Statement by Thomas W. Galante
Chief Executive Officer, Queens Library
Testimony before the Queens Borough Board on the FY ’12 Proposed Executive Budget
February 23, 2011
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking Borough President Helen Marshall and the Queens Borough Board for this opportunity to testify today and for your continued support of Queens Library. Borough President Marshall- with your vision over the past several years, we have literally grown the organization so it could better serve the community in every corner of the borough – from the Rockaway Peninsula to the East River. Your leadership and unwavering support is really unparalleled. I also want to thank the entire Queens delegation to the City Council, in particular our delegation leader, Councilman Leroy Comrie and Jimmy Van Bramer, the Chairman of the City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup relations, for your support. These are challenging times; together, we are finding a path forward that preserves the critical access to community libraries that people in Queens rely on. I also want to thank Speaker Quinn and the entire City Council for all the work and support that has made that possible. Today, I ask you to stand with the Queens Library in the face of the biggest challenge yet.
Last week, the City’s Preliminary FY ‘12 Financial Plan was released. This budget includes a proposed additional reduction for public libraries in Queens of $23 million. This is by far the largest proposed reduction in library funding ever. Should it come to pass, this cut would eliminate hundreds of library jobs and could result in the outright closure of libraries in over a dozen communities.
From Fall 2008 through FY ‘11, City funding, totaling $32 million, has been lost plus $2 million in State funding. At FY ‘11 adoption, the Queens Library’s City budget was down over $11 million for the second year in a row. In November, we were given another $4.5 million midyear reduction and were forced to make an impossible choice between laying off over a hundred dedicated employees and closing libraries more hours per week, or, not buying any new books. We chose to temporarily freeze new spending on books and materials, except through grants and private funds, in order to keep community libraries open. This is only a stop gap measure through June. We are also facing reductions of our State funding of 10%. And 10% of our capital budget from the City -- $12.5 million – is proposed in the budget.
Under the City’s proposed financial plan, Queens Library would start next year with a full 35% less City funding than we had when the recession (and the series of budget reductions) began. Such a drastic reduction is truly difficult to contemplate, especially as demand for our services continues to grow.
Over the last few years, we have taken serious measures to reduce spending and do more with less. We have implemented a hiring freeze and reduced weekend hours twice, leaving the borough with just 18 libraries open on Saturdays and just a single library open on Sundays. We have eliminated other valuable services such as the Central Library gallery, the book bus and many of our teen employees. At this point, there is simply nowhere else to trim; the impacts of another cut, the largest one ever proposed, will have a deep and dramatic effect on core library service boroughwide.
Last year at this time, we faced a proposed $17 million cut that we knew would have resulted in drastic reductions in services: dozens of libraries would be open just 2 or 3 days per week; 12 libraries would be open just 5 days per week; and just two libraries would provide weekend service. Overall, a cut of this magnitude would bring our average weekly hours down from 42 hours to 20 hours per week. The cut on the table is even more devastating. Imagine that every single program and service the library offers being available just half as often. This means more than 3,000 adults missing out on crucial literacy classes at adult learning centers that are closed more often than they are open. This means more than 10,000 students a day having to find somewhere else to go for homework help and an enriching environment after school. It means half as many opportunities for free programs for seniors and young parents. It means 45,000 people who visit us every day finding their local library closed.
We simply cannot let this happen. The library always has, and will always be, a repository of collected knowledge, and a free access point for information and the exchange of ideas. But we all know that at Queens Library, it is so much more. This year, we were given two prestigious national awards for our innovative programs and services, including our Mail-A-Book program, which engages the homebound with materials and interactive programming conducted by teleconference.
HealthLink, a grant-funded programmed designed to address the alarmingly high rates of late stage cancer detection in Queens has touched over 12,000 lives, transforming many with the power of information and access to lifesaving treatment. HealthLink won the 2010 Marshall Cavendish award for community programming.
While awards like this are nice, they could never tell the whole story. Queens Library touches many lives in many different ways, and we are growing to meet the demand. We continue to move forward with library renovations. We are also directing capital monies towards technology that allows us to do more with less, installing 24/7 self check-in machines at all our community libraries. With your support, we are also moving forward to meet the needs of new and growing communities with the library service they deserve in Elmhurst, Glen Oaks, Far Rockaway and Hunters Point. Our new Children's Library Discovery Center will be opening in months. Every one of our libraries is an anchor in its community, and we must keep them all open. Last year, in the face of a drastic cut, we did. The City Council managed the enormous task of restoring a full $17 million cut. We are enormously grateful for the leadership, including yours, our Borough President, our City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her colleagues in the Council and Mayor Bloomberg for standing up for libraries and achieving the largest restoration in history.
Because of that, we were open when Luis Maldonado turned to the Corona Library for English classes so he could learn to speak with his doctor without a translator. We were open when a senior citizen went to Broadway Library for help applying for a tax credit online, even though she had never laid a finger on a computer keypad. We were open for the 15 million visitors who passed through the doors to enrich their lives. It’s critical that the library stay open to continue to provide the critical services we do.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today and thank you for your support.