Library Director     

Testimony before the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations and the Committee on Finance on the City's Executive Expense and Capital Budgets for Fiscal Year 2005

May 21, 2004 

Tom Galante

Good afternoon. I am Tom Galante, Interim Director of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking each of the members of this committee, our Queens delegation, and of course Chairman Serrano for your unwavering support of our City's public libraries. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

At this time last year, our national and local economy was still sliding. The Library was planning and implementing major reductions in library services, including eliminating days and hours of library service. Everything was on hold. Instead of focusing on moving the organization forward, we were searching for the least painful way to cut programs and services that we had built for over a decade. We were in a hiring freeze with a layoff of hundreds of staff as a very real possibility as well. As someone who worked very hard to build the Queens Library programs and services for the past 17 years, it was a painful time. In the end, we received a $10 million funding reduction that caused painful service cutbacks.

Those City funding reductions have caused 44 community libraries in Queens to be closed the entire weekend, every weekend of the year. An extensive campaign to raise additional private support has helped us partially bridge the budget gap, temporarily, and allowed us to buy more than 100,000 new books. Even so, we still bought 336,000 fewer books - a 40[%] reduction - than we could buy before. One time private funding of $500,000 will permit after-school and summer reading programs to be held this year, even though ongoing city funding was eliminated for them; we've instituted low cost services by deploying innovative technologies to access the libraries remotely. Customers can request a book online and receive an email when the book is available for pickup. Customers can ask reference questions online by electronically chatting with a librarian. But there is no substitute for open libraries, and one-time private grants cannot replace government funding for staff to open library doors and for the books and other library materials we need to serve the people of this City.

We all know the importance of having our libraries open. Given current City funding, even our five-day schedule does not provide the hours of service our 825,000 library card holders expect. 44 neighborhoods suffer closed libraries at least three mornings during the week, in addition to finding their libraries unavailable at least three out of five weeknights. To make matters worse, these communities have no library service at all on weekends. The people of Queens deserve much better than this.

In short, city funding is needed to simply deliver reasonable five-day service each week. Given current hours of service, and a 40[%] reduction in books, all too often customers can't visit us when they need us and they don't find the information they need. Reductions in book purchases compound each year these reductions continue. Since city funding reductions began, over 1,000,000 books have not been purchased and are lost to our collection forever. These reductions must be restored; people just can't wait any longer.

The Executive Budget for FY'05 further cuts public library service. It includes a reduction of $3.2 million to the Queens Library, in addition to the $10 million that has already been cut in the past. Instead of restoring funding, which has already cut books and library hours and days of service, the proposed budget would close additional libraries throughout the borough - twenty-one (21) community libraries in Queens would close additional days if the Executive Budget is enacted - that's libraries open three or four days per week.

In addition, the proposed budget reduces funding by another $885,000, as a result of the City's Office of Management and Budget's directive to "self-fund" staff costs through "savings". Those "self-funded savings," e.g. reduced sick time accruals for newly hired staff, do not result in real financial savings to the Library. Moreover, the 15[%] reduction in minimum starting salaries included in the City's agreement with DC 37 is not achievable for librarians. A 15[%] salary reduction for librarians reduces the current starting salary of $33,850 to a salary of $28,772. A professional librarian at the Queens Library, in fact any librarian in New York State, must have a Masters Degree in Library Science. The current starting salary of $33,850 causes difficulty in recruiting and retaining librarians now. The City's own Department of Education pays its starting librarians $10,000 more per year, and school librarians don't work year round, Saturdays, and evenings. The City pays its starting school librarians 40[%] more per hour than its public librarians. A new starting salary of $28,772 is unrealistic - we won't be able to fill vacant librarian positions which would result in closing libraries as positions go unfilled. The $885,000 reduction from OMB equates to six (6) additional branch libraries losing a day of service each week.

In sum, we need the City Council's support to restore the funding reduction proposed in the FY'05 Executive Budget to keep the Queens Library whole in FY'05, so that the same level of service can be provided in FY'05 as was delivered in FY'04. That funding need is now $4.1 million.

I have said before that going below a five-day schedule would be a tragedy for our City. The Executive Budget, if enacted, with its large reductions in library service, would cause that unfortunate reality.

If we are to expand library service - which I think every one would like to see happen - in addition to the restoration of the $4.1 million reduction proposed in the Executive Budget, a restoration of $13.3 million is needed to restore public library service back to 2001 service levels. Were we to see this funding restored, we could expand our staff, enabling us to restore true five-day service, six-day service, and even seven-day service, and restore our library materials budget. Morning hours, evening hours, and Saturday service is one of the highest priorities of parents, working people, and civic organizations across the borough; we need true five-day service and six-day service back in every community throughout the City.

This problem is highlighted by a recent letter I received from a College Point resident. He had read in the paper that we had re-opened his neighborhood library after a full-scale renovation. The branch looks fantastic and this man, who works in Manhattan, eagerly awaited a trip to the library the following Saturday. You can imagine his disappointment when he saw the gates locked and the lights out when he arrived at the front of the library. He wrote me with his genuine disappointment and shared not only his frustration but that of the thousands of others across the City shut out of their neighborhood libraries on the one day they can find the time to visit. We cannot allow this to continue.

In addition to Expense budget restorations, affects of the massive Capital funding reductions a year ago - totaling more than 55[%] - has already been felt borough-wide. We lost $12 million in Capital funding and as a result 50 branch projects were deferred until those funds are replaced. These funds were not for grandiose purposes, but for building needs such as leaking roofs and old building equipment; without effectively maintaining our buildings it causes disruptions in library service and can damage our investment in libraries. One example is a fifty-year-old air conditioning system at one of our libraries; without funds to replace it, if the equipment fails this summer the library building would be closed on days when the weather is hot. That's no way to deliver library service. Also, many projects important to providing our residents with needed renovations and expansions to our public libraries have been eliminated as well.

But the news is not all bad. A few projects survived the budget ax. Construction has begun on the new Cambria Heights Branch and we have broken ground for the Corona library and Ridgewood library expansion and renovations. We are currently in design on a new Glen Oaks branch and we have conducted a feasibility study on expansion of the Jackson Heights library. We continue to move forward to build the Children's Library and Discovery Center at the Central Library in Jamaica. When completed, this will be a terrific resource for children all across Queens - a two-story, 14,000 square foot library for children, including planned interactive science exhibits and programs to develop information literacy skills in children. This focus - to develop our children's ability to seek out and find the information they need to solve problems and learn - creates life-long learning skills and prepares our children for the future. And, obviously, the library would beam with children's books - in fact nearly 100,000 children's books. All of these projects represent an advancement of library service in this borough; they can only happen with the continued support of the City and State of New York and our local elected officials.

The Queens Library is also facing a 5[%] reduction in funding from the State under the Governor's proposed budget for FY'05. In addition, for the fourth year now, the State will use 1990 Federal Census data for public library aid instead of the 2000 Federal Census data which shows a 14[%] increase in Queens' population - more than 278,000 people. Per capita state aid lost totals nearly $600,000 each year. With the State deferring the integrity of its own per capita-based funding formula, the Queens Library now receives the least per capita aid of any library system in the State, even though we are the busiest library system in the United States.

As the national and local economy continue to rebound, our goal is to restore hours of service so that we are open more mornings and evenings five-days-a-week; needed book funding is restored; all community libraries are open on Saturdays to reestablish six-day-a-week library service, and our largest libraries are open seven days per week; the restoration of the Connecting Libraries and Schools Program (CLASP) to support our children's education; and to restore the enhanced Summer Reading program that was implemented by the Council to support reading for children.

Once again, I would like to thank Chairman Serrano, the members of the committee and indeed the entire Council for your continued support. Together, we can provide the best library service in the Nation. New Yorkers' deserve nothing less.

Thank you.