NYC's Libraries Battle Against $11M Budget Cut
Libraries say the reduced funding could lead to cutbacks on weekends. "You can just get so much blood from a stone," one official said.
New York City's public library systems face the opposite problem: The upcoming municipal budget could leave them with a lack of cash that may result in cuts to programs like the story time Johnson held.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's executive budget for the 2020 fiscal year includes about $387.1 million for the New York Public Library, the Queens Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and city research libraries. That's about $11.7 million less than the library funding that ended up in the current year's budget, records show.
The reduction would deliver a blow to libraries following an expansion of their services and physical footprints in recent years, forcing them to cut hours and programs that patrons depend on, library officials say.
"Our communities have come to rely on what we're doing today. We'd like to continue at that level," Linda E. Johnson, the Brooklyn Public Library's president and CEO, said at a rally last month.
Bolstering library funding is a top priority for the City Council as it negotiates the budget with the de Blasio administration. The Democratic mayor and the council must agree on a budget before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Lawmakers have joined the libraries in calling for City Hall to add $27 million in library funding and baseline another $8 million that the council threw into the current budget. Continuing to support libraries should also be a priority for de Blasio, who is campaigning for president as a progressive leader, council members argue.
"Libraries are one of the most egalitarian things, not just about New York City but about society," Johnson, a Democrat, said June 6. "And libraries are a gateway to new immigrants, libraries are laboratories for learning, libraries are places for children and for seniors. They're free, and it's really about greater personal education and evolution."
City funding accounts for the majority of the budgets of all three major library systems. All of them have built new and larger facilities, with the de Blasio administration's approval, that require extra books and staff, said Iris Weinshall, the New York Public Library's chief operating officer.
The libraries also offer many services including some that de Blasio has championed, such as immigration counseling and work with the city's Thrive NYC mental health initiative, according to Weinshall.
The cuts could particularly affect libraries' weekend service. Seven of the New York Public Library's 88 branches in Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island are currently open on Sundays, but that number would likely drop to zero if the budget forced cuts, Weinshall said. The library may also have to reduce Saturday hours, she added.
Those reductions could affect kids — libraries saw more than 1.1 million visits to story times and other free early literacy programs in the 2018 fiscal year, about 10 percent of which came on weekends, the NYPL says.
"You can just get so much blood from a stone," Weinshall said. "You just have so much staff and so many hours in the day, and if we don't have the staff to be able to cover these branches, we will have to cut back on hours."
Weinshall and Johnson conceded that de Blasio has been good to the libraries during his tenure. His administration has increased city funding for libraries by nearly 30 percent and made a significant investment in their infrastructure, according to City Hall.
"We've made a record level of investments in the City's libraries," de Blasio spokesman Raul Contreras said in a statement. "This includes funding for six-day service in every borough, and investing more than $1 billion over the next ten years for facility improvements across the three systems. We're in regular contact with the libraries about their needs, and look forward to continuing our conversation with the City Council."
But that hasn't stopped library officials from pushing hard for more.
The NYPL says New Yorkers have signed more than 70,000 letters demanding increases in library funding. Their campaign has gotten support from celebrities including "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker, a faithful patron of Greenwich Village's Jefferson Market Library.
"People feel very passionate and very close to their local library," Weinshall said. "It becomes a part of their lives.