Editorial: Not Just Books

Editorial: Not Just Books

Photo: Glendale Public Library, Queens. Courtesy of pinterest.com

When’s the last time you visited your local library?

If it’s been more than a few years, you probably don’t have a clue as to the myriad offerings available throughout New York City public libraries. Simply put, this isn’t your mother’s library. As Naila Caicedo-Rosario of the Brooklyn system recently said, “It’s more than just books.”

She and Bridget Quinn-Carey, interim president and CEO of the Queens Library, and library officials from the New York public library system, have all come together in recent weeks to call on Mayor de Blasio to restore to the three systems $65 million in funding that’s been gradually cut over the last several years. Quinn-Carey, whom The Forum interviewed last week, says that, while demand for library services has increased, funding has decreased – to the point where sometimes, people seeking services must get turned away. One example of such sought-after services are the ESL and adult education classes offered to over 5,000 people a year.

Quinn-Carey wants to keep her branches open for longer at night and on weekends, which will allow them to expand their programs available to people who work traditional hours during the week.

What exactly does “more than just books” mean? Beginning in late 2013, Queens Library began lending patrons pre-loaded Google tablets secured as a donation from Google to assist people in Sandy-affected areas. Library customers can borrow the tablets for one month at a time, up to four months. Every time they return to the library, or access wireless internet, the content on the devices is updated.

Just a quick glance through our Happenings section will indicate more examples of the services that Quinn-Carey and the other libraries want to maintain and develop: at the Woodhaven branch, there are daily “homework help” sessions for grades K-9 from 3-6 pm. There are frequent adult events, like book discussions, computer and iPhone classes, and movies. Most of the branches offer “toddler time,” “Mommy and me,” storytime, or kids’ music classes, allowing parents who can get to the library during the day a little extra help with their youngsters. There are also a plethora of exercise and gardening classes.

If libraries in nearby communities don’t have programs that interest you, visit the website (www.queenslibrary.org/events) to check out things going on in other Queens branches. In Windsor Park, you can learn basic Chinese. Several branches offer CPR classes. If you need to improve your job interviewing techniques, Central Library offers a one-hour course devoted to that. There’s almost no limit to the range of library offerings – and did we mention that everything’s free? You need only a library card – or better yet, the new IDNYC card, which works citywide in all public libraries and can be easily integrated with existing memberships.

The current library budget – set at $314 — is still to be approved by the City Council and the Mayor and could potentially be increased by $10 million. Last year the libraries received $323, including the $10 million addition by the Council. According to a story in the New York Daily News last week, the administration maintains that it’s committed to “increasing and baselining operating funds,” but Joanne King, communications director for the Queens Public Library, says Queens last year got an increase in operating funds of $2.8 million, which has been removed from this year’s budget. They have requested an increased baseline of $18 million for operating funds, which would allow six-day service in Queens Libraries. King agreed with the administration’s assessment that their library investment is “unprecedented,” but added, “What they have so far committed is not enough.”

At The Forum, we have seen firsthand the good that our branches here in Queens are doing for their communities — and the potential to do even greater good with still-interim president Bridget Quinn-Carey and an all new board – and we agree with King. The financial commitment to our libraries should increase. In the meantime, we hope you’ll check out some of what you’ve been missing at our public libraries: the next generation.



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