“Save our libraries.”
This was the chant by local public officials and book-lovers who braved the rain and united on May 18 to protest proposed state budget cuts to Queens Library.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer led the rally of supporters carrying placards and posters inside Flushing Library to re-establish funding.
“Libraries provide invaluable services and programs that enrich our communities and improve the academic performance of children in our schools. I will work tirelessly with my colleagues in the City Council as well as advocates to restore as much funding as possible,” said Van Bramer, who is Chair of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee.
Queens Library could lose $25.3 million, which threatens 471 library staff jobs and various services, from budget cuts called for in New York City’s Executive Budget for 2012 that was released last week.
This will be the fourth consecutive year that the libraries’ budget has been reduced, but according to a statement from the Queens Library, this year’s “cuts will reduce library service to the lowest levels ever.”
The cuts will result in 48 libraries being closed four or five days per week, with only 13 libraries open from Monday through Friday, and absolutely no library will be open on Sunday. Furthermore, only the Central Library will be open on Saturday.
Marshall said “the closure of a library is a waste of a valuable resource that provides a multitude of services for users of every age in the community it serves. Yet, we here in Queens face closures of branches that together make up the busiest library system in the city.”
The library added that there will be 13,000 fewer free programs, 1.5 million fewer free computer sessions, no library access or homework help for 5,000 school children weekly, and that 1.8 million requests for information will go unanswered.
Thomas Galante, CEO of Queens Library, said that, with support from the community, the libraries may have this faith reversed. He hosted the rally and asked for people to sign petitions at the library or online at www.savequeenslibrary.org.
The petitions will be delivered to Mayor Michael Bloomberg by Van Bramer, and will be collected until July 1, when the City Council and the mayor decide on the budget.
The group of diverse advocates, who packed indoors and signed petitions at the library, expressed their feelings for a common place.
Rifat Bhatti, a library staff worker, said “there are so many people who need to learn to read and write and [the library] is the hope for them to learn.” She added, “If the funding is cut they will lose that.”
“Politicians sit and complain that we have so many delinquents, we have so many gangbangers, yet they take away the education,” said Erin Maurad, president of the Friends of the Library, an organization that connects the community to the libraries by raising funds and creating events.
George Onuorah, a member of Community Board 4, said that libraries help keep kids off the streets and in a fun learning environment “until their parents get back from work.”
Kids who use the library often were also among the supporters, and gave their opinions of the library.
“We need to be in the library to use the computer or borrow the books to help us study or prepare for the regents exams,” said local high school student Meiling Zheng.
Kevin Procel, a local middle school student, said he likes the library because “people get to study and do homework here and when they’re done they could play and use the computer.”
The fight to protect Queens Library is continuing with more rallies scheduled, including one on June 7 outside the Central Library at 1 p.m. “rain or shine.”