By Victoria Merlino
Following an unpopular proposal to cut millions of dollars from New York City’s library budgets, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council have agreed to invest more money into city library systems than ever before, in an about-face that has library leaders ecstatic.
“The mood is really quite outstanding,” Queens Public Library President Dennis Walcott told the Eagle.
Under New York City’s newly minted 2020 budget, libraries — including QPL — will receive an additional $33 million, including a $16 million budget baseline. Originally, city libraries requested an additional $35 million in expense funding from the 2020 budget.
Besides staffing and hours, the new budget will also fund a litany of capital projects, including branch expansions and renovations across the borough.
De Blasio’s previous plan to slash $16 million from library budgets was met with condemnation from library leaders, and they warned that the cuts would reduce hours, hiring and staffing. Sunnyside Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee, was also a vocal library supporter, denouncing the cuts at one point as “undemocratic.”
“Well, I never take anything for granted. We always have to be prepared to rally for support and reinforce the message of the importance of libraries. But I think the monies that were baselined is a major step forward, and we’re really happy about that,” Walcott said, when asked if he thinks libraries will have to rally again next year for funding. “But, again, we have to be very responsible in the use of dollars because you never know the condition of the city fiscal picture.”
To budget naysayers — though with 95 percent of New Yorkers agreeing that losing their local library would hurt their communities, they are hard to find — Walcott would say that libraries serve an important purpose.
“Libraries are essential parts of the community,” Walcott said, noting that 11 million people used QPL’s services in the past year alone.
“We are the last truly open democractic institution,” Walcott said. “Anybody can come through our door, we don’t discriminate, we don’t ask you for any type of ID to come in our doors. No matter what your background may be, your sexual persuasion, your religion, ethnicity, race — doesn’t matter. You are always welcome to a library.”