By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This Friday, as the City Council holds a preliminary hearing on the Mayor’s proposed library budget, a group called Citizens Defending Libraries (CDF) plans to rally at City Hall to protest budget cuts and the “fire sale” of library buildings.
The Mayor’s preliminary 2014 budget calls for slashing $29.9 million from Brooklyn Public Library’s operating support –- one third of BPL’s overall funding from the city.
While budget negotiations will likely restore some of thses cuts, city libraries have seen city operating funds reduced by $68 million since 2008, according to Center for an Urban Future.
Both the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York City Public Library are in the process of cutting back services and moving to sell off library properties.
The proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Street branch libraries in Brooklyn, the planned dismantling of Manhattan’s Central Reference Library stacks and other cutbacks have galvanized the citizen’s group, which has received roughly 8,000 signatures on a petition to halt the property sales.
“City and library officials are rushing to complete this fire sale of the city’s libraries before the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s term,” CDF said in a press release on Tuesday. “Citizens Defending Libraries is composed of concerned citizens mobilizing to save all the city’s libraries, including the world-renowned 42nd Street New York City Public Central Reference Library, from de-funding, shrinkage and sell-off.”
The group says the city’s plans to sell off buildings amounts to intentional “demolition by neglect” and accused officials of having “conflicts of interest such as heavy involvement in the real estate industry.”
Josh Nachowitz, Brooklyn Public Library’s VP of Government and Community Relations said on Wednesday that the Mayor’s budget would have “a catastrophic impact on library services in Brooklyn.
“Since FY08, BPL has seen its budget reduced by 17 percent. BPL has not hired a new librarian with general operating dollars since 2008 and has seen its total workforce shrink by nearly 200 positions. This has impacted all facets of our service delivery borough-wide.”
Nachowitz added that the Mayor’s budget would force the library to lay off over 360 full time employees and “radically restructure service delivery. We would have no choice but to close many neighborhood library branches outright and significantly reduce hours at our remaining branches.”
“The City Council has been an extraordinary advocate on behalf of library service for all New Yorkers and has fought to restore the bulk of the Mayor’s proposed cuts,” Nachowitz said. “We hope that our champions in the Council’s Brooklyn delegation will once again work to restore these cuts.”
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. (District 47: Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Coney Island), a member of the City Council’s Select Committee on Libraries, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday that there were no library back room real estate deals taking place.
“There’s nothing going on behind the scenes,” Recchia said. The sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch library “is not a done deal. It still has to go through the ULRP. The local council members have a lot to say.”
He added, “Libraries are changing. They’re more tech savvy; they have a new vision. We are listening. We might try a pilot program, but we have to be very careful. We’re not in favor of selling off assets. [BPL President and CEO] Linda Johnson has new creative ideas – but we have to be very cautious.
“Libraries are a priority to the City Council,” he said. “We are going to work extra hard to see at least five days of service funding with no layoffs and try to keep core services.”
But there are many unknowns, he added. “Tax revenues are a little above what we expected. The stock market is doing well, more people are getting bonuses and real estate is picking up. But we have to pay down the debt, and we don’t know what will happen with FEMA. What the Republicans in Congress are doing to New York is a disgrace.”
“This is just the beginning of the budget process,” he said. The City Council will have more hearings later in the spring before voting on a budget before the end of the city’s fiscal year on June 30.
Last year, the Mayor wanted to cut the Brooklyn Public Library’s budget by 32 percent, but much of that was restored by the City Council using their discretionary money.
This year, according to the Independent Budget Office, it will take $102 million in fund restorations by the City Council to avoid a cut to libraries citywide.
Libraries in line for sale, cutbacks or closure include: The Tilden Astor Central Reference Library at 42nd Street, the Mid-Manhattan Library, the 34th Street Science Library (SIBL), the Brooklyn Heights branch with its Business and Career library, the Pacific branch library, and the city’s historic Carnegie Libraries.