Tag Archives: Queens Library

Katz appoints new Queens Library trustee


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of the Queens Borough President's office

Borough President Melinda Katz has appointed Robert Santos to the board of trustees of the Queens Library. The announcement comes after she ousted six trustees members last month and Mayor Bill de Blasio cut loose two board members.

The sacked trustees attempted to regain their position in an appeal that was ultimately denied by Katz. The appointment of Santos was announced on Tuesday.

“It is an honor to serve on the Board of the Queens Library and to join other involved and committed citizens dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the Queens Library system,” Santos said. “Nothing is more important to the health of a community and the intellectual capital of its people than a public library, and the Queens Library is one of the best public libraries in the nation.”

According to earlier reports by the Courier, the firings came after a drawn out legal battle over the tenure of Library Director Tom Galante, who was criticized after a smoking deck was built outside his office in the Central Library in Jamaica. It was also revealed that he supplemented his city salary of $400,000 with more than $200,000 in part-time pay from the Elmont, Long Island school district.

Dougals Grover, who represents the six removed trustees, said that Katz’s move is “unconstitutional” and threatens the independence of the Queens library.

Santos is a Sunnyside resident, according to the announcement. He was the Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of The New York Public Library and also worked as Chief Administrative Officer at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY.  He has also held several positions in the city’s government.

 

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BP library powers could lead to censorship: former trustee


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre  / File photo

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2:15 p.m.

The power of the Queens borough president to remove trustees from the Queens Library board could set the institution on the slippery slope to state censorship, one former trustee told The Courier.

George Stamatiades, a longtime Long Island City civic leader who spent two decades on the library board was removed — along with five other trustees — by Katz, who was granted the power to fire board members through recent legislation during a bitter battle over who controls the library.

Stamatiades said that much sway over the library board could be dangerous.

“Today, she gets rid of the board members,” Stamatiades said. “Tomorrow, through her influence, she says, ‘Hey, don’t buy any more of these books.’

“And then next week, she says, ‘Hey, get rid of all these books.’”

And, Stamatiades said, such power could lead to government monitoring each person’s reading habits.

“Next thing she’ll say is, ‘I want to know what books the community is reading,’” Stamatiades said. “Then it’ll be, ‘I want to know who’s reading them.”

Stamatiades, who was appointed to the board by former Borough President Claire Shulman, said that neither Shulman nor her successor Helen Marshall ever demanded specific action on any issue.

“Based on his comments, Mr. Stamatiades clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Neither I, the mayor, the Queens delegation of the City Council, the entire New York State Assembly, almost the entire New York State Senate nor the governor has commented on the content of materials at the Queens Public Library,” Katz said in a statement.

A firestorm erupted over the salary and spending practices of library boss Tom Galante and the board’s refusal to open the library’s books to city auditors. City funds — about 85 percent of the library’s budget — are routinely audited but the board steadfastly refused to make all of the financial data available to the city.

After much back and forth, state legislators passed a law giving Katz the ability to remove members for cause.

Last month, she ousted six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. All six of the trustees forced out by Katz appealed for reinstatement but were shot down by Katz in early August.

“The removed trustees, including Mr. Stamatiades, have fought against transparency into how library resources are spent and do not feel that they are accountable to the taxpayers of the city of New York,” Katz said. “My goal is to assure the people of Queens that their money is spent on furthering the educational purpose of the library. We need to end the static and get to work on advancing the purpose of the library.”

The six also filed a federal lawsuit against Katz, seeking to be returned to their positions, revocation of the state law that allowed for their ouster and money damages from Katz personally.

Court papers revealed the board hired former federal judge Barbara Jones to conduct to investigate information leaks from within the library.

The judge hearing the suit against Katz, U.S. District Court judge Roslynn Mauskopf, recused herself on Monday because of her long-standing friendship with Jones.

Stamatiades, who initiated the whistleblower probe, said 19 board members voted in favor of the investigation. But, he said, library staffers were uncomfortable investigating their bosses as were the library’s legal staff, so the job was outsourced to Jones.

“We needed an independent person,” he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein held a hearing on a motion from the ousted trustees asking for a temporary restraining order against Katz. He recommended to the trial judge that the motion be denied. The former trustees have until Aug. 29 to appeal the recommendation.

Doug Grover, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said the former trustees could not Let Katz’s actions go unchallenged.

“They brought this action to assert the independence of the Library and the right of every trustee to act without political interference,” Grover said.  “They are understandably disappointed by today’s outcome but remain true friends of the library and hope for its continued success.

“The trustees are evaluating their legal options in light of the decision today.”

Away from court, Mary Ann Mattone, a mayoral appointee to the library board, announced her resignation in a letter to de Blasio.

Mattone said she served on the board for 16 years “without blemish”  and is a member of the Queens Library Foundation.

But, she wrote,” I can no longer urge my friends to participate because of the acrimonious atmosphere that has been created.”

 

Stamatiades looked back fondly on his service to the library and said his commitment to the institution stemmed from love of his neighborhood.

“I guess it’s because I care about my neighborhood and the people around me,” he said. “There’s no other reason. If that’s bad … what can I tell you?”

He also said he being a library trustee was a blessing.

“If you could go to [a literacy class] graduation and hear a grandmother say, ‘I can now go home and read to my grandchild because of the Queens Library,’ well, you’d be going something,” he said.

 

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Hollis library closing temporarily


| editorial@queenscourier.com


ECLEEN CARABALLO 

The Queens Library’s Hollis branch, at 202-05 Hillside Ave., will be closing temporarily, starting at the end of business on Aug. 15, for a new roof installation.

The library will re-open at the end of the renovation period, which is expected to be in October.

In the meantime, there will be limited service through a mobile library every Monday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. In addition, customers are encouraged to use any of Queens Library’s other locations. The closest branches are located in Queens Village (94-11 217 St.), Hillcrest (187-05 Union Tpke.), and Windsor Park (79-50 Bell Blvd.).

For additional information, visit www.queenslibrary.org.

 

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Katz denies appeals of sacked library trustees


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The six Queens Library trustees ousted by Borough President Melinda Katz have had their appeals for reinstatement shot down by Katz.

Douglas Grover, who represents the six trustees removed by Katz two weeks ago, said the trustees were notified by Katz’s office Tuesday evening of the rejection.

“After dismissing the Trustees, it’s hardly surprising that the Borough President rejected their appeal. It’s one more reason the Court must step in and halt the damage Ms. Katz has already done to the Library and the further damage that would surely follow,” Grover said.   “For more than a century the Library has provided excellent service to the community, free from political interference and favoritism. She wants to toss that aside, using an ill-conceived law that we believe is unconstitutional.

“The threat to the independence of the Queens Library should be of concern to every nonprofit group in New York and to every citizen.”

A voicemail left at Katz’s office Tuesday evening was not immediately returned.

Also on Tuesday, federal court Judge Roslynn Mauskopf denied a request by the sacked trustees for an immediate hearing on a temporary restraining order.

She wrote in her decision that the original suit, filed on Friday, was already granted an expedited schedule and that it made no mention of the appeals process.

“Plaintiffs have failed to provide any factual or legal basis from which the Court can glean the impact, if any, of those appeals on the instant application, including their critical impact on the analysis of imminent harm as plaintiffs now argue,” Mauskopf wrote.

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CM Vallone to announce $1M allocation for Bay Terrace library upgrades


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Queens Library


The Queens Library’s Bay Terrace branch is set for a makeover.

The library will see interior renovations and technology upgrades thanks to a $1 million allocation by Councilman Paul Vallone.

Vallone plans to officially announce the funding on Monday, when he’ll be joined by community leaders and residents for a visioning session. During that time, a Queens Library representative will highlight recent upgrades to other modern branches and children from a Bay Terrace library program will have the opportunity to draw what they think the branch should look like.

