April 23, 2015

New York Public Library branches in crisis after Bloomberg-era budget cuts




This photo from DC 37, New York City’s largest public employee union, shows a spacious former custodian’s apartment at the Fort Washington branch in Manhattan that is unused because of lack of funding to renovate it.

A New York Times story this week describes the structural problems that the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library are all facing in some of their branches. From leaking roofs and windows that can’t be closed to clogged water pipes and limited electrical outlets, it’s clear that the branches are in need of renovations.

But there might be hope:

After years of steep budget cuts under the Bloomberg administration, the city’s libraries have been regaining ground under Mayor Bill de Blasio. In his first year in office, Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, increased operating funds for libraries by $22 million, to $323 million, though library officials noted that only $10 million of that was used directly for services to the public (the rest covered back pay for library workers and other costs related to a city-negotiated union agreement).

Library officials are seeking an increase to $378 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, to restore programs and services lost to budget cuts since the 2008 fiscal year.

While Mayor de Blasio has shown he is a library supporter by adding $15.6 million to the budget “in capital funds for library projects” last year, it’s unclear whether he’ll increase funding in his budget that’s due to be announced next month.

The New York Times article describes a visit to the Hunts Point Library in the South Bronx, where the library manager said she would like to renovate the unused custodian’s apartment on the top floor and use it for a much needed career and education center. Scott Sherman‘s forthcoming book Patience and Fortitude describes a similar unused custodian apartment at a Washington Heights branch (yet another can be found at the Yorkville library branch). Some of these custodians lived in the library branches until the 1980s, and funding hasn’t always been available to turn theses spaces into something useable for the library.


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.