Budget Cuts Threaten to Close 18 Libraries in Queens, Officials Say
LONG ISLAND CITY — Leonard Sharp moved to Queens from Alabama three years ago, hoping to find a better job. Instead, he found himself out of work.
With no home computer, he comes every day to Long's Island City's public library branch on 21st Street for free Internet access.
He's also one of the many patrons who has gotten help writing resumes and cover letters and tips on how to handle job interviews.
"Finding a job hasn’t been easy," said Sharp, 46, who is upset that the library services he has been relying on could be axed.
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget plan for fiscal year 2013, the Queens Library stands to lose $26.7 million.
If the spending plan is enacted, the cuts would force the closure of nearly a third of the Queens library’s 62 branches, library officials said. Thirty other Queens branches would have to close four or five days per week. Many programs, including those that help the unemployed find jobs, would also likely be eliminated.
"I would have to go someplace else," said Sharp, who is studying to become a substance abuse counselor. "But there is nothing really close by."
Residents say that lending books is only one of dozens of services that the local library provides, and that some programs, like ESL, computer classes and after-school programs are essential.
"The library has everything you need,” says Luis Chang, 54, who lives near the Long Island City branch. "It can really provide you with all the materials that you need — you can just grab a book or use a computer. And if you need some community services, they provide that, too. It’s a lifeline for many people."
Chang, a Venezuelan immigrant, said the library plays a social role, too.
"I’m single and have no family here," he said. "But I have many friends at the library."
The Long Island City branch, which opened five years ago, circulates 7,000 books a month and serves about 600 patrons a day.
"Sometimes, you can’t find a seat here," said branch manager Tienya Smith, who explained the library also touches of other aspects of life, giving out winter coats and taking patrons to Trader Joe’s to teach them about organic food.
Every day, staffers at the LIC branch helps about 200 school children who come to the library after school to do their homework. The branch also has an adult learning center, which offers pre-GED and GED classes and adult basic education classes.
For example, during financial literacy courses, participants learn how to save money and get out of debt. Health literacy classes teach patrons how to accurately read prescription bottles in order to properly take medication.
"Cutting any of our programs would be devastating to our patrons," Smith said.
The cuts are currently being debated in the City Council. If enacted, the cuts would be implemented at the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, chairman of the Council's Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, called the cuts "dead wrong" at a recent City Hall rally.
"New York City deserves a budget that invests in its libraries, not one that slashes much-needed funding from easily accessible educational, cultural and social programming," Van Bramer said.
A spokesman for Bloomberg said budget negotiations with the City Council are ongoing. They must agree to a final budget before June 30.
"We are in the process of coming to a completed budget and that’s ongoing,” Marc LaVorgna said, adding that budget negotiations in recent years have been happening amid two of the worst economic downturns the city has seen post-9/11 and post-global financial sector collapse.
"If the council wants to add additional funding on to the baseline funding then that will be a part the budget process."
On Tuesday at noon library employees and Queens residents planned another rally to support library funding at the Central Library on 89-11 Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens.