By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The city’s largest municipal union is pushing for a new system of funding libraries that would use a percentage of property taxes to cover the costs of keeping them open.
District Council 37, along with its four library chapters — Brooklyn Library Guild 1482, Quasi-Public Employees Local 374, Queens Library Guild Local 1321, and New York Public Library Guild Local 1930— held a rally outside City Hall on March 12 to launch a campaign for the establishment of a baseline funding model for New York City’s public library systems, including the Brooklyn Public Library.
The rally served as a follow up to testimony union members delivered at a budget hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations on March 8.
“We are proposing city legislation to allocate 2.5 percent of existing citywide property tax levies for dedicated, baseline public library funding,” said DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts.
“Having a permanent funding stream would free the library systems, staff and patrons from the annual round of budget cuts and restorations that now take place and provide more stable delivery of services to communities citywide, which are using public libraries at an ever increasing rate,” Roberts said.
Union members said the city’s library systems – the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library and the Queens Public Library – are often among the first places budget cutters look to for cuts to trim the city’s budget. Giving the systems a baseline budget to operate would help alleviate the financial stress on the libraries, according to DC 37 officials.
Eileen Muller, president of Local 1482, said the Brooklyn Public Library has been forced to do more with less. “At Brooklyn Public Library, circulation has increased 77 percent and program attendance is up 41 percent. But despite this strong community demand for library services we have to campaign year after year for adequate funding,” Muller said. “Dedicating 2.5 percent of existing property tax levies to funding public libraries would offer a way out of this bad situation and set up public libraries with stable budgets for the future,” she said.
In Fiscal Year 2011, over 40.5 million visitors came to New York’s 206 public library branches, according to figures provided by DC 37. The number reflected a dramatic increase in the demand for public library services over the last decade, union leaders said. The preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2014 calls for funding the library systems at just $193 million, which is $106 million below the budget for the previous fiscal year. Fiscal Year 2014 begins July 1, 2013.
The number of staff members of the three library systems was reduced by a combined total of 20 percent in recent years, DC 37 officials said.
It makes good economic sense to ensure that public libraries are properly funded, according to union members, who said the presence of a library adds value to a neighborhood and increases property values.
“Some say we cannot afford to fund libraries, I say we cannot afford to be without libraries!” said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), who chairs a subcommittee on libraries. “When I consider the wide range of services our great city provides, I cannot think of a better investment in our city – and in our future – than the continued investment in our libraries,” he said.
"Libraries represent hope and opportunity for millions of New Yorkers. Library workers are unsung heroes, educating and caring for children and seniors alike. They deserve better. New York City deserves better," said http://council.nyc.gov/d26/html/members/home.shtml Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Woodside), chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee.
"A $106 million cut to libraries is irresponsible and if enacted these cuts would prove devastating,” Van Bramer said.
Valentin Colon, president of Local 1930, said libraries are important because they provide opportunities for learning to everyone, despite income level. “At a time of adversity, the wealth of knowledge that is held within the walls of a public library should not be denied to the masses of our great city. Adequate funding to keep the gates of knowledge open to one and all should be a major priority for our elected officials, now and for the future,” Colon said.