of successive cuts. When compared to the funding levels of 2008, Queens Library is down 18% of our staff with 14% fewer hours of service. The current proposed reduction would bring those figures up to an unimaginable 69% loss of staff and 61% fewer hours. At Queens Library, we have found efficiencies and stretched our resources to be able to provide maximum hours of service for our patrons. With a full 90% of the operating budget dedicated to core expenses of staff and materials, trimming around the edges can only go so far before it cuts deep into our staff, and has serious detrimental 4 effects on the public. We have already slashed the materials budget 60% in order to preserve staff and hours while also sustaining mid-year cuts both this year and last.
This will be the fifth consecutive year of serious proposed reductions in the City budget. Herculean efforts of the City Council in years past have resulted in enormous restorations to the library. Unfortunately, we find ourselves again facing an enormous cut – in fact, the largest yet. In an environment of such uncertainty, it grows increasingly difficult to realistically plan ahead for the coming year. This cycle also takes a toll on staff whose livelihoods hang in the balance, yet again.
Free public libraries are more critical to the fabric of our democratic society than ever before. We are a digital bridge, a community hub, a center of lifelong learning and the place where new opportunities are realized every single day. As the needs of our patrons change, we have evolved too. With your support, we will continue to provide free and equal access to information and break down barriers for all New Yorkers to discover knowledge, to enhance their education and to better their lives.
Again, on behalf of the millions of people who depend on the public libraries in Queens, I want to thank you for your leadership.