Today’s news:

14 Queens libraries to close weekends

Weekend operations at 14 Queens library branches are slated to end at the start of next month and the borough’s leaders are vowing to do what they can to make sure more centers are not forced to shut their doors on Saturday.

Starting Feb. 1, the Arverne, Astoria, Baisley Park, Court Square, East Elmhurst, East Flushing, Kew Garden Hills, Lefrak City, North Forest Park, Ozone Park, Queensboro Hill, Ridgewood, South Hollis and Windsor Park branches will only be open weekdays.

The scheduling changes were the result of a dwindling staff at all branches that was caused by nearly $20 million in budget cuts over the last two years, according to library officials.

“Reducing service hours is a painful course of action. Queens Library has been in a hiring freeze that began in 2008. At this time, we are forced to reduce our service schedules as our workforce has been reduced,” Queens Library President Thomas Galante said in a statement.

Library spokeswoman Joanne King said the branches were chosen for a number of reasons, one of which included accessibility.

“We tried to avoid the ones most easily accessible to the public. We didn’t want to close too many in the same area if there wasn’t a nearby branch that they could go to,” she said.

The other 48 library branches, including the Central Library and Flushing branches, will remain open on weekends, according to the spokeswoman. The Queens system is the nation’s largest in terms of circulation.

Even though the majority of branches in the borough still will operate on Saturday, several City Council members were not happy with the news of the curtailed hours.

Newly elected Councilman Jimmy van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who was the director of government and community affairs for the Queens Public Library, said the cuts come at a bad time for the organization, particularly in light of the face that library usage has been increasing greatly.

“We know that in difficult economic times, libraries need to be open more and not less,” he said.

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) noted that the Baisley Park branch is popular among families on the weekend and a shutdown of Saturday service would affect other areas.

“The Baisley Park branch is convenient for them since they are shopping at that part of town,” he said.

Elected officials said they would work on ways to get more money to the libraries to prevent worse scenarios for the branches. Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) noted Queens gets less from the city than other boroughs’ libraries despite having a larger usage base.

“The Queens delegation has to stand firm to oppose the inequity and get our fair amount of funding,” Vallone said.

King also noted that the Arverne and Ridgewood branches are closed for renovations and providing limited service, while the Windsor Park and Queensboro Hill branches are slated for temporary closure in the near future. Suspending weekend service for those libraries was more strategic, according to King.

King said there is a possibility that other branches could suspend their weekend hours in the future, but she reiterated that all decisions on branch hours depend on the budget.

“Until the budget situation improves to the point where we can rehire more staff, we cannot have Saturday service,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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