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New York City Libraries Release ‘Time to Renew,’ A Report Highlighting the Maintenance Crisis in Branches Across the City

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Report showcases 10 of the most serious examples of branches in disrepair and urges the city to further ‘Invest in Libraries’ 

Media Contact:  Angela Montefinise, NYPL  angelamontefinise@nypl.org

Photos from report available here. 

MAY 15, 2017 – The city’s three public library systems have released a report showcasing the ongoing and serious maintenance crisis plaguing their 216 branches.

“Time to Renew: Update on the $1 Billion Maintenance Crisis In Our Libraries” highlights 10 of the worst examples of branches in serious disrepair, including:

  • Pacific Library in Brooklyn, which uses loud, ineffective portable chillers to compensate for faulty air conditioning
  • West Farms Library in the Bronx, which needs to cover several of its children’s computers every time it rains because of a leaky roof
  • Countee Cullen Library in Manhattan, which has insufficient and outdated power electric that fails when the branch uses space heaters due to failing HVAC
  • Rosedale Library in Queens, which is one of the smallest in the borough, and has mold and mildew in its basement from chronic flooding
  • Great Kills Library in Staten Island, which can’t keep up with the 40% increase in programming attendance because deteriorating walls and windows leave the community room unusable from water and excessive temperatures

The report states that the city’s libraries need about $1 billion in capital funding to correct maintenance issues that interfere with their ability to serve the public, such as chronic flooding, faulty AC and heaters, overcrowding, outdated electric, broken elevators, and inaccessible space.

The city’s three library systems – The Brooklyn Public Library, The New York Public Library, and Queens Library – are asking the city for $150 million in new capital funding in Fiscal Year 2018 for critical maintenance to help address the issue.

“The city's three library systems are struggling to maintain branches that have gone years without critical infrastructural upkeep—even as they expand programs and services to meet growing needs,” said a letter by Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson, New York Public Library President Tony Marx, and Queens Library President Dennis Walcott in the report. “This is unacceptable.”

The presidents added, “Without the fulfillment of crucial infrastructure needs, even our ability to offer basic internet and computer services becomes fraught—just as our city's libraries are being called on to meet the increasingly digital demands of our users.”

The report is part of the multi-year “Invest in Libraries” campaign to fight for increased resources and ensure that New Yorkers have the libraries that they need and deserve.  

Since the campaign launched three years ago, it has generated strong support from authors and celebrities such as Junot Diaz, Judy Blume, Tom Wolfe, Robert Caro, Anna Deavere Smith, Jeff Kinney, and – this year – Malcolm Gladwell, who kicked off a letter-writing campaign to elected officials in the branches and online at investinlibraries.org.

While the successful campaign has previously secured additional capital funding – $300 million over 10 years for libraries – all of that funding has already been allocated to necessary projects.

More is needed, and the report indicates that when city funding is allocated to library capital projects, the return on investment is high.  

For example, Stapleton Library in a high-needs area of Staten Island was fully renovated in 2013, and in its first full year post-renovation versus its last full year pre-renovation, it saw program attendance increase 177 percent, visits increase 33 percent, and circulation increase 51 percent, according to the report.

Additionally, the Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx saw an 80 percent increase in visits after its 2011 renovation, the Cambria Heights Library in Queens saw a 106 percent increase in teen programs after its 2014 renovation, and the Williamsburgh Library in Brooklyn saw a 98 percent increase in children’s programs after its 2015 second floor renovation.

Today, The New York Public Library is reopening its Woodstock Library in the Bronx after a 2.5-year, $11 million renovation that brought more public and programming space to the 103-year-old library, as well as modern amenities. It is expected that attendance and circulation will increase as a result.

“By providing welcoming, modern spaces, our branches can continue to attract new users who benefit from the array of essential free resources available at our libraries,” the report states.

New spaces also greatly impact Library staff. In addition to having better and more efficient space to offer programs and services, staff spends less time dealing with leaks, broken elevators, and other issues.

“Our members work at the city’s libraries,” said Henry Garrido, Executive Director, District Council 37. “Their families utilize library services. This report quantifies the deterioration and disrepair they see every day in branches across the city. District Council 37 will continue to support efforts to ensure that the infrastructure of our library system is sound, and to guarantee that all New Yorkers have access to well-maintained library branches in their communities.”

New Yorkers can support Library efforts to increase capital funding by signing a letter at investinlibraries.org that will be sent to Mayor de Blasio and the City Council.

“Now more than ever, libraries are a lifeline for New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds,” the three presidents said in the report. “We need City action to ensure we can address our ongoing infrastructure crisis and provide users with the high-quality library service that New Yorkers across this great city need and deserve.”