By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — The same day as the New York Public Library's main branch celebrated its 100th birthday, its president Paul LeClerc warned that a "draconian" budget would shutter branches and slash hours.
"I plead with you to help us stop hundreds of proposed layoffs and to help us keep library doors open," LeClerc testified at a City Council hearing Monday.
The mayor's proposed cuts are more severe than those during the 1970s or the Great Depression, would slash more than $40 million from the budget and close five Manhattan branches, the council said.
They would force nearly 700 staffers out of work and reduce hours.
LeClerc said the proposed cuts represent a 40 percent reduction in funding over the past four years.
He said that unless cash is restored, Manhattan users can expect "far fewer days that we're open, far fewer hours that we're open, far fewer services, fewer programs, fewer books on the shelves."
That comes after a record number of visitors to city branches last year.
In all, the library system's 89 locations in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island would lose 687 positions, including 615 layoffs — about one-third of library staff.
Average weekly hours would be cut from 47 hours to just 28. Most libraries would be open just four days a week, LeClerc said.
Some branches could open just two or three days a week, officials said.
"This is a devastating situation," said Upper Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson.
He and other council members vowed to do everything they can to restore the funding, which they said pays for crucial services like job training, computers and programs for kids.
"Even in the most difficult of times, closing libraries should not be an option," said Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who argued the people who are most in need of services are the ones who will lose out.
Without serious restoration, the cuts would mean "the dismantling of the public library system in the city of New York," he warned.
Last year, the council provided an extra $36 million in funding to keep libraries up and running.
The mayor's austere executive budget plan includes other controversial cuts, including laying off thousands of teachers and shuttering three fire companies in Manhattan.