Select Committee on Libraries before the Committees on Finance, Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Fiscal 2010 Executive Budget
May 28, 2009
Good afternoon. I am Tom Galante, Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking Chairmen David Weprin, Domenic Recchia and Vincent Gentile and all of the members of the City Council for your incredible ongoing support, especially in these challenging economic times. More than ever we seek to protect the critical services that serve as a lifeline to those most in need and I know that you also share our sentiments.
Today is doubly significant as it is our last attempt to testify on behalf of the over 2 million people who live in Queens and who need their neighborhood libraries to remain open. In addition, today is Library Day at City Hall for Queens Library advocates. Joining us in the chamber are almost two hundred Queens’ residents who came to personally tell their respective councilmembers how critical their library is to them and their communities. These are only a handful of our steadfast advocates whose stories of resilience and hope I am privileged to share with you at hearings such as these. Their persistence and strength continues to encourage me. And I hope that seeing their faces and hearing their stories will only strengthen your resolve to restore these severe proposed cuts.
It is no secret that we are in the fight of our lives with pending budget cuts that threaten to drastically cut service hours, particularly eliminating weekend service at every community library, and possibly reducing our staff by over 300 positions -- a staggering 31%. I know that no one in this room wants this to happen and I want each of you to know that we are fighting harder and smarter than ever for full budget restoration. The Executive Budget calls for funding to Queens Library to be reduced by $17 million for FY ’10 and this is on top of over $5 million in reductions already sustained. It is unthinkable that the greatest City in the world would see public library service brought to its knees but that is exactly what we are facing. It is equally tragic that the Saturday and weekend library service that we all fought so hard to bring back is in jeopardy of being eliminated once again. But the truth is that unless we see significant restorations to our budget this year, we could see some of the lowest service levels on record with some libraries open only two or three days per week. We must not let this happen.
Despite the cuts we have already sustained, looming budget reductions and some anxiety about the future; we continue to go about the business of enriching lives while refusing to sacrifice our exceptional customer service which is the reason that we have been able to maintain our position as the highest circulating public library in the United States. We continue to offer top quality programming, unparalleled services, all delivered by the finest staff one could wish for. We have already commenced activities and we are busily preparing for our kick-off event of the enormously popular Summer Reading program in June. But to continue our life enhancing work, our doors must be open.
An arduous task lay before us; yet we remain focused and determined to achieve the goal set before us – and that is to continue to serve the people of Queens, particularly those hit hardest by the current economic crisis. And with the unemployment rate rising to 8.9%, we know that we need to succeed, that so many depend on us for so much that is good in their lives.
In financially difficult times such as these, it is understandable that library usage has dramatically increased. Circulation has continued to go up and with programs and services also reporting an increase in attendance by 4.29%, this would be the worst possible time to scale back our hours and service! A reduction of hours and services does not instill hope or equip people looking for a brighter tomorrow? Queens Library doesn’t have all the answers, but we are one of the solutions!
Each and every day, we are reminded by our customers of how essential our 62 libraries have become to the sustainability of communities and families. People enter our doors with hope in their pockets and we ask for nothing in return. Due to the economic downturn, our trained and willing staff assist more and more customers seeking to navigate various job websites while offering invaluable job placement tips and skills building workshops. Here our staff have become job counselors, often providing a loving touch to a very human reality. In addition, avid readers search our shelves for the latest novel releases, college students are able to reduce their book budget by borrowing textbooks and families keep up traditional movie nights by checking out their favorite movie at the library.
Our Board of Trustees along with our Senior Management staff has worked feverishly to come up with a budget strategy and advocacy plan. We have also employed the assistance of our Friends groups as well as our over 15 million customers, some of whom have joined us here today. Our petition drive and post card campaigns have already gathered over 80,000 signatures in favor of budget restoration. And on Monday, May 18th, almost 300 Queens’ residents joined us on the steps of our Flushing community library to stand up for libraries, passionately shouting at the top of their lungs, “Save Our Libraries!” One parent who was at the library with her two young children came over and expressed how much she and her children use the library; “I’m here every day with my kids,” she said as she and her children meandered their way to the steps to join the rest of the supporters. “You can’t close this library, you just can’t.”
I know I am preaching to the choir, but let there be no mistake—public library service is critical service that must be preserved. People need us and we must continue to be there for them. We will fight every day to save Queens Library this year so that when this economy turns around we will be well positioned to expand library service to where it truly needs to be—open seven days a week.