“I was overwhelmed by the state of neglect and lack of financial support that my district’s libraries have suffered through for years,” Vallone said. “My funding allocation will go a long way to improve and modernize the Bay Terrace Library so that the community can enjoy it for years to come.”

 

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Ousted Queens Library board members sue Katz; demand reinstatement, money


| editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Calling their ouster a “brazen and unconstitutional power grab,” six former trustees of the Queens Library filed a federal lawsuit to be restored to the board.

The suit, filed on Friday by Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades, also demands that the 2014 law that gave Borough President Melinda Katz the power to bounce them, be invalidated.

The six plaintiffs also demand unspecified monetary damages against Katz—including punitive damages—“on account of the egregious nature of the unconstitutional violations and Katz’s malicious and punitive conduct in publicly smearing plaintiffs in order to aggrandize herself,” according to court papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.

After a protracted battle focusing on the stewardship of Tom Galante, the library’s director, the state legislature gave Katz the power to remove trustees of the library before their terms expired.

Katz bounced the six plaintiffs on July 23 because they reportedly attempted to renegotiate Galante’s contract and award him an $800,000 consultancy.  He was already under fire for his near-$400,000 salary—coupled with a high-paying side gig at the Elmont School District—and a controversial renovation of his office that included a $27,000 outdoor deck.

The library receives more than 80 percent of its funding from the public coffers.

Katz did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

 

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Bellerose library to reopen after $1.66M renovation


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Queens Library


The Bellerose branch of the Queens Library will reopen Wednesday following a $1.66 million facelift and technological additions.

The revitalization features fresh decor, a new teen area with computers, self service check out and fully automated 24/7 self check-in, so members can return books at any time.

Library officials will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, with face painting and balloon animals for kids.

Funding for the project was allocated by Councilman Mark Weprin, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark and state Sen. Tony Avella.

 

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BP Katz and Mayor de Blasio cut eight Queens Library board members


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Eight trustees of the Queens Library were banished from the board in a sudden email blitz Wednesday.

Six members were dismissed by Borough President Melinda Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio cut loose two board members.

The eight members cut loose were Joseph R. Ficalora, Jacqueline E. Arrington, Patricia Flynn, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri C. Mangino, George Stamatiades and Stephen Van Anden.

Van Anden and Flynn were the mayoral appointees.

One of the trustees fired by Katz, who wished to remain anonymous,  called the move “politics at its worst.”

“I got a letter emailed to me today,” the former trustee said. “I’m not surprised. I’m okay. I’m not shocked; I was waiting for it.”

The firings came after a protracted battle over the tenure of library director Tom Galante, who drew fire after a smoking deck was built outside his office in the Central Library in Jamaica as well as revelations that he augmented his $400,000 salary with more than $200,000 in part-time pay from the Elmont, L.I., school district.

Lawmakers reacted strongly and recently enacted legislation gave politicians the power to summarily remove board members.

Brinkmanship ensued after the bill passed as trustees attempted to organize a hurried meeting that would have seen Galante resign in exchange for an 18-month, $800,000 consultancy.

“These six trustees merited removal because they failed in their duty to properly oversee the finances of the Queens Library, which receives more than 85 percent of its funding from government sources,” Katz said in a statement. “They also failed to adequately protect and preserve the Library’s resources and physical property by voting to block the New York City Comptroller’s legitimate efforts to obtain Library financial information and to audit the Library’s funding streams.”

Katz and Public Advocate Letitia James protested the move loudly and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman intervened, warning the members against the move, according to published reports.

But even James, who was an outspoken critic of Galante, said in a statement after the purge that the library was one of the best in the country but that it was important to get past the “distractions.”

