Saturday closures, limited weekday hours, reduced educational programs and a freeze on new branch openings.
These are some of the drastic steps New York City’s public library systems may be forced to take if Mayor Adams continues his drive to cut their budgets by more than $36 million this year, according to revealing City Council testimony Monday.
Testimony from the heads of the city’s three public library systems highlights how detrimental they fear Adams’ first city budget proposal would be if passed by the Council.
Adams’s $102.7 billion budget request announced in January will remove $20.7 million from base funding for the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library systems. In addition, Adams’ plan will reduce the $15.7 million “Libraries Initiative” created by the Council last year, bringing the three systems’ total funding cuts to $36.2 million.
New York Public Library president Anthony Marks, whose system is the city’s largest serving Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, said the “painful” proposal to cut funding would affect every corner of his organization.
“The scale and magnitude of these cuts will impact our operations across the board, whether it be the ability to open new branches, maintain our current hours, maintain our collections, or offer programs,” he told the Cultural and Library Council committees.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and her fellow Democrats spoke out strongly against the mayor’s provisional budget, which he argued balances the need for public services with concerns about the city’s long-term financial health.
Library cuts have become a particularly contentious provision in the Adams plan, and city council Democrats are expected to fight tooth and nail to repeal them before a final budget is due by July 1.
“It’s a lifesaving public safety infrastructure,” Democratic-Socialist Queens Councilwoman Tiffany Kaban said at a rally on the steps of City Hall ahead of Monday’s hearing. “Give the libraries all the money.”
A spokesman for Adams said the mayor’s administration appreciates the “vital role” that libraries play in the city, but disputed the idea that belt-tightening could lead to service cuts.
“Since September, all agencies have been informed that any savings initiatives must not impact services or include layoffs,” spokesman Charles Lutwak said. “We will continue to assess their needs and work with them through the budget process.”
Local politicians and activists have long pushed for city library branches to remain open on Sundays, arguing they are critical resource centers for low-income New Yorkers as they can access Wi-Fi, help with home assignments, job fairs and a number of other services.
But Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson said the level of funding Adams proposed would not only make Sunday worship impossible. She said they would also likely force branches of her system to shut down on Saturdays.
“If these cuts are implemented, we will be forced to reduce opening hours or close on Saturdays, even as library visits continue to rise,” she said.
Indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for library services has skyrocketed.
In Brooklyn alone, Johnson revealed that her system issued a record 143,000 new library cards last year. She added that her system will produce another 170,000 units this year.
Cuts to library services will ultimately hit the city’s most needy hardest, Marks said.
Programs that could be on the block include Story Time for school-aged children and literacy workshops for adults and children, he said.
Together with Queens Public Library President Dennis Wolcott, Johnson and Marks urged Board members not only to reject Adams’ proposed cuts, but to push for more funding for library systems in the next budget.
Specifically, three library bosses said their affiliates were in dire need of hundreds of millions of dollars of capital. This includes replacing old boilers at branch libraries and refurbishing bathrooms, they said.
“New Yorkers need and deserve modern, sustainable, updated spaces that live up to the promise of public libraries,” Walcott said.