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Lower East Side Braces for Library Cuts Ahead of City Budget Announcement

By Elizabeth Barber | April 16, 2013 2:21pm
 Young Sweitzer, 4, reads a book at the Ottendorfer Branch kickoff party in the East Village for the New York Public Library Summer Reading Club in 2010.
Young Sweitzer, 4, reads a book at the Ottendorfer Branch kickoff party in the East Village for the New York Public Library Summer Reading Club in 2010.
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DNAinfo/Della Hasselle

EAST VILLAGE — Community leaders are speaking out against proposed cuts to the city's libraries, hoping to keep their heavily used branches open six days a week.

“Libraries are extremely important to our community,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager of the Lower East Side and East Village's Community Board 3, which has one of the highest rates of library use in the city, according to the NYPL. “We have a lot of low and middle-income residents, and they depend on the libraries.”

Based on cuts proposed in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget in January, the executive budget set to be released April 26 could include substantial cuts to public library budgets.

The preliminary budget included $106.3 million in cuts to funding for New York City’s three library systems, a decrease of 35 percent from the budget adopted for 2013. The loss could mean closures of unspecified libraries, as well as an end to six-day service at remaining libraries, according to March documents from the City Council.

The New York Public Library system, which serves Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island, is facing a $47 million deficit, the largest of the three systems. The deficit “could have a harsh impact on headcount and service,” according to the documents.

At the same time, library use throughout the system has been increasing steadily since the 2010 fiscal year, up to 3.4 million visitors in fiscal year 2012, from 2.4 million in fiscal year 2010, the documents indicated.

The Brooklyn and Queens systems may each have to shoulder deficits of about $30 million, according to documents.

“Preserving library openings to six days a week and restoring full operating hours is an utmost need,” says CB3 in its District Needs Statement for the 2014 fiscal year. “We are seeing many residents who have laptop computers, but cannot afford Internet fees, use the library for Internet access.”

CB3's libraries are exceptionally well-trafficked. In the 2011 fiscal year, CB3's five branches — Seward Park, Tompkins Square, Chatham Square, Ottendorfer and Hamilton Fish Park — had 1,127,098 total visits, the community board said.

CB3 has also listed renovations to four of the libraries as top priorities for the 2014 fiscal year.

About 70 percent of New York City libraries have six-day service, according to NYPL figures. The system’s hours were scaled back to five-day-a-week service in 2002, following budget cuts, but were restored in 2007 with $43 million in additional funding.

The pending executive budget is not the last stage of the budgeting process — the final budget will be announced in June.

“More New Yorkers than ever need and demand the free services that libraries provide,” said NYPL President Tony Marx in a March speech. “Now is the moment to invest more, not less, in our city’s libraries.”