“As a trustee of the Queens Borough Public Library, I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for their swift action on removing trustees from the library board. These changes will ensure more accountability and improve the delivery of library services for 2.3 million Queens residents,” James said in a statement. “In light of recent distractions, it is important that the library return to its main mission of serving all residents, particularly our children, seniors and English-language learners.”

The anonymous ousted trustee felt the cull was more about Katz’s ambition than the library system.

“I think she just got her dander up and there she goes,” the former trustee said. “It’s part of her master plan to have control of the borough. There was no gratitude, no graciousness. We do this because we love our community, love our neighborhoods, love Queens.”

The library released a statement lauding the departing trustees.

“Throughout the history of the Queens Borough Public Library, the people of Queens have benefited enormously from a highly committed library board of trustees whose leadership has helped keep libraries open and free,” the statement read. “They have helped make Queens Library a recognized national model of excellence.”

 

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Lefferts branch of Queens Library to temporarily close for roof installation


| editorial@queenscourier.com


BENJAMIN FANG

The books at the Lefferts library will soon have a new cover.

The branch, located at 103-84 Lefferts Blvd. in Richmond Hill, is temporarily closing, starting at the end of business on July 26, to install a new roof. The facility expects to reopen by the end of September.

Residents are advised to use the three closest Queens Library locations: 118-14 Hillside Ave. in Richmond Hill, 92-24 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park and 128-16 Rockaway Blvd. in South Ozone Park.

During the closure, limited service will also be provided by a mobile library.

 

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Rochdale Village library to close temporarily for roof replacement


| editorial@queenscourier.com


SARA TOUZARD

The Rochdale Village branch of the Queens  Library will be closed for about two months while the roof is being replaced, officials announced.

The branch, located 169-09 137th Ave., will close at the end of business on Aug. 2 and will reopen in October, the library said.

A mobile library will be set up to provide limited service every Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the closure.

For more information, visit the Queens Library’s website or call 718-990-0700.

 

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Restoration project for Glendale library unveiled


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Courtesy of Queens Library

Queens Library announced its plans to restore Glendale’s library to its former glory and make it more  accessible to the handicapped.

The library on 73rd Place was built in 1935 and since then little has been done to alter or improve the building, according to the project’s architect Matthew Baird. The budget for the project is $2.8 million and with this money, Baird plans on installing an elevator and restoring the interior and the attached garden.

The restoration team, which is part of the Department of Design and Construction, expects to start construction in 2017.

“It’s an incredible facility and we’d like to restore it to its grandeur,” Baird said during a Community Board 5 meeting. “It will be a fantastic place to be.”

The restoration project will also open up some windows that had been covered in bricks over the years, preventing light from entering the second floor. The bookshelves are battered and worn, something Baird wants to change by cleaning the shelves as well as much of the building.

When the library first opened, the garden was well-manicured but since then, the vegetation has become overgrown and Baird wants to not only trim the overgrowth but also install chairs so people can read outside.

The installation of a new elevator is an attempt to make the building more accessible to handicapped people. There will also be a new handicapped entrance on the Myrtle Avenue side.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley secured the $2.8 million through the City Council’s budget but the funds fall short of satisfying all of the library’s needs.

On the first floor there is a once vibrant mural that is now dull and dirty, but the project does not include funds to restore the artwork.

 

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Queens Library announces library-based UPK classes this fall


| events@queensny.org


PAULINA TAM

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vision for universal pre-kindergarten is becoming a reality at two Queens Library locations.

Starting this fall, Queens Library at Woodhaven, at 85-41 Forest Parkway, and Queens Library at Ravenswood, at 35-32 21st St., will provide early childhood teaching. Licensed early childhood instructors selected by the library will be facilitating the schooling, the library said in a statement.

“Queens Library is dedicated to lifelong learning. No time in a child’s life is as important to academic success as the early learning years, and there is no better place to create good readers than at the library,” Queens Library president Thomas Galante said in the statement. “Having universal pre-K in the library will also present the opportunity to connect other members of the family with programs, including adult education, ESOL, computer training, job search help. There is so much Queens Library offers to enrich lives.”

