The State of Public Libraries

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Local libraries supportive of midtown renovations, speak out against budget cuts The New York Public Library system is facing major changes and not everyone is happy about it. The Committee to Save the New York Public Library (NYPL) has been rallying to stop the Central Library Plan, a plan to consolidate the Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry and Business Library into one building. The consolidating, they say would not only cost exorbitant taxpayer money, but would "threaten the 42nd Street Library's status as one of the world's great research libraries" and "endanger the architectural integrity of the landmarked building." "You don't update a masterpiece," wrote Ada Louise Huxtable of the proposed renovations in the Wall Street Journal this past winter. Angela Montefinise, an NYPL spokesperson, disagrees. Montefinise says, among other pluses, renovations would be a boon to public library branches on the Upper West and Upper East Sides, some of which would greatly benefit from circulating funds. "One of the benefits of the renovation of 42nd Street is that it would generate $15 million a year annually which can be put right back in the system, including the UWS and UES branches," explains Montefinise. Montefinise concedes many of the branches throughout the City are old and in need of repairs, which would be made possible through the plan as well as approximately $260 million of capital work going on around the system. "While the renovations themselves are happening in midtown, they will benefit the whole system," she says. "I think there's a perception that [the plan] is being done at the expense of other work - that's incorrect. The funding for that plan is generated from the plan itself - such as real estate sales - and earmarked city money specifically for this project." Still, uptown, the consolidation plan is far from many's minds as they consider more pressing concerns. Sumie Ota, the network manager in charge of uptown libraries, says while the campaign to oppose major budget cuts is a main issue among library branches, local concerns have more to do with the day-to-day issues of keeping patrons happy. "As far as allocating funds, the more money the better," says Ota, "but our biggest concern is keeping the branches open and making our services available. The Central Library Plan is not on our minds." "Everyday I see people waiting for us to open our doors or waiting in line for computers," she adds. "That's what's on our minds." The budget cuts Ota refers to amount to $47 million, or the largest proposed cut in the library's history, according to Montefinise. Montefinise says, in addition to an advocacy campaign to fight the budget cut, there will need to be increased strategic thinking - such as the Central Library Plan itself - as funds are slashed. Currently, branches across the City are focusing on this effort to reach out to elected officials including sending letters to City Council members to fight the budget cut. The 67th Street library on the Upper East Side, for instance, has already sent over 400 letters to oppose the budget cuts. The group Citizens Defending Libraries agrees the proposed budget cuts are a major issue currently facing the City's public library branches. "Mayor Bloomberg is defunding New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity," notes the group. Ota says there are major projects underway in her network including renovations and restorations, particularly to the Washington Heights and 96th Street branches. Branch libraries, notes Ota, are also increasing their e-book presence in addition to circulating physical materials, while research libraries are increasingly digitizing their collections. As far as the future of the consolidation plan, Montefinise maintains it's never going to be of concern to libraries uptown. "There is a lot of misinformation out there, and that's a shame. I think internally employees certainly understand the benefits, and generally support initiatives that generate resources to help them serve the public."

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