Part of a citywide effort called Invest in Libraries — aimed to bring funding for the library systems in the city back to pre-recession levels — a rally Tuesday at the Jackson Heights Library wanted to send a big message to the City Council.
Residents, library users and advocates from the group Make the Road NY gathered in front of the branch, on 81st Street next to the Renaissance Charter School.
Bridget Quinn-Carey, interim president and CEO of the Queens Library, said the big goal is getting $65 million more in funding to all city library systems, with $18.2 million of that going to Queens Library locations for amenities such as children, teen and adult programming and supplies.
The mayor has proposed spending $313 million on libraries, $65 million less than was spent in fiscal year 2008.
Securing $1.4 million for capital projects is also a key tenet of the campaign; many branches suffering from leaking roofs or non-functioning facilities have been spotlighted by advocates, including City Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) and Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
Tuesday, six-day service at all branches was a core demand. The $65 million hike would enable that.
“Our main goal is serving you, the public,” Joseph Sieh, who manages the often- overcrowded Jackson Heights Library, said. “We see how important having open hours on Saturdays are. We see that kids each year are busier and busier during the week. And a lot of times, the only time they have available is on Saturdays.”
After the rally, Sieh said the branch needs more space.
“We need more square footage. If we have more space, there’s a possibility of configuring the library in a way to have more programs, to have a space which can better fit in with the need in the community,” he said. “A lot of times I see people looking for a place to sit.”
He added that pressures on young students, who often have schedules packed with extracurricular activities, make the need for six-day services at all branches even greater so they have a place to retreat or study.
“We have to remember that our public libraries are sanctuaries here in the city of New York. Our children and adults learn in our libraries,” said state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst). “Libraries in our communities are always overcrowded.”
He added adult programming, such as English classes, is also essential. He noted that investment to libraries has dipped far below projects such as state-of-the-art sports arenas, which the city invested $620 million in between 2006 and 2014.
Mike Wong, a representative for the union Local 1321 and an employee at the Broadway Library in Astoria, said more staff could make a big difference there.
“We juggle a lot more now because of computers and technology,” Wong said, explaining staff members must help navigate tech issues such as refilling printers with paper and helping people connect to Wi-Fi.
He also said that on top of this “techno-stress,” employees must deal with library patrons fighting over limited computers.
He said the branch also gets visits from a group of homeless individuals who sometimes come in inebriated.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) said overcrowding was a clear problem he noticed on a recent trip to Corona Library.
“It was packed. We’re bursting at the seams,” Moya said.
Representatives from the office of City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) were also there.
Community Board 3 Chairman Steve Kulhanek said he and his family are library users and know its value.
“We’re always signing a letter for the library. The community board is always sending a letter of support,” Kulhanek said. “But there’s a moment when it’s gotta go beyond signing a petition or sending a letter and it needs to be enacted. It needs to translate into real money and real services.”
There are more rallies planned at the Briarwood Library on Friday, May 29 at 4 p.m.; at the Laurelton Library on Monday, June 1 at 10 a.m.; at the Astoria Library on Monday, June 1 at 4 p.m.; and elsewhere.
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