By Paul LeClerc, President and CEO of The New York Public Library
From the security scare in Times Square to the steady unemployment rate, New Yorkers are being hit again and again. Now, says Mayor Bloomberg, life is about to get even harder as "draconian" budget cuts leave the City "starving."
The Mayor's executive budget includes major proposed cutbacks to vital Big Apple services, from education to fire companies to senior centers...to libraries. The cuts are big. The numbers are alarming.
Clearly, the city is struggling. Clearly, the economy is still recovering. And that's exactly why the City must clearly restore funding to save libraries.
The free services offered by The New York Public Library in 90 libraries across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island - including job search assistance - are needed now more than ever. Yet the proposed cut just announced is the largest in the Library's history...a devastating $37 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
If this cut becomes reality when the final City budget is adopted next month, we will be forced to drastically reduce programming, service hours, and staffing. Libraries would be open on average just four days a week; more than one in four library jobs would be eliminated. Almost six million fewer items would be circulated. Most impacting to New Yorkers would be the need to close ten libraries.
To them, libraries are not luxuries. They are centers of education and community hubs, places that bring together people from all walks of life.
Just last week, rock star Patti Smith lent her voice to a chorus of support at NYPL:
If there is any question about the necessity of libraries and why record numbers of people are walking through our doors, one need only consider a recent study funded by the Gates Foundation. It found that one-third of Americans now rely on public libraries for computers and Internet access. The study - conducted by the University of Washington Information School - further revealed that nearly half of those living below the poverty line depend on library computers. More than 60 percent of young people in those households use these computers for educational purposes.
NYPL offers more than 3,600 computers with Internet access, providing some five million computer sessions a year. Under today's proposed cut, we anticipate an astounding two million fewer sessions next year. Where will all those New Yorkers access the Internet?
On the day the survey was released, Ann Thornton, our acting Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries, noted, "Many hardworking New Yorkers simply cannot afford computers or Internet access in their homes, so they rely heavily on libraries to help them with job applications, resume writing, online banking, small business services, record keeping, personal correspondence, homework help, and a host of other important needs."
And what about kids and young adults? Last summer NYPL offered 1,562 teen programs with nearly 24,000 attendees. Those same programs may be cut this year, just as teens are faced with fewer summer job opportunities.
When you add younger children into the mix, over half a million kids came to free library shows, classes, and story times last year. Now, if day care programs and city pools are cut as proposed, parents will have an even greater need for safe, comfortable environments where their children can learn and be surrounded by books; sadly, these may no longer be available.
JOB SEARCH HELP
Since Job Search Central at the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) at Madison Avenue and 34th Street opened last year, there have been 24,000 requests for services including resume assistance, online job postings, and access to thousand-dollar career databases that New Yorkers can use for free at the library.
We also have provided 1,200 one-on-one sessions with career coaches and over 60 educational programs with career experts, some targeted at seniors, others for anyone, on topics like how to write a cover letter.
"I lost my job and was trying to market myself," said Sonia, who attended a recent Saturday lecture on changing careers by renowned career coach Susanne Rhow at SIBL. "Now I realize the problem - I'm marketing myself all wrong. I was completely lost, but the tools available here are putting me on the right path. And it's all free, which is really amazing."
The Library also offers free ESOL classes to New Yorkers who need to learn English, free literacy classes to those who need to learn to read and write, and help with taxes, voter registration, starting a business, and retirement planning.
One in four people say they have no alternatives to services like these they receive at NYPL. That number will only rise as social service agencies are cut back as well.
So, yes, of course the Library offers free books and DVDs, circulating 21 million items last year. And that's invaluable to city residents who wouldn't normally be able to afford them. But NYPL is about so much more than just books. It's about so much more than movies. It's about improving the lives of New Yorkers and the communities they live in, especially in tough times.
The New York Public Library is crucial to the livelihoods of so many residents. So don't close the book on libraries...because that would mean closing the book on New York.
To take action- go to http://dontclosethebook.nypl.org
Make a difference before the City budget is finalized in June by writing your elected officials or donating.