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No Soda, No Tobacco, No Libraries

Mayor Bloomberg has been spending a lot of time worrying about your health (assuming you’re a New Yorker) lately. While he has been active in campaigning for stricter gun regulations, of late he has been more visibly associated with an ill-conceived plan to halt the sale of large fizzy drinks (a ban which a judge blocked at the last moment [Bloomberg will likely appeal the judgment]).

And beyond the beverage Bloomberg has also recently launched a campaign that would require those who sell tobacco products to keep those products from the eyes of their customers (especially young ones). After all, if a teenager does not see cigarettes in a bodega they will not know they exist.

While lots of people are enjoying working themselves into a tizzy over the “assault on freedom” that the soda ban would have represented and while guns and cigarettes are also likely to spark some shouting back and forth, I’d like to take a step away from these matters of the “health mayor” to recall that other mayor that Bloomberg so likes to be: the “education mayor.” After all, when people are busily bemoaning their lack of access to sugary liquids they are seldom focusing on, shall we say, more important matters. Even if the court hadn’t blocked the ban, you still could have gotten a re-fill…but what about renewing your library books.

“this year’s City budget proposal is the largest reduction NYC libraries have ever faced: A 35% reduction below current funding, or $106.7 million. This is a staggering 51% below 2008, when every city library was funded to be open at least 6 days a week. This comes at a critical time when library usage and demand is clearly on the rise. We cannot sustain another funding reduction. There is nowhere else to cut.”

The above quote comes from Tom Galante, President and CEO of Queens Library, as part of a joint testimony made by Galante along with Linda Johnson of the Brooklyn Public Library and Anthony Marx of the New York Public Library (you can read the full testimony: here [you should]). This testimony was delivered on March 8, 2013, and it was part of a “preliminary hearing.” The “preliminary” part is important, because NYC generally likes to start by threatening devastating cuts on the city and borough libraries and then the city council winds up restoring some (but far from all) of the threatened cuts. Indeed, despite the full cuts generally only being partially implemented, city/borough libraries (to quote Galante):

“are currently funded at minus 18%, or over $57 million below our 2008 funding levels. Our ability to purchase new materials has been crippled…the library workforce in this city is down 19%…We have also slashed book budgets, leveraged private and grant dollars, sacrificed weekend hours, found efficiencies in back-end operations and stretched our staff thin in order to keep library service strong.”

And before anybody (surely not you dear reader) tries to argue that library usage is declining in this age of e-books and the Internet, it is worth noting a recent report from the Center for an Urban Future, which is described by Linda Johnson (of Brooklyn Public Library) as showing:

“that over the past decade, our libraries have experienced a 24% increase in program sessions, a 40% increase in program attendance and an incredible 59% increase in circulation. These gains occurred even though our systems suffered a decrease in City funding over the same period.”

The joint testimony by the three library system president’s provides a litany of valuable services provided by city libraries and warns of the dire consequences that these further cuts may bring about (including lay offs, library branch closures, and severe cuts in library hours), cuts that will (surprise!) have the largest impact on those least well off.

What is particularly interesting to note in the testimony is the focus on the consequences as they will ripple through the branch libraries. Currently (you can read more about it: here) there is an extremely ambitious (read: expensive) project underway to change the historic 42nd street branch of NYPL, but the testimony recognizes that the areas that will be sliced into the deepest by these cuts are the branch libraries (especially in low-income communities) that play a direct and daily roll in their communities.

If this year’s budget is anything like those of the past then it is very likely that some of this funding will be restored by the city council (Speaker Quinn wants to be the next Mayor, after all), but some is far from all. The current funding at “minus 18%” since 2008 is the result of this slow chipping away process (“Demolition by neglect” to borrow a phrase from Michael Kimmelman), and if that jumps up to minus 20% instead of minus 25% its still very bad. Or to quote Malcolm X (from a TV interview in March 1964):

“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”

Mayor Bloomberg—we are told—cares about your lungs, he cares about your teeth, he cares about your weight, and he cares about you not getting shot. But he doesn’t really care about your mind. If so maybe he’d spend more time focusing on securing the future of NYC’s libraries.

So the next time you hear somebody jabbering about Bloomberg and soda, or Bloomberg and cigarettes, keep in mind that there are far more important matters with which you should be concerned. The recent court ruling demonstrated that your large soda isn’t going anywhere. But the last few years of budgets have demonstrated that your library is going somewhere: away.

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

3 comments on “No Soda, No Tobacco, No Libraries

  1. Jim Hagen
    March 19, 2013

    I personally think that furores over things like soda and gay marriage and guns are created to prevent us from focusing on issues like this one.

  2. Pingback: Hiding in the Pew[s] – technology, class, and libraries in the new Pew study | LibrarianShipwreck

  3. Pingback: NYC Libraries Survive Another Round | LibrarianShipwreck

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