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Advocates Shout for More Funding Inside Normally-Quiet Library

By Lisha Arino | June 1, 2015 3:17pm
 Dozens of library patrons and employees attended a rally calling for more public funding for libraries citywide on June 1, 2015 at Seward Park Library.
Dozens of library patrons and employees attended a rally calling for more public funding for libraries citywide on June 1, 2015 at Seward Park Library.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

LOWER EAST SIDE — These library-lovers weren't quiet.

A group of library visitors and employees loudly called on the mayor to increase funding to public libraries across the city — while inside a normally-quiet library.

“Invest in libraries!,” shouted dozens of supporters at Seward Park Library Monday afternoon. The protest moved to the building's second floor because of a downpour.

“It’s raining but it’s always sunny and beautiful inside a library,” said George Mihaltses, the vice-president for government and community affairs for New York Public Library. He encouraged the dozens of supporters there to chant inside.

"I don’t think I’ve ever yelled in a library, that’s a first for me. I think it’s ok we broke the rules today,” Mihaltses said, before thanking supporters for showing up.

Participants said they wanted the city to restore $65 million in operating funding — the amount library funds have been cut since 2008 — and to invest $1.4 billion in capital improvements over ten years.

However, only $900 million in capital funding for libraries was allocated from the mayor's capital budget over a 10 year period that started in fiscal year 2015. 

Library supporters also said this year's budget included $10 million less in operating funding compared to last year.

The Seward Park rally was one of a number of demonstrations scheduled in libraries across the city as part of the “Invest in Libraries” campaign formed by the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library, which has encouraged patrons to write letters supporting the increased funding to local lawmakers.

“A long time ago, the library was really used as a place to only read books. However, with the changing times, we know that the library has become so much more,” said branch manager Lakisha Brown.

At the Seward Park branch — which serves about 30,000 patrons a month — services include English language classes, afterschool activities for children and tech classes for adults and seniors, she said. With additional funding, the library could hire more staff, allowing it to expand its hours and offer more programs.

Brown said funding is also needed to replace the 106-year-old building’s aging elevator, which frequently breaks down, and to install energy-efficient windows. Brown said she also wanted to renovate the building’s third floor, which needs new paint, flooring and furniture.

The mayor’s office contradicted the campaign’s claims, saying that the operating funding in this year’s Exeutive Budget was consistent with last year’s, when the Mayor Bill de Blasio increased funding for libraries.

The reason for the drop in operating funds is because City Council allocated $10 million as a one time thing last year, an official from the mayor's office said.

“The de Blasio administration has made an unprecedented investment in our city’s public libraries — tripling capital commitments compared to the last Ten Year Strategy, while increasing and baselining operating funds," said spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick in a statement.

"We also continue to work in close partnership with library leadership on major citywide initiatives, including IDNYC, universal pre-K, and much more."