Exact start dates have not been announced.

 

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Queens student turns garbage into money, gives back to library


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Queens Library


Someone’s garbage can be turned into someone else’s future, according to 14-year-old student Kashfia Zaman.

The Woodside resident is a sophomore at Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria who began a community service project after a teacher suggested students become involved in starting a volunteer project.

As part of the project, Zaman collects discarded bottles and cans, deposits them for cash, donates the money to the Queens Library at Long Island City, located at 37-44 21 St., and then asks local businesses to match the amount she collects.

“I thought to do something concerning the environment because of global warming,” said Zaman, who hopes to one day be a software engineer or computer programmer. “So I thought about recycling bottles and cans. And I remembered in my elementary school there was a teacher who, when she recycled bottles and cans, she would cash them in to help her sister, whose house fell down in a tornado. So I got all this money, and I decided to do something for the community.”

With the help of her teacher, Zaman drafted a written pledge and asked businesses to sign. She has received matching funds from Astoria business such as Imagination Unisex Hair Designer at 25-01 Newton Ave., Anthia Digenakis of Function Enhancing Physical Therapy at 32-76 31st St. and Guillermo Hung of Pao & Cha Cha at 23-03 Astoria Blvd.

“I decided to give it to the library because the library has always been a very important thing to me. It was always there for me. I could always go to the library and request as many books as I want,” she said.

So far, Zaman has collected more than $120 and purchased new books for tweens, children between 10 to 12 years old, at her library. She said she decided to help get books for younger children because she wants to help them get into the habit of reading and become inspired to volunteer and help out in their communities.

“I was completely blown away by the vastness of her project and I was excited to buy books for our children,” said Tienya Smith, community library manager at Queens Library at Long Island City.

Zaman said that she and a friend are also in the process of creating a website in which they discuss the importance of keeping more libraries open during the weekends, in order for students to have access to do their homework or use the Internet.

“On the website we have letters and pictures explaining why we would want to keep the libraries open on weekends,” she said. “My friend and I are also writing a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking him if he could make a little more space in the budget for libraries.”

 

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State Senate passes Queens Library reform bill


| editorial@queenscourier.com


A bill to bring reform to the Queens Library has gotten the thumbs up from the state Senate and will now make its way to the governor’s office where it is expected to be signed into law, officials said.

The Senate voted Thursday on the bill which calls for a number of “best practice” reforms including creating an audit committee to oversee the Library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and its annual audits and establishing a labor relations committee to address labor issues.

“Once enacted, my bill will rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the bill.

The bill would also require executive staff of the Queens Library to file financial disclosure forms and be subject to limitations on any outside employment that could be a conflict of interest with their library responsibilities. The bill would also call for the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees to approve the hiring of key Queens Library staff.

“This bill has generated grave concerns and raised red flags with statewide and national groups. The American Library Association wrote that it would ‘threaten the ability for Queens Library to operate free of political influence, and will serve as a dangerous precedent for libraries and library boards around the nation,’” said Gabriel Taussig, chair of Queens Library’s Board of Trustees, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the rest of the board.

 

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$8.2M renovation of Kew Gardens Hills library to be complete in 2015


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Renderings courtesy the Queens Library


The $8.2 million revitalization of the Queens Library at Kew Gardens Hills is set to be completed in the summer of 2015, according to the organization.

Representatives from the library and the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) informed the community about the construction at Tuesday’s Kew Gardens Civic Association meeting.

The library is being expanded by 3,000 square feet to about 10,500 square feet. The renovation will include technology updates, a separate area for teens, a new sloped-concrete roof and a full interior renovation. Outside the library, there will also be a new handicapped accessible entrance ramp, new sidewalks, trees, a bicycle rack and flagpole.

 

Funding for the library was allocated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilman Rory Lancman, Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz and state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky.

 

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