NEW YORK CITY — A leaky roof that would destroy computers in a second-floor children's room if librarians didn't cover them with garbage bags whenever it rains. Portable chillers so loud that staffers have to yell when speaking to library patrons on the phone. A mold- and mildew-ridden basement that emits a rank odor every time it floods.
These are just three examples of the critical maintenance needs that 216 branches across the five boroughs are facing, according to a report released Monday by the city's three public library systems.
"The city's three library systems are struggling to maintain branches that have gone years without critical infrastructure upkeep — even as they expand programs and services to meet growing needs," wrote the presidents and CEOs of the Brooklyn, Queens and New York public libraries— Linda Johnson, Dennis Walcott and Tony Marx — in "Time to Renew," a report that highlights the infrastructure problems plaguing specific branches. "This is unacceptable."
The executives are calling on the city to allocate $150 million in capital funding to address their libraries' maintenance needs and an additional $34 million in operational funding to expand seven-day service this fiscal year.
New York City's overall capital budget for the three library systems over the 10-year span starting fiscal year 2017 is $1 billion, according to a City Hall spokesman. Mayor Bill de Blasio has also committed an extra $100 million per system for the first half of that period.
"These investments were crucial, but we must go further," said the libraries' dispatch, part of the systems' ongoing "Invest in Libraries" campaign. "The fact is that libraries are stretched thin — moreover, the city’s initial capital funding commitment has been earmarked for a specific set of projects, while pressing needs for infrastructure updates and repairs continue to grow."
These are 10 branches are among those in the worst condition, per the report:
► West Farms Library, NYPL
Location: 2085 Honeywell Ave., The Bronx
Issues: Leaky roof, non-ADA compliant bathrooms, inadequate mechanical systems, outdated interiors, exterior building cracks
Patrons served: 84 percent of students fail to meet state ELA standards; 59 percent of households make less than $25,000 a year
► County Cullen Library, NYPL
Location: 104 West 136th St., Harlem
Issues: Three non-functioning boilers, aging electrical panels that lead to outages, insufficient access to public computers and laptop outlets
Patrons served: 43 percent have a high school diploma or less schooling; 39 percent of households make less than $25,000 a year
► West New Brighton Library, NYPL
At the West New Brighton Library, the biggest issue is a lack of space (credit: Invest in Libraries).
Location: 976 Castleton Ave., West Brighton
Issues: Overbooked public program space, lack of a dedicated zone for teenagers
Patrons served: 41 percent have a high school diploma or less
► Andrew Heiskell Library, NYPL
Location: 40 West 20th St. # 1, Flatiron
Issues: Malfunctioning heating system, inaccessible circulation desk, outdated furniture
Patrons served: Vision-impaired New Yorkers who use the library's talking book machines and other assistive technology
► Great Kills Library, NYPL
Location: 56 Giffords Lane, Great Kills
Issues: Flooding in the basement events space, mildew, water damage, failing HVAC system, non-ADA compliant bathrooms, damaged facade and roof
Patrons served: Programs attendance has jumped by 40 percent since last year; 56 percent of students don't meet the state's English language standards; 45 percent have a high school diploma or less
► Allerton Library, NYPL
Location: 2740 Barnes Ave., the Bronx
Issues: Frequently broken elevator, failing HVAC system, deteriorated windows and roof
Patrons served: 71 percent of students don't meet the state's English language standards; 36 percent of households have incomes of less than $25,000; 52 percent speak a foreign language at home
► Pacific Library, BPL
Location: 25 4th Ave., Boerum Hill
Issues: Failed HVAC system, loud and ineffective portable chillers, inaccessible to patrons with mobility impairments
Patrons served: Visits have increased by 19 percent year over year
► Saratoga Library, BPL
Location: 8 Thomas S. Boyland St., Bushwick
Issues: Lack of accessibility to downstairs program and meeting spaces, poor ventilation in the first-floor bathrooms
Patrons served: 24 percent have a high school diploma or less; annual visits have increased by 15 percent year over year
► Rosedale Library, Queens Library
Chronic flooding in the basement of Rosedale Library has caused significant damage to the building.
Location: 144-20 243rd St., Rosedale
Issues: Chronic flooding, mold and mildew in basement
Patrons: Annual visits have increased 138 percent year over year
► Douglaston-Little Neck Library, Queens Library
Location: 249-01 Northern Blvd., Little Neck
Issues: Not enough public space, with a single program room that seats only 45
Patrons served: Visitors to its three permanent art galleries, two historical photo exhibits and its ongoing film and lecture series about the area's American Indian population
As for the libraries' operational funding, that current budget allows for only 7 percent of libraries to stay open seven days a week, according to the report. An infusion of $34 million would keep at least one branch in each council district open all week.
“The Mayor and City Council have already significantly expanded library service hours through the baselining of six day service at library branches citywide and made a historic multiyear system-wide capital commitment," a City Hall spokesman said when asked for comment on the libraries' entreaty for increased funding.
"Time to Renew" also underscores the impact of the city's capital investment in such branches as Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx, which saw an 80 percent increase in the number of visits after its 2011 renovation, and Stapleton Library on Staten Island, which noted a 177 percent increase in program attendance and 51 percent increase in circulation after its 2013 renovation.