As a rule I don’t duplicate posts from my Tumblr, but this is important enough to make an exception. If you’re able, I hope you’ll come out this Saturday to the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library for the Read-In to protest the mayor’s enormous proposed library budget cuts, which if enacted would effectively dismantle the New York, Queens, and Brooklyn Public Library systems as we know them.
Most of the protest in support of New York City libraries these days seems to revolve around pending changes at the NYPL’s flagship Schwarzman branch, where the research and circulating libraries are under threat. It’s a very unfortunate and arguably outrageous plan that could hobble one very important library in the wealthiest borough of our fair city, and I’m as concerned about it as anyone who’s ever done research there.
But let’s not let our opposition to (or acceptance of) that proposal distract us from the Mayor’s even greater, and far, far more wide-reaching, threat to literacy and to everything else our libraries help provide. As novelist (and friend of mine) Alexander Chee said when he signed on to the Read-In, “This is reprehensible — no library recovers from acquisitions cuts.”
And we’re not just talking reduced hours and fewer books in circulation. According to a 2010 New York Times story, the Queens system alone is “the largest public library in the country, measured by circulation volume,” an innovative institution that has shown other libraries how to operate as “community hubs for job seekers, teenagers who are looking for a safe and comfortable place to study after school, students of English and people who cannot afford to own a computer but want to use the Internet.” All of the “city’s public libraries are increasingly serving as makeshift employment centers,” part of a “surge in demand for libraries’ free goods and services that is typical during economic downturns.”
Over the past few years, Urban Librarians Unite and others have put up such fierce resistance to threatened cuts that money has quietly been restored, giving readers and employment seekers citywide a false sense of security. If we don’t protest, the Mayor and City Council don’t know what’s important to us, and the next time you show up at your library to pick up books on a random weekday afternoon, you just might find its doors locked.
Anyone can sign up to read, and I hope you’ll join a wide range of writers, some of whom will actually be reading, some of whom are away and can only be with us in spirit, by signing up for a slot to read at this year’s protest, or just by stopping by.
Those participating and supporting so far include Megan Abbott (The End of Everything and Dare Me), Eric Banks (President, National Book Critics Circle), Josh Bazell (Beat the ReaAdd a Comment