The Presidents of the city’s three library systems, District Council 37 leaders and City Council Members made the case May 18 for more expense and capital funding.
“Libraries are the heart and soul of a democratic society and we need more money for them,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who is Chair of the Council’s Libraries and Cultural Affairs Committee at the rally on the steps of City Hall.
Ask $76M More
The de Blasio administration has proposed $344 million to fund operation costs within the three systems under the Fiscal Year 2019 budget but more money is needed, advocates said. They are asking for an additional $16 million for operations, as well as $60 million more in capital support. The city’s 214 libraries currently have $1.1 billion in back repairs, and the costs of purchasing books and providing crucial services have grown.
“If the Mayor of the City of New York and the new Speaker believe that libraries are important then we need to see that projected in the budget,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, whose union represents library staff.
The advocates cited the vulnerable communities that libraries serve, including immigrants and low-income populations. “Libraries are the greatest equalizer. At a time where the digital divide has become so great that there is a tale of two cities when it comes to digital access—it is in the library where people go to find access to computers and Internet,” Mr. Garrido said.
“New York is a city of immigrants; America is a country of immigrants,” said Tony Marx, President of the New York Public Library. “Are we going to stand here and say when you come to your branch to learn English, to borrow books, to get computer skills, to help you get jobs—are we in New York ready to say ‘we don’t have the funding for that?’”
Need for More Workers
Last year, the libraries had over 40 million visitors, and demand for computer sessions and ebooks have increased.
“The truth is, costs are increasing,” Mr. Van Bramer said. “We need to make sure that we are increasing the budget to meet these demands, to make sure all of our library workers are paid what they’re deserved and that we can add more library workers to the system.”
Several of the advocates noted that the amount they were asking for was less than one percent of the city’s proposed $89-billion budget. “If we do not get the increase, we will face very difficult choices in the year ahead; choices we should not have to make,” said Linda E. Johnson, President of the Brooklyn Public Library.
“Our per-capita funding is less than half the state average. That’s crap,” said Lauren Comito, a Job and Business Academy Manager at Queens Library and founder of Urban Libraries Unite. “We change people’s lives every day.”
Mayor: We Value Libraries
Val Colon, president of DC 37’s Local 1930, which represents library staff in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, and Dennis Walcott, President of the Queens Library, were present as well. For Mr. Van Bramer, who worked as a librarian for 11 years, the push for more money is a perennial one.
“I’ve been fighting for libraries for two decades and I’m still fighting like I just got the job,” he said.
The de Blasio administration noted that the Mayor has provided $485 million in capital funding since his first term, and added $42 million to expand six-day library service. The city has budgeted $1.1 billion for capital needs through Fiscal Year 2022.
“This administration greatly values the benefits libraries bring to communities, which is why we’ve increased their budget by 24 percent over five years,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the Mayor. “This new request will be considered as part of the ongoing budget process.”
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