Whenever it rains in New York City, workers at the Sheepshead Bay library rush to move computers and valuables into another room to avoid a leaky roof.
The leaks have been so bad in the past, in fact, that patrons have had to walk through knee deep puddles of rain. Library branch manager Svetlana Negrimovskaya said the city’s libraries are in maintenance crisis mode. It comes at an inopportune time too, as more and more residents are flocking to city libraries.
The Center for an Urban Future recently released a report called “Re-envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries”.
In the report, it states Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration have the perfect opportunity to fix up the libraries in the five boroughs. It also has the ability to put each library on proper footing with room to grow for the countless number of visitors that depend on them.
The city has three nonprofit library systems including the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and the Queens Library. BPL has 60 locations, serving residents in Brooklyn. The New York Public Library system is America’s largest system, with 88 branches and four research centers throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
It was reported that the library system needs an estimated $1.1 billion in funding this year, and that doesn’t include money that would be necessary to forge the system into the 21st century with amenities such as ebooks and more outlets for mobile devices. Officials believe the chances of receiving that amount of money are very slim. One reason for this outlook is the fact that many residents believe elected officials already aren’t doing all that they can for the library, making it hard to fathom them approving a larger funding sum going forward. Much of the money that could be used is being allocated to other projects already.
That said, since 2004, the city has allocated $500 million toward library system improvements, which the report calls insufficient due to the amount of work the infrastructure requires. The report continues that the library systems have their hands tied due to the fact that all of their funding decisions are based more upon political matters than actual maintenance and design needs.
In short, the library systems will either get a much-needed jolt of vitality or continue to slide downhill based on the decisions of local elected officials in the near future.
Close to 36 million people went to the library system’s 207 branches in 2013. An estimated 2.4 million children visited each branch for special programs (like a librarian-hosted story time, for example). In a 10 year span, patronage to each library system increased by 46 percent. Members that attended special programs rose by 62 percent.
The Center for an Urban Future report goes on to point to other big city library systems and what they are doing right. It said New York should emulate cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; these systems created a 10 year plan to justify funding.
A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration, Marti Adams said the Mayor knows how important the library is to each community and its residents. She said that is why de Blasio increased the budget by $10 million and will continue to do what he can to invest in New York City’s library systems. For now, it remains to be seen if that is all talk or if a significant amount of money will go to area libraries.