New York mayoral candidates weigh in on role of libraries

Recently, the certified nonprofit Urban Libraries Unite polled New York City mayoral candidates on the role of libraries in New York City. At present, New York City’s three metropolitan library systems — Brooklyn, Queens and New York — are facing a total of $106.7 million in cuts in the current proposed budget, in addition to past cuts to library budgets. While the mayoral candidates who reponded to Urban Libraries Unite’s survey all shared positive views of libraries, they were short on concrete answers as to how they would support New York’s libraries if elected mayor.

Disappointingly, only four of the eleven mayoral candidates replied to the Urban Libraries Unite survey: Anthony Weiner, Christine Quinn, Sal F. Albanese and John Liu. With a little over a one-third response rate, New Yorkers must be wondering how the other mayoral candidates feel about libraries. The current front runners, Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson, remained silent on this issue.

At present, New York’s three metropolitan library systems are open approximately 43 hours each week, a number far less than that of library systems in Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Columbus. This translates directly to fewer language learning classes, computing classes, and job seeking classes offered to New York City residents, some of whom rely on the library for access to these materials and cannot imagine going elsewhere.

Mayoral candidates want to strengthen the connection between libraries and communities by offering more community services in libraries. Christine Quinn proposed turning libraries into “mini City Halls” that offer tax preparation help and health screenings. Sal F. Albanese views libraries as a hub for entrepreneurs and wants to extend the role of public libraries as an aid to students and entrepreneurs.

Library advocates are pushing for a permanent, baseline funding stream for libraries of 2.5 percent of citywide property tax. Sal F. Albanese and John Liu spoke in support of the baseline funding model, while Christine Quinn favored the model in principle but found that making it permanent was too restrictive.

Christine Quinn touted her eight-year long record of protecting funding for libraries as Speaker, and promised to continue funding libraries if elected Mayor. Anthony Weiner hoped to save budget cuts to libraries, but did not provide specific examples of actions hr had taken in the past to preserve libraries. Neither candidate John Liu nor candidate Sal F. Albanese mentioned whether he would preserve library funding in the annual budget dance.

While those candidates who did answer spoke eloquently of their personal connection to libraries, there was very little concrete discussion of what can be done to preserve New York’s rich library heritage.

With the mayoral race scheduled for November 5, library advocates have just under two months to make their case to the candidates. As these results show, there is more work that needs to be done in advocating for urban libraries, library hours and staffing and the preservation of library funding.