City kids fight to protect the libraries they love

Kiana, a first grader in the Bronx, does her homework after school at Mott Haven Library. Credit: New York Public Library.
Kiana, a first grader in the Bronx, does her homework after school at Mott Haven Library. Credit: New York Public Library.

A group of local kids gathered to hug a Bronx library in the rain this afternoon in the hopes of saving the New York Public Library system from budget cuts.

While the weather forced the group hug inside, it apparently did not dampen the kids’ spirits in the slightest, reported Director Angela Montefinise, as the kids chanted “stop the cuts” and “keep libraries strong” inside the Kingsbridge library at 291 West 231 Street.

The NYPL, which services the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, is apparently in for a fiscal battering, facing a possible budget cut of $47 million.

This would amount to their total operating budget of approximately $133.6 million being slashed by over a third.

The budget cut would threaten 14 of the city’s 91 locations, and could also result in the loss of 720 jobs.

It could also potentially force the libraries to be open only four days per week, rather than the current six or seven days city libraries are accessible to the public.

Bronx library network manager Michael Alvarez is most concerned about this loss of access. While previous budget cuts have resulted in shorter hours, this would be the first year full days would be lost, a loss that would likely be hardest on the city’s most vulnerable populations, and the ones most in need of the libraries’ resources.

“These are sites where seniors and the unemployed go to access technology, whether to update their resume or communicate with their families,” Alvarez said. He said many branches are filled with seniors and unemployed New Yorkers in the morning, to use computers or seek career and job counseling services. Students tend to flood in during the afternoon hours, as well as younger kids coming to see music performances and other children’s classes and programming during the day.

Students who make use of the libraries’ resources would also be hurt by the cut, Alvarez said—and not simply in the form of fewer books and electronic resources: the staff often helps students with homework questions, everything short of trigonometry, Alvarez joked.

With these budget cuts, the NYPL says career and job counseling services would be cut by about a third, and children’s classes and programs by more than half.

Alvarez said the library system will continue their advocacy campaign until the budget is adopted at the end of June. All libraries are hosting letter-writing campaigns for users, and short forms are available at nypl.org/speakout.

After years of “horrendous” budget cuts, Alvarez says the program is non-baseline cuts—even when monies are put back into the NYPL budget, it’s always just compensating for previous cuts, and never fully.

“What we’re actually hoping is at some point to change the conversation from looking at cuts and what it means for branches in the communities,” Alvarez said, “to actually seeing an increase, and looking at how we can expand services, if we can expand hours.”

In the current economy, Alvarez noted, with many New Yorkers juggling several jobs, sometimes on top of school, earlier or later access to libraries is becoming increasingly necessary for those who need it most.

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



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