2010-02-12 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Plant Knowledge, Not Trees
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Suppose they built a library and didn’t use it to its full potential? Well, that is exactly the case in the Arverne Library. Renovations, $2.8 million worth, began on the library in October. It is expected to reopen, with a whole new collection of books and a new look, sometime this spring. But, as reported in the Beachcomber section of the January 15 issue of The Wave, what it won’t have is weekend hours. The Arverne Library is a victim of budget cuts. The most heavily used library in Rockaway, home to numerous students who use its computers and collection of books for homework and school papers, children who are experiencing reading for the first time and adults who use it to help them look for jobs or as a meeting place, will be closed on weekends.

As of February 1, 14 libraries in Queens went to weekday only hours due to reductions in City and State funding over the past two years.

Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante said, “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.”

As a matter of fact, the whole city library system is going to experience a reduction in city subsidies. In Mayor Bloomberg’s just-released budget for fiscal year 2011, library subsidies will be reduced citywide by, as the mayor’s press release put it, $22.1 million in savings. Savings is a nice word in economic times like these, but it is cuts plain and simple. This would be on top of $12.9 million in cuts from last year.

This is the second time in the last ten years that city libraries are losing weekend funding. Most libraries across the five boroughs lost city funding for weekend hours, as well as for new books and other materials, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It has only been two years since – after being closed on weekends, due to the post 9/11 budget cuts – the mayor and the City Council found funding to open libraries citywide on Saturdays. The Arverne and Peninsula Libraries reopened on Saturdays in July 2007.

At that time Galante said, “Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council have made the best possible investment in education, job readiness and quality of life by restoring six-day a week library service in the fiscalyear 2008 budget. People in Queens will be reaping the benefits for years to come.”

Unfortunately, the benefits didn’t last long.

In the meantime, Peninsula Library on Beach 92 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Seaside Library on Beach 116 Street in Rockaway Park will remain open on Saturdays, as will the Far Rockaway Library. For now. Last week, Galante told The Wave that by the end of 2010 only 14 of Queens’ 48 libraries will be open on Saturdays. This will bring the libraries back to 2006 service levels. But to leave Rockaway’s most used library closed on weekends even after renovations are completed? To give you an idea of how busy the Arverne Library is, in an article from July 2007, The Wave reported that, in 2006, visitation was up by 25 percent and circulation was up by 34 percent. There were at least 200 visitors per day.

I have to agree with our managing editor, Howard Schwach, about the mayor’s One Million Trees NYC. There are more important things. I have nothing against trees and going green. I would guess that our youngsters don’t either. Some of their best friends were once trees – “The Cat In the Hat,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Harry Potter.”

Adam Lisberg, in the Daily News, recently pointed out there are funds in the budget that may never be used, such as the money set aside for repaying bonds sold to construct the 7 train on the West Side. Over the last five years, the city has been able to use other monies for these repayments. That’s $315 million budgeted over that time, but not spent. And in the new budget another $83.3 million will be tucked away that, if past years are any example, will also remain unused. Putting these funds in the budget has to do with bond ratings and keeping interest rates on them low. Yet, that’s just an example of funding that could be used for libraries, children’s day care and our city’s uniformed services to actually help the people of New York City.

But I was talking about libraries, and there is nothing like seeing a child holding that first or favorite book. To me it seems it is time to cut back on planting trees and budgeting funds that won’t be used, and to continue to plant the seeds of joy and knowledge that we find in libraries. Mr. Mayor, are you listening?

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