What Happens When NYC Defunds the Libraries?Breaking News
tags: New York City, libraries, Eric Adams
Allison Chomet is a librarian and archivist living and working in New York City.
When Mayor Eric Adams announced budget cuts last month, one public resource taking a hit stood out—the City's libraries, which are being targeted for $33 million in reductions over the next year and a half. According to leadership at the City's three library systems, this austerity plan would leave libraries with curtailed hours and services. Librarians across the five boroughs, who have been threatened repeatedly with cuts before, don't know how much less the system can operate with, as staffing shortages have already left workers scrambling to fill other people's roles. Meanwhile, library usage has almost fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
The proposed cuts are part of the mayor's Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) plan, first announced in September, which will reduce budgets for the New York, Brooklyn, and Queens library systems by $13 million this year, and over $20 million the next fiscal year.
"New Yorkers need the services we provide," said a Brooklyn Public Library worker, who requested we not use their name because they were not authorized to speak to the media. "Not just internet access, resume and career coaching, immigrant services, and more, but also simply just a place to be, somewhere that's air conditioned in the summer, heated in the winter, with free restrooms and water fountains. How many spaces like that are left anywhere?"
In an interview with the New York Times, Adams said he took "no joy" in slashing funds from libraries, but insisted that it was the right call, because of worries about a recession, coupled with the drying up of federal pandemic relief money.
"We made tough fiscal decisions in spite of the people who continually attacked us for it, but the decision was right for New Yorkers," Adams said.
Whether New York is actually facing a massive reduction in revenue is debatable. But this new round of cuts comes on the heels of a disastrous budget for the public school system and CUNY, and tens of thousands of vacant positions in a variety of agencies.
The PEG report indicates that the library systems, and many other City agencies, should be able to make up the budget deficit by simply not filling currently vacant positions—but that doesn't mean services wouldn't be affected. As a city comptroller report notes, "eliminating currently vacant positions reduces head count but does not take into account whether mission-critical services are adequately staffed."