Shrinking Library Budgets Cause Problems For Immigrants’ Efforts To Assimilate

Sheepshead Bay Library

Sheepshead Bay Library

City Hall’s budget battles and shortfalls are constantly putting a strain on the city’s library system, including Southern Brooklyn’s libraries, where they serve large immigrant populations. The New York Times is reporting that the library squeeze has consequences for the city’s immigrant population, which relies on the institutions for learning and cultural integration.

Since 2008, funding for New York City libraries in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens was cut by $65 million, increasing the strain on the system by decreasing hours and limiting the hiring of much-needed employees. Brooklyn Public Library executive David Woloch told the Times that the borough’s 60 branches need $300 million in capital improvements. According to Woloch, only $15 million was available in 2013.

Julie Sanford from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which recently awarded the Sheepshead Bay Library $10,000, summed up the problem to the Times:

“The libraries often can’t plan beyond a year because they don’t know what the budget is going to be,” said Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation… “It’s not like schools or parks, who start with a set budget. The libraries start from zero.”

Ms. Sandorf said that for $50 million more each year — “a rounding error in the city’s $70 billion budget” — all of the city’s libraries could be open 50 hours a week, instead of the current average of 43 hours. “If we are talking about a knowledge-based economy, this is what we need to do,” she said. “The problem is there is a huge gulf between the decision makers in this city who can pay for books or iPads and what is going on in every single library branch in the city.”

As the budgets for libraries shrink, demand for their services have increased, especially for the ever-growing immigrant population that uses them as cultural and learning centers. The Times described the cross-cultural services offered at the Sheepshead Bay branch:

Despite these challenges, branches like Sheepshead Bay offer countless services to an unending stream of people, including language and citizenship classes, arts and crafts, preschool story time, chess and even a Russian literature fan club.

Last Wednesday, a couple played Scrabble at a table while another couple studied for a nursing test. Nearby, a man browsed a selection of Korean movies, while another thumbed through recently arrived books in Russian. Upstairs, children did their homework or checked their e-mail

“If you are going to be educated, you have to be in touch with the culture,” said Laura Sermassan, an immigrant from Romania who meets her three sons at the library each day after school. “It’s a point of integration into American culture. It’s a support.”

Ms. [Svetlana] Negrimovskaya, in her office — where the shelf behind her desk has dictionaries in Yiddish, Russian, English and Chinese — was already looking forward to Tuesday’s gathering to mark Hurricane Sandy’s passing and the community’s rebound. She said people came alive when they were able to come back.


  1. Pingback: Hurdles for Immigrants in Legal Process | Miami Legal Round Table

  2. Oh, so this is why the russians around here still insist on speaking russian 24/7 after being here for over 20 years…yes, that’s it…but they can sure sign a check, use those free checks at Stop n Shop and go load a 2014 fully loaded Lexus SUV. They know enough english for that…

  3. Here’s the answer. Libraries should not assume social functions that city agencies. That would save quite a bit of money. That money could be used to restore libraries to their proper function, which is to provide a place to borrow books, or even access media electronically.

    Given the tremendous positive externalities, it is beyond insane that a library should be closed just when adults and children want to access information .

  4. Agencies to Provide Services in Top Six Languages Spoken in New York including Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian, and French Creole

    Languages determined “based on the Unites States Census data” Section 1, par. 2.c (page 2):

  5. Libraries are now taking the primary form of community centers. While that was always considered to be a function of libraries, the main purpose of libraries have become lost. Libraries are no longer about books, so perhaps they need a total rebranding as social service/cultural arts agencies so that they can receive adequate funding.

  6. deadcommiesgoodcommies on

    Sure… it’s smaller budgets to the libraries causing the “immigrants”
    not to assimilate. Throw millions more at the “poor” immigrants so they
    can properly assimilate from their Mercedes Benzes and Mansions in
    Manhattan Beach on the way to their Antekas and caviar lunches at

    How can libraries even justify themselves aside from
    make work projects for city employees and connected suppliers and
    contractors in the digital age where nearly everything is available for
    free on an Obama Phone?

    Those poor US Citizens trapped behind the
    red curtain being bled to death in order to support their invaders are
    the ones that their should be concerned about.