NYC’s three public libraries protest planned $36.2M in city budget cuts

The heads of the city’s three public library systems testified Monday, March 20, 2023 before the City Council over a planned $36.2 million in proposed budget cuts.
Photo courtesy Robert Sherwood

The heads of New York City’s three public library systems testified Monday at the New York City Council to call on the city to reverse a planned $36.2 million in proposed budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year.

In addition, members of DC37, the union that represents a large majority of library workers, also testified at the the council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations against the cuts, along with teenagers who credit the city’s public libraries with helping them navigate the pandemic and with their academic and career growth.

Prior to the budget hearing, library leadership, staff, union allies and supporters from every borough and every age group, rallied in front of City Hall to protest the cuts. Many wore bright orange t-shirts that read “Libraries are for everyone!” Supporters also carried signs that read: “No cuts to Libraries.” This is the first of several events the three libraries are planning with supporters to protest the cuts.

An email writing campaign launched last week has garnered more than 30,000 letters to City Hall in just seven days.

Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson, Queens Public Library President Dennis Walcott and New York Public Library (NYPL) President Tony Marx all testified that the cuts would severely impact their system’s ability to deliver the free services, programs, and resources New Yorkers depend on. The NYPL consists of libraries in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.

Library services have remained crucial to the city’s recovery from the pandemic and have also adapted to further champion access to information, fostering community collaboration, and ensuring all New Yorkers have a welcoming and inclusive space.

“New York’s public libraries have risen to meet many of the challenges we are facing as a city. We want to keep up this work, but these cuts will impact our operations across the board, whether it be the capacity to open new branches, keep our current hours, maintain our collections, or offer programs. If this budget becomes a reality we are going to have to make tough choices about what we can and can’t provide our patrons. No one wants that,” said Marx.

In the past year, the three library systems expanded Teen Centers and services for students, supported asylum-seekers navigating New York City, and made frequently banned titles available to all. The proposed budget cut of $36.2 million could hinder these efforts and lead to reduced hours of service, fewer programs and classes, and decreased opportunities for underserved New Yorkers, including those most in need, such as teens and immigrants.

“Libraries are an essential resource for people of all ages. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have access to a library every day after school. As a teacher, I found libraries to be an invaluable tool for my students. They provide a safe and welcoming environment for youth to explore and learn. Now, libraries are a place for my own family to go. I am thankful that my family and everyone across NYC can take advantage of their resources today, and I will continue to support our libraries,” said Riverdale Councilmember Eric Dinotwitz.

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