Today’s news:

Library plans weekend closures as $14M cut looms

Queens Library is facing a potential $14 million budget cut from the city next year, and the slash in funding could force the country’s busiest library system to close branches on weekends and reduce programming, library officials said.

The $13.9 million represents about 30 percent of the library’s capital budget.

“If we were to receive the $14 million budget cut, that very sadly would mean all community libraries would lose weekend service,” said James Van Bramer, Queens Library’s chief external affairs officer. “It’s safe to say every service imaginable would be reduced. All programs would be reduced and our materials budget would be reduced.”

A cutback in weekday hours would also be “very likely,” Van Bramer said.

If the proposed cuts were enacted, the library would need to reduce its workforce by 24 percent, or 279 positions, Director of Queens Library Tom Galante testified at a preliminary budget hearing Friday.

The library system, which lent more than 22 million items last year, swallowed $5 million in cuts during this budget cycle, which forced the group to eliminate their book mobile service and close their art gallery that once brought about 50,000 visitors to the Central Library in Jamaica.

The cuts from the city, which funds about 80 percent of the library’s budget, would be a harsh blow to the immigrants who frequent the institution that provides them with everything from basic book lending services to cultural programs and English as a Second Language courses, Van Bramer said.

“In a borough like Queens, where there are so many working people and immigrants, it’s really hard for people to get to the library during the weekdays,” Van Bramer said. “Saturdays and Sundays are often the only time people can get to the library.”

“In such a difficult economic climate with unemployment rising, the library is a place of refuge,” Van Bramer added. “It’s one of the places people go to get assistance, freshen up their rÉsumÉs and get back into the workforce.”

Isabelle Gomez, a Woodside resident from Guatemala, said she brings her 5−, 6−, and 8−year−old children to the Woodside library nearly every weekend.

“They like it here, and I like it here,” said Gomez, who said she had not heard of the cuts the library is facing.

“It would be too sad if it closed on weekend,” Gomez added. “My children are good readers. They are very smart, and what do they do with no books? Learning is life.”

Residents throughout the borough share Gomez’s sentiment and have been sending in numerous petitions in support of the library, Van Bramer said.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Van Bramer said. “They’re pouring in every day. Mountains of petitions are coming in.”

The library has faced significant proposed budget cuts in previous years, but the threat of the cuts rarely become a reality, Van Bramer said. This year, however, is different.

“We’re taking this $14 million cut very seriously, unlike in other years,” Van Bramer said. “We understand the nature of the environment we’re working within, and it’s fair to say we’re concerned about the magnitude of their cuts and the possible consequences.”

Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, said she is calling for all cuts proposed in the mayor’s budget to be restored.

“The borough president is a big supporter of the library system,” Andrews said. “The fact that it’s being threatened with shorter hours and less service is not a good thing.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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