Economy sets stage for service cuts, layoffs at New York's city library systems
BY Dorian Block and Frank Lombardi
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Wednesday, March 18th 2009, 1:24 AM
Faced with hard times and city budget cuts, the three library systems are gearing up to impose major layoffs and reductions in branch hours and other services.
The consequences of the looming cuts "is almost incomprehensible," warned Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the Council's subcommittee on libraries.
The New York Public Library, which serves the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, faces a $23.2 million funding cut when the new fiscal year begins July 1.
As many as 465 jobs are to be eliminated - 281 through layoffs - six-day service would be sharply scaled back and branch operating hours cut from 52 hours a week to 41, officials said.
"We anticipate in the Bronx the effect of these proposed cuts would be a 20% reduction in hours," said library spokesman Herb Scher.
In the first half of this fiscal year, visits to the borough's 35 branches were up 13% and circulation up 30% - evidence, Scher said, that libraries are becoming a beacon in a down economy.
Library officials said their services had gradually recovered from similar major budget cuts after the 9/11 attacks nearly eight years ago sent the city's economy into a tailspin.
"It is tragic that the Saturday and weekend library service that we all fought so hard to bring back is in jeopardy of being eliminated once again," Queens Library Director Thomas Galante told a City Council budget hearing last week.
The Queens Library faces a $13.9 million cut, and its operators are gearing up for a 24% workforce reduction. Every local branch would close "all weekend," and some branches will be open fewer than five days a week.
The Brooklyn Library faces a $14 million budget whack, or 17% of its entire city funding. As many as 210 jobs will be eliminated. Only six of 58 branches will have full six-day service.
It's almost a tradition for library officials to appear before the Council during budget preparations to appeal for restored funds. But this time around, the city coffers show billion-dollar deficits rather than billion-dollar surpluses.
Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library, said his system's private fund-raising also has taken a pounding.
"It's not logical to expect that philanthropy is going to be anything like what it was just six or nine months ago," he said.
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