The Brooklyn Public Library is facing over $10 million in budget cuts following Mayor Eric Adam’s call for citywide spending reductions for the next four fiscal years, and says those cuts could have devastating impacts on the services it provides.
In September 2022, Adams proposed a citywide Program to Eliminate the Gap which required all city agencies to reduce their spending in Fiscal Year 23 by 3%, and by 4.75% for FY 2024 through 2026. According to Linda Johnson, BPL’s president and CEO, the cuts would be “devastating” for the organization’s dozens of branches.
On March 20, Johnson pleaded with the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations at a preliminary budget hearing to reevaluate the “significant cuts” proposed and reject the administration’s plan to cut $20.5 million from libraries citywide.
“If these cuts are implemented, we will be forced to shorten hours or have Saturday closures, even though the number of library visits continue to rise, and we issued a record 143,000 new library cards last year. Demand is high enough that we are on track to issue 170,000 more this year,” Johnson said at the hearing. “If these cuts proceed, we will be forced to make agonizing choices about cutting programs and rolling back critical community services. Our patrons rely on BPL for a diverse range of civic, social and educational services – there is far too much at stake to risk program cuts.”
Libraries within the borough already go underfunded, Johnson said, resulting in staffing shortages and frequent disruption to services. This time last year, many BPL branches had to temporarily close due to a staffing deficiency. In the last fiscal year, they lost more than 2,000 hours to unplanned closures and infrastructure issues at 47 of their 61 branches. The library offers a myriad of services — workshops, children’s story times, and more — and was recognized this year for its “Books Unbanned” initiative, which allowed teens from all over the country to get a BPL card and access banned books and materials.
This year, BPL has plans to open a new library dedicated to arts and culture as well as the Center for Brooklyn History at 128 Pierrepont Street, which has been temporarily closed for construction.
According to Johnson, the system is also planning to launch new branches in Brower Park, East Flatbush, and Sunset Park; however the loss of funding would result in permanent staff reductions and interfere with their “ability to deliver service and programming across the system, including in these new branches.”
The PEG proposes cutting BPL’s operating subsidy by more than $5 million over the next few years.
Ahead of the hearing, Johnson joined the heads of the New York and Queens public libraries and Brooklyn Council Member Chi Ossé — who chairs the committee on libraries — to rally against the proposed cuts.
“For the universally-shared goals of improving education, public safety, and the economy, there are few more efficient or effective ways to invest our tax dollars than into our treasured libraries,” Ossé said in a statement. “The services and resources these institutions offer to New Yorkers of all ages are essential and unmatched. Whether in best of times or the worst of times, funding cuts for libraries should always be off the table.”
Deme Brown, a Brooklyn resident, said they frequently use the library’s IDNYC and passport services as well as the free Wi-Fi and device chargers available. Cuts to the center would affect services that New Yorkers consider essential, Brown said.
“I think the mayor in general is making cuts to a lot of essential services that the every day person needs. It really just sucks. Living in New York sometimes is really hard and they always cut the services that we need,” Brown told Brooklyn Paper.
Another library patron says his kids frequent various branches within the borough, renting out books and playing in the gaming sections.
“It’d be a shame,” Devin Sharkey said in regards to a potential loss of services. “We like using it. It’s obviously free so that’s great but yeah we’d like to keep using the library.”
Gregory Richards, staff photographer, often spends his days capturing photos of library users using the center’s host of services. He said following the pandemic, it was obvious that New Yorkers enjoy having a safe space to gather in that also gives them access to free books, records, movies.
“The library is like a safe space for the community. It’s a space where anyone no matter your color, your gender, anyone can come in here and have access to computers, different programs. There’s so many different things that the library provides,” Richards said. “Because of the pandemic, it just shed even more light on how important a space like this is. I think the library should be one of the last places that we should consider cutting the budget off. Especially when the library means so much to so many different people.”
Johnson requested $80 million in capital funds for FY24 to correct problems brought on by the lack of funding over the last few years and to move forwards with their expansion projects. The council will continue to hold hearings on the proposed budget until April, when Adams will release his revised Executive Budget. Negotiations often stretch until the very last minute as council members fight for what they feel is necessary.
The library is also asking patrons and supporters to sign a letter to Ossé, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, and Council Member Justin Brannan — chair of the body’s finance committee — urging them to oppose the cuts.
“We play a critical role not only in the educational, cultural, and civic lives of New Yorkers, but also in their health and safety,” Johnson said. “We know that investment in our libraries yields exponential returns in the wellbeing and vibrancy of our communities. Now more than ever, we should be increasing, not cutting, this investment.”