Sal F. Albanese
In your opinion, what is the role of the library in the City?
As immigrants in Brooklyn, my family didn’t have access to television, so I found entertainment and information at my local library. That is where I developed a voracious appetite for reading and honed my English language skills. To me, libraries are as vital a part of quality neighborhoods as schools, parks, hospitals, and mass transit. In 2013, library usage is skyrocketing. Immigrants, job seekers, students, and seniors – New Yorkers of all kinds – rely on libraries as an indispensable rung on the ladder to greater opportunities. They have been and should continue to be centers of opportunity to learn, find employment, and engage more deeply in community life.
Libraries in New York City are facing $106.7M in cuts in the current executive budget. What would you do to prevent the “budget dance” of proposed cuts and restorations that New York’s libraries have been forced to endure for the past four years?
As a New York City Council member, I spent my career battling against the irresponsible “budget dance” that has kept our most vital community services trapped in a cycle of uncertainty. I’ve called for the elimination of member items, an archane method of distributing funds for services that has become a breeding ground for corruption. Instead, I want to ensure that services in every neighborhood, regardless of their representation at City Hall, are bottom-lined in the budget. Moreover, I want to see citywide participatory budgeting, which can give parents, advocates, and other community members who believe in the importance of libraries a way to make their voices heard more directly in the budget process.
In March of this year, District Council 37 launched a campaign for the establishment of a permanent funding stream for the City’s public library systems, proposing “city legislation to allocate 2.5 percent of existing citywide property tax levies for dedicated, baseline public library funding.” Would you support such a baseline funding model for our libraries, and why or why not?
Because library services are so critical, I would support baselining services, as discussed in Question #2.
New York City’s three public library systems are open an average of 43 hours a week, compared to roughly 50 hours a week in Chicago and Boston, 55 in Toronto and 70 at the Columbus Metropolitan Library (Ohio). How would your administration support public libraries in New York City in order to expand hours and services?
The reduction in library hours is not a fiscal necessity, but a matter of priorities. It’s disgraceful that cities that are much worse off, like Detroit, have longer