Library horror story


BY Erin Durkin



Wednesday, March 18th 2009, 8:30 AM


Huge budget cuts could force the Brooklyn Public Library to drastically cut hours at branches across the borough to the lowest level in decades.


A proposed $14 million, 17% budget cut would mean the library could only afford to keep six-day service at 15 of its 60 branches, said BPL Executive Director Dionne Mack-Harvin.


Most neighborhood branches would only be open for five hours a day, five days a week, with weekend service eliminated altogether.


Average hours would plummet to 31 a week - nearly as low as the city's 1970s fiscal crisis, when libraries were only open three or four days a week. In 2008, libraries were open an average of 46.7 hours a week, with all at six-day-a-week service and some at seven days.


Under the doomsday scenario, 220 jobs would be cut through layoffs and attrition.


"What is sad right now is that we have seen such a surge in usage," Mack-Harvin said, noting last month's circulation was up 13%. "Even more people are making use of their libraries."


She said the cuts would shut out the seniors and parents with young children who flock to the library in the morning - and anyone with a full-time job. "For working families, it's going to be a big challenge for them to find a time to use their libraries," she said. "This is our worst-case scenario."


Libraries in the other boroughs are in a similar bind. The New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, could lose $23.2million and 465 jobs. Queens faces a $13.9 million cut.


BPL has already eliminated Sunday service at all its branches. It also instituted a hiring freeze and cut spending on books, technology and programming, slashing spending by $5.2million.


But it won't be enough.


"More than 70% of our budget is people," Mack-Harvin said, noting that fewer workers mean shorter hours.


Library officials haven't yet decided which branches would cut hours, but would try to keep a "hub branch" with six-day service in each part of the borough, Mack-Harvin said.


In past years, the mayor has proposed big library cuts, but the City Council has restored the funding in budget negotiations. The current fiscal crunch will make finding the cash harder this year.


"It's less likely because we have fewer resources available," said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), chairman of the Council's subcommittee on libraries.


But he said money the city is getting from the federal economic stimulus package could free up for funds for the libraries.


Without the money, said Gentile, "If you work during the day ... you'll never see a library open, and that's a shame."