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NYPL President Paul LeClerc Testifies at City Hall in Response to Proposed Cuts to Libraries

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(The full text of his prepared remarks follow.)

 

NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON FINANCE

COMMITTEE ON CULTURAL AFFAIRS, LIBRARIES AND INTERNATIONAL INTERGROUP RELATIONS JOINTLY WITH THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON LIBRARIES
HEARING ON THE FISCAL YEAR 2011 PRELIMINARY BUDGET


June 4, 2010

 

I’m Paul LeClerc, the President of The New York Public Library (NYPL), and I’m here to ask you, respectfully but in the strongest terms possible, not to let comprehensive public library services be taken away from the people of New York.

 

Anyone with his or her eyes open knows and acknowledges that success today depends on information: access to it and the skills to use it.

 

And it’s been recognized, at least since the time of Jefferson—who said that information is the currency of a democracy—that a more just society is founded on the notion that the people have an inherent right to free access to information.

 

So the question before the Council Committee today, and before both branches of City government as it defines its spending priorities in a tough fiscal climate is, I think, what should the City’s investment be in the one, the single, the unique organization whose sole purpose of existence is to provide everyone with free access to the ever expanding universe of information today?

  

Or, to go back to Jefferson, to the kinds of places, imbedded in every neighborhood in our City, that lets every child, teenager, adult and senior citizen get as much of the currency of democracy—information—as they want or need?

 

My argument this morning is a simple one:

  • that public libraries are more essential to the welfare of New Yorkers than ever before
  • that they are being used in record numbers because the people of the communities you represent know and appreciate how they add immense value to their lives
  • and that investing in public libraries costs the City very little—basically one half of one percent of the overall City budget, really a rounding error in a $60 plus billion dollar budget—but is the smartest investment you could make in terms of the results you get.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  I am joined today by David Offensend - Chief Operating Officer, Anne Coriston - Vice President for Public Service and Sharon Hewitt-Watkins - Vice President for Finance.  I would like to thank Speaker Christine Quinn, Committee Chairmen Domenic Recchia, Jimmy Van Bramer and Vincent Gentile and the members of the committee for your great support of libraries in the past and your continued support as we move forward during these difficult economic times. 

 

As I deliver this testimony today, I am fully cognizant of the economic challenges the City faces and the difficult choices that the Council and the Mayor must make over these next few weeks; we see the direct impact of these hard times on the patrons of our library system.  Never has it been more important to keep the City’s libraries open.  Libraries serve everyone in every one of the City’s neighborhoods.  In many neighborhoods – they are the sole resource for education, information, job searches, homework assistance, literacy instruction, and computer access.

 

When I testified before you on March 26th regarding the preliminary budget, I described in detail the impact of the then proposed $33 million cut to NYPL, which included a Fiscal Year 2010 mid-year reduction of $6 million and additional cuts.  In my remarks I spoke of the many ways that NYPL is serving our communities and the impact that these cuts would have on these services.  Unfortunately, the Executive Budget creates a scenario that is considerably worse than the one I discussed in March.  The proposed $37 million reduction to NYPL’s funding is staggering and will have a direct impact on the communities of this City that depend on the Library the most.

 

In this testimony, I would like to outline the devastating impact a cut of this magnitude would have on the essential services that the library provides to our City, particularly our youngest citizens. I will also discuss in detail how these cuts will impact Library operations.

 

The magnitude of these cuts to NYPL will deeply impact the reading achievements of children:

Reading is the most powerful tool available for building vocabulary and improving writing, spelling, and comprehension skills.  And today in our City, according to the Department of Education’s website, 3 in 10 New York City students in grades 3-8 are not meeting the necessary standards in the New York State English Language Arts test.   Library reading programs help youngsters retain the skills they have already acquired, and markedly improve the reading achievement of children—many of whom lack access to books and other reading materials in their daily lives—better preparing them for school.   In fact, in the last twelve months alone our libraries have hosted over 5,364 K-12 classes, providing access to books, computers, librarians and so much more.  However, if these cuts are enacted, access to books and to invaluable resources of the Library will be severely reduced.

 

Ensuring that these children continue to have access to books, computers, programs and services is essential.  A recent study funded by the Gates Foundation found that one-third of Americans now relies on public libraries for computers and Internet access. The study - conducted by the University of Washington Information School - further revealed that nearly half of those living below the poverty line depend on library computers. More than 60 percent of young people in those households use these computers for educational purposes.  In New York City, one in four people say they have no alternatives to services like those they receive at NYPL.  Our libraries change lives.

