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Weary Librarians Seek Relief from Constant Mayoral Cuts

March 14, 2013
Marc Bussanich

More than 40 million people visited and used the city’s three public library systems in 2011, but Mayor Bloomberg wants to cut $106 million in funding to libraries in next year’s budget. He proposed almost $100 million in cuts last year and $90 million the year before. City Council members and library workers represented by AFSCME DC 37 are growing tired of fighting annually to restore funding. They proposed on City Hall’s steps legislation to stabilize funding. (Read More/Watch Video)

According to Henry Garrido, DC 37’s Associate Director, the union will campaign for legislation that allocates 2.5 percent of existing citywide property tax assessments for dedicated, baseline funding.

“What is baseline funding? It’s a simple idea. It sets aside 2.5 percent of the property tax levy for libraries. Many municipalities already do it. New York City is way behind other cities in funding libraries. What are we asking for? Would you be willing to give up four Starbucks lattes every year to provide proper funding for libraries,” Garrido said. 

Indeed, according to a recent report by the Center for an Urban Future, city funding for its public library systems rank below the top ten. While San Francisco has a per capita contribution of 101, New York’s is only 31.9 for the New York Public Library, 39.3 for the Queens Borough Public Library and 33.7 for the Brooklyn Public Library.

The report also notes that the city’s public libraries are far from becoming obsolete in the digital age with the proliferation of e-readers and online tools such as Wikipedia.

“Over the past decade 48 different branches citywide have at least doubled annual attendance at programs, ranging from computer literacy classes to workshops on entrepreneurship, while 18 have more than doubled their circulation.”

The presidents of DC 37 locals that represent library workers in the city’s library systems noted that every year for the past 10 years staff have had to waste their limited resources advocating and planning for an unknown future because of the mayor’s proposed draconian cuts.

John Hyslop, president of Queens Library Guild Local 1321, said that his members are angry that they are stuck in a seemingly perpetual budget dance of proposed cuts, threats of layoffs and eventual budget restorations.

“We are compelled to take bold action and propose baseline funding legislation that will allow all three systems’ staff to provide all the services our customers expect, to plan for new and innovative services and to feel secure in our profession,” said Hyslop.

City Council members Jimmy Van Bremer, Daniel Dromm, Charles Barron, Steve Levin and Gale Brewer stood with the library workers to show their support for baseline funding.

Mr. Drumm was a public school teacher in Queens for 25 years and said that kids need libraries to do research, projects and a place to go after school.

“What would kids’ education be like without libraries? It’s ridiculous that year after year we have to continue to fight to restore cuts to libraries. It’s time that it ended and funds be baseline,” Dromm said.

Charles Barron said the bad news of the day was the mayor’s $106 proposal to cut library funding, but the good news is that the mayor doesn’t pass the budget, the city council does.

He issued a challenge to all the 2014 mayoral candidates.

“You don’t go get support from us unless you support the 2.5 percent baseline plan,” said Barron.

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