Queens Library 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 2006
May 26, 2005
Good afternoon. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. Throughout my 18 years with the Queens Library, I have been privileged to work with many dedicated public servants such as each of you before me. I want to begin by thanking Chairman Recchia and Chairman Weprin for your steadfast support of libraries. I also want to recognize the hard work and dedication of the members of both committees and specifically the members of our Queens delegation for all you have done and will continue to do on behalf of our institution. Each and every year, the members of the Queens delegation are out in front fighting to make sure we receive the funding we need to provide vital programs and services to the over 2.2 million people who call Queens home.
As we began fiscal year 2005, our city operating support was $8 million less than just a few years ago. And while those reductions have resulted in service cutbacks - the Queens Library continues to move forward - in fact, setting a new national circulation record in calendar year 2004 with 17.8 million items loaned. We work hard to meet the needs of our customers every day.
We are thankful that the FY'05 budget provided for the restoration of $2 million of prior year reductions of $10 million through the City Council's support. And while the City's support in maintaining that funding level in FY'05 in its January Plan allowed us to add morning/evening hours in 9 libraries, and to open 3 libraries on Saturdays instead of Sundays, with Saturdays preferred over Sundays in those communities as the 6th day of service, the Executive Budget has placed even those small advances at risk.
As you know, the Executive Budget calls for a $7.7 million cut to the Queens Library for FY' 06 - in addition to the $8.1 million in cuts we have sustained in previous years. If these additional cuts were to take effect, libraries would be open only four, and in some cases as little as three days per week across Queens. Our book budget would be cut and programs and services curtailed. We must not allow this to happen.
Every day a library is open we provide the people of Queens with the opportunity to improve their lives. We educate and nurture the future of this City in every Queens community every day we are open. Unfortunately, as a result of past cuts, 44 of our neighborhood libraries are closed every weekend. And the proposed cuts would only make this situation worse.
Full baseline restoration of the $7.7 million proposed reduction would allow us to maintain current service levels. However, if we are to expand library service - which I think every one would like to see happen - we need the restoration of $8.06 million that was reduced in prior budgets so that six-day-a-week library service throughout the borough can be restored. We must continue the progress we began with last year's budget if we are to accomplish the goal we all share - to reopen community libraries on the weekends for all communities.
Throughout these trying budgetary times we continue to position ourselves as one of the best public library systems in the United States. In FY'05, you supported a record $31 million in capital funding to expand and renovate our libraries and technological infrastructure. This included $5 million toward the new 50,000-square foot Jackson Heights Library and $14.5 million to modernize and expand the Central Library, including a borough-wide resource for children at the planned Children's Library Discovery Center. When completed, this will be a terrific resource for children all across Queens. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the tremendous support Borough President Marshall has provided for each of these worthy projects. Councilmember Leroy Comrie also provided needed support to make the Central Library renovation a reality. Finance Chair David Weprin, also a member of the Council's Library Committee, has been a true champion of the Queens Library and funded a new Glen Oaks Library.
Library customers can look forward to dozens of major improvements in library buildings throughout the borough through your support. Construction of the new Cambria Heights library is ongoing and we have broken ground for a new Long Island City library. This summer we will also complete a terrific expansion and renovation of the Ridgewood Branch with a brand new children's room. All of these projects represent an advancement of library service in our borough and they only happen with the support of our elected officials.
And while these new and expanded facilities have been eagerly awaited by the communities they will enhance, additional funding is required for them to realize their full potential. Because our libraries are literally bursting at the seams, we have undertaken an ambitious plan to substantially expand libraries in Queens. And with these new additions and expansions comes a need for more operating support. Adding square footage to a library requires us to purchase more materials and to hire more staff to meet the needs of the community. Funding these increased costs would allow us to enhance the services we provide in these expanded libraries without pulling support away from other critical programs which must be funded such as the Connecting Libraries and Schools Program (CLASP) for kids.
Andrew Carnegie, perhaps the greatest philanthropist in history, once said the following about libraries: "There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration". This is the essence of the services we provide to each and every person who comes through our doors at the Queens Library. We have the power to transform lives and empower people - but we must be fully funded and open to the public to do so. With your continued support I know we will meet these challenges and I thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.