 

But, you shouldn’t just take my word for it.  Over these past few weeks, the Library has heard from tens of thousands of patrons who depend on NYPL for access to books, job search services, research and much, much more.

 

Like, Mary O’Hara, who wrote to us to say, “Growing up poor in the Lower East Side, I attended public schools with low resources and don't know what I would have done without the free library books. Now I'm on a full scholarship at a prestigious liberal arts college. I never could have done it without the NYPL. Save the library and you save a future for countless kids!”

 

Or, Gary Feigenbaum who wrote, “As a poor kid living in the Sedgwick Housing Project the tiny Sedgwick Library was a venue which enabled me and many others entry to the Bronx High School of Science. The children of Highbridge can now gain entry to any school or occupation their interests, talents and energy truly desire.”

 

And finally, from Joanna Jusino, the mother of one of our youngest patrons, who wrote, “My daughter just found out about the closures and asked why.  I said the City didn’t have the money.  She said she will give them 10 dollars.  She is 5.5 years old and will be graduating from Kindergarten this year.  She understands the value of the public library.  I hope our politicians feel the same.”

 

These are just a few of the stories that we have heard on top of the countless acts of support from thousands of residents throughout our City.  From teenagers making their own buttons at the Castle Hill branch, library supporters at the Woodlawn Heights Branch commissioning their own t-shirts, teens in Teen Central making their own videos, our communities are voicing the need for their neighborhood libraries.  People from all over the city are saying it loud and clear – “we need our libraries now more than ever”.

 

The Fiscal Year 2011 proposed cuts would have a dramatic effect on library services:

The FY 2011 Executive Budget calls for cuts of $37 million to The New York Public Library:

·        These cuts would necessitate the elimination of 736 full-time equivalent positions;

·        Consideration of the closure of up to 10 neighborhood branches;

·        Public service hours would be decimated at the remaining branches, brought down to an average of four days per week, down from our current six to seven days service;

·        The impact of a cut of this magnitude would be tremendous:

o       5.7 million fewer items will be circulated (1.7 million to children);

o       346,000 fewer visits to library programs by young people;

o       1.8 million fewer visits by children to the Library;

o       13,200 fewer slots available to attend our career counseling and job classes;

o       2 million fewer computer sessions, and severely reduced access to seniors, who often use the library in the morning. Many of these morning hours will be cut;

o       1.1 million fewer visits and 1.3 million fewer materials circulated in our Lower Manhattan libraries, where 72% of families earn less than $50,000 per year and 45% of residents do not have a high school diploma or equivalent;

o       880,000 fewer visits and 632,000 fewer materials circulated to Central Bronx libraries, where 82% of families earn less than $50,000 per year, 50% lack a high school diploma, and only 33% of residents are native English speakers;

o       542,000 fewer visits, 659,000 fewer items circulated, 2,100 fewer programs and 42,000 fewer visits by school age children to library programs in our Staten Island branches.

 

Conclusion

Libraries provide hope to the economically disadvantaged, inspiration to the new immigrant and a safe and nurturing space for those in need. But, most importantly, libraries provide answers to those in search of knowledge and discovery.

 

Libraries remain more important than ever.  Just look at the 18 million times people walked through the NYPL’s doors last year or the 27 million visits to our website. While the impact of the recession continues to take its toll across our city, we have seen no slow-down in the record numbers of people using our services.   Millions of New Yorkers continue to use our rich collections, interesting programming, computer training, literacy classes, ESOL programs, homework help, job search and small business resources.  These are just the services that will help put people back to work and help the city climb out of the recession and that millions of children and their parents will rely upon during these summer months.

 

In years past, Speaker Quinn and the City Council, have championed funding of this City’s libraries, recognizing how essential the services are that libraries provide to New Yorkers.  We are truly grateful for this support.  The FY 2011 proposed cut of $37 million would cripple the NYPL’s ability to deliver the services that the people of this City are demanding in record numbers. This would essentially wipe-out decades of progress made by our library system.   We again seek your support in helping to ensure that libraries keep their doors open so that New Yorker’s may continue to access this invaluable and much needed resource.

 

Once again, thank you for this opportunity to testify.  We remain available to answer any questions that you may have.

 

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