Library Advocates Rally for Increased Funding

| 01 Jun 2015 | 06:43

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail can keep New Yorkers away from their favorite public library.

Earlier this week, dozens of patrons piled into the Seward Park Library downtown to rally for more funding in the city’s upcoming budget.

“I know it’s raining out, and we would have held this outside otherwise,” said George Mihaltses, the New York Public Library’s vice president for government affairs. “But it’s always sunny and beautiful inside a library.”

The rally, like similar ones that took place in all five boroughs on June 1, was part of the citywide “Invest in Libraries” campaign, which began on March 20. The campaign’s objective is to restore $65 million in operating funds, as well as to secure $1.4 billion in capital funding for the next 10 years, organizers said.

By Mihaltses’s account, library budgets have been cut 20 percent since 2008, leaving libraries woefully unkept and understaffed.

The Seward branch’s manager, Lakisha Brown, said that the money would be used to “refresh” library infrastructure. The Seward Park branch in particular is in need of new windows and a functioning elevator, she said. It would also allow the branch to hire more staff, keep the library open longer and fund more programs.

The campaign has already attracted tremendous support, advocates said. “Already, over 70,000 people have written letters to city hall, to their local council members, to the mayor, to the speaker, urging them to support libraries in this year’s budget,” Mihaltses said.

Brown said libraries were no longer just a place to check out material and bring it home, but were more akin to community hubs and that additional funding was critical to keep them vital.

“A long time ago, a library was really used as a place to only read books,” she said. “However, with changing times, the library has become something more. We now offer computer classes, adult reading and writing, ESOL classes, enrichment classes for our children and safe spaces for our teens.”

Despite the sharp budget cuts, library patronage increased over the past few years. By Brown’s account, the Seward Park Library serves 30,000 patrons a month.

“Our line sometimes extends all the way out through the door, with children taking out 30 books at a time,” she said.

On June 8, the presidents of the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Libraries will address their budget needs at a City Council hearing.