The city has proposed a $14 million, 17-percent budget cut to the Brooklyn Public Library system. The spending measure is included in the annual budget being negotiated right now by the city council.
The cuts as proposed are expected to take effect this July, said BPL's Executive Director, Dionne Mack-Harvin, and will result in a loss of roughly 220 library jobs. Less librarians, clerks, custodians and other staff will force BPL to drastically reduce library services across the borough.
In 2008, the library system's 60 locations were open an average of 46 hours per week, more than at any time in the previous four decades, according to Mack-Harvin.
Starting this July, the average will drop to 31 hours per week.
Under a current BPL plan, around 15 branches would retain six-day-a-week services. The rest would only open between the hours of 1 and 6 p.m., making it harder for children, working people, and seniors to access their neighborhood branches.
"The cuts will really have a detrimental effect on the services we can provide. People want to see that the library can continue to provide these services," said Mack-Harvin, but hopefully disappointed library goers will "understand we many not able to right now."
Earlier this year, after the city announced plans to cut BPL funding, the library system closed its Central Library facility and several branches on Sundays - as well as instituted a hiring freeze, among other measures - to reduce overall spending. The library system is also facing a shortfall in annual state aid.
These financial woes come at just the time when the library is experiencing a system-wide resurgence.
In the two years leading up to the recession, said Mack-Harvin, BPL increased average daytime hours; every branch was opened at least six days a week and some were even opened every day. Last year Brooklynites had more daytime access to their libraries than at any time in the past four decades, said Mack-Harvin. In a successful effort to enter the digital age, BPL ramped up its computer programs and now has the largest wireless Internet system in the borough.
The recession only seemed to bolster BPL's popularity, as cash-strapped residents looking for free fun turned to libraries for cultural events, movies, and books. Overall book checkout rose by 13 percent in February alone, said Mack-Harvin.
"We've seen a surge in not only usage, but in people who come to the library to volunteer," said Mack-Harvin. During tough times, she said, "people want to find a way to make a difference."
In addition to volunteering, Mack-Harvin said people who have lost their jobs during the recession have used the library system's computers, job reference material,l and career counseling to help look for work. "People are definitely seeing this as a resource," said Mack-Harvin. "They're making use of our great programs."
Indeed, during the day, the Central Library's second-floor employment assistance room is packed with people searching the Internet for job listings, sending off resumes, and reading books on how to get hired. (Once the cuts take effect, the employment room will likely become even more crowded with former library employees looking for new work).
Mack-Harvin said BPL has already taken measures to ensure that interest in Brooklyn libraries doesn't wane once the cuts are imposed this summer.
On March 1, the library announced a new three-month fundraising drive, Support Our Shelves, aimed at raising $300,000 and awareness about the library's financial plight. Mack-Harvin said BPL hopes an outpouring of donations will inspire legislators to reduce the proposed budget cut.
"I'm hoping that people's passion for the library won't go away," Mack-Harvin said. She pointed to the library's 113-year history as evidence of the institution's staying power through good times and bad; the library remained open seven days a week during the Great Depression. "We'll be here," Mack-Harvin said, "and we want to make sure that we'll be here for many more generations to come."
On Saturday, as Brooklyn residents left the Central Library books in hand, they worried over the impending budget cuts.
"It sucks for the kids," said Fred Boyce, who no longer lives near the Central branch, but still travels there once a week. "You see a lot of neighborhood kids in here. It's a great resource. We should have more libraries like this, not less."
Paul Freitag, from Park Slope, said the reduced hours would make it harder for students like his son to use the library as a resource for school assignments.
"It has a direct effect on us," said Freitag. "We beg the mayor not to cut library hours."