The Brooklyn Public Library system launched an online petition last weekend in an attempt to throw the brakes on a proposed $17.5 million budget cut. If passed the 20 percent cut would usher in a layoff of one of every six employees, reduce operational hours of most branches to five hours a day, five days a week, and cause a drop in available book, audio and video resources.
The cuts are tied to Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed executive budget, a four-year financial plan that seeks to close a $3.4 billion budget gap. But the mayor’s decision to shave off from the public library system to help the economy is logically twisted and ill-advised. During economic recession, libraries are an essential resource to a financial rebound. They provide education, career assistance, communication tools, and a center for community organizing. By giving space, internet access and job hunting tools, libraries serve many as both the soft pillow at the end of our deep plunge, and the ladder to getting us back up.
I know this because, when I lost my job last year, I spent many afternoons building Sheepshead Bites in the cool basement of the Sheepshead Bay library. It was a place to go and do work without the benefit of an office, and the internet access saved me money better spent on groceries. Sheepshead Bites owes a part of its existence to the little library on East 14th street.
Speaking of the Sheepshead Bay branch – an already dilapidated, suffering limb of an increasingly whithered tree – as the city drains the financial juices, it’ll no doubt be southern branches like ours that will pay the deepest price. And when it comes time to shutter doors – inevitable once people show they’re willing to accept cuts – ours will no doubt be high on the list.
Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile, chair of the Libraries Committee, gets it. He beat out the BPL petition by a few days, putting one of his own on his website: www.vincentgentile.blogspot.com. “Mayor LaGuardia kept libraries open seven days a week during the Great Depression,” Gentile noted at a recent Community Board 10 meeting. “The more the economy gets worse, the more important the libraries become.”