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Paul LeClerc

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Don't Close the Book on Libraries

Posted: 03/16/10 02:20 PM ET


Libraries, the world's greatest source of information, are more important than ever.

Over the last year, record numbers of people have utilized our programs, collections, and services. Just ask the users who walked through the doors of The New York Public Library over 18 million times last year or who made over 29 million visits to our website: they would be happy to tell you how much they depend on their local libraries, where everything is free of charge, including computer, job skills, and English-as-a-Second-Language classes, with people waiting in lines out the door to sign up.

These are the services that will help put people back to work and help New York City climb out of this recession. Yet just when we are most needed, The New York Public Library--with 90 libraries serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island--is facing the harshest City funding cut in its history: a staggering $33 million.

The impact of this cut would be devastating, with service reductions leaving libraries open just three or four days a week, down from six- and seven-day service. For New Yorkers this would mean

* 6 million fewer visits made to NYPL libraries next year - 1 million fewer by children and young people

* 5 million fewer items circulated - 1.7 million to children

* $9 million less with which to purchase books and other materials

* 1.5 million fewer computer sessions

* 17,000 fewer programs and classes, serving 500,000 fewer people

* tens of thousands fewer people helped with job searches, tax preparation, retirement planning, voter registration, and starting a business

What would also be lost with a $33 million cut is hope to the economically disadvantaged, inspiration to the new immigrant, and a safe and nurturing place for those in need. Most importantly, libraries provide an essential tool - knowledge - to everyone who enters, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity.

The effect on New York's communities would be profound. In Lower Manhattan, where 72% of families earn less than $50,000 per year and 45% of residents do not have a high school diploma or equivalent, library visits would decrease by 1.2 million, and 1 million fewer books, DVDs, and other materials would be circulated.

Our Central Bronx libraries would receive 800,000 fewer visits. There, 82% of families earn less than $50,000 per year, and only 33% of residents are native English speakers. Users rely on their libraries for Spanish-language materials and ESOL classes.

And on Staten Island, there would be 500,000 fewer items circulated, 11,200 fewer programs, and 30,000 fewer visits by school-age children.

The $33 million funding cut would also necessitate the elimination of 650 full-time positions--fully 30 percent of the Library's staff. Aside from running our programs and services, these staff members answer 15 million reference questions a year. Students, scholars, various professionals, and people around the world depend on them 24/7.

Already, the slimmed-down Library system is at a breaking point; the proposed cut would essentially cripple the NYPL's ability to deliver the services that the people of this City are demanding. One in four patrons tell us they have no alternatives to the services the Library offers.

In years past, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, and the New York City Council have championed the funding of libraries, recognizing how essential they are to New Yorkers (lest anyone doubt it, last year they had more visits than all of the City's cultural institutions and sports teams combined). We again seek their support as well as the public's in helping to ensure that libraries keep their doors open at a time when we are serving more people, in more diverse ways, than ever before.

This is no time to close the book on New York's libraries.