Everyone remembers his or her first library card -- the excitement felt when reading tales that gave you the liberty to explore new worlds and defeat adversaries of epic proportions.
But for the New York Public Library, the city’s budget may be its toughest battle yet. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to swing his budget axe, the New York Public Library is struggling with the mayor’s $37 million cut . The cut would decrease the $146.6 million budget next year by 25 percent.
The cuts as to no surprise to library officials who have seen their funding cut in six consecutive city budgets. Yet every year the library has found some relief, thanks in part to the New York City Council restoring some of the slashed funds.
The difference this year is that even after having some funding restored, it still won’t be enough to cover all of the library's operating expenses. Plus, adopted budget funds are not always final, which complicates matters because funding can be cut or reduced at any time.
This means that the community branches sprinkled throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island could face potential layoffs of up to 740 employees. It could also force 10 branches throughout the three boroughs the public library covers to close or force them to reduce service from six days a week to four. The cuts also affect community programs for children and adults.
The economic downturn has spurned massive library use. According to a study researching if Americans would benefit from Internet access, the Information School of the University of Washington found that users used library computers to search for jobs, finish schoolwork and connect themselves with local government officials.
In testimony before the City Council last week, New York Public Library President Paul LeClerc said, “Anyone with his or her eyes open knows and acknowledges that success today depends on information: access to it and the skills to use it.”
The round of cuts have spurned a grassroots effort to save the libraries. Tomorrow, the three public library systems will combine their efforts by holding a 24-hour read-in titled, "We Will Not Be Shushed,” in the Central Library in Brooklyn.
As city government defines its spending priorities in today's tough fiscal climate, LeClerc left the Council with one last thing to think about.
“What should the City’s investment be in the one, the single, the unique organization whose sole purpose of existence is to provide everyone with free access to the ever expanding universe of information today?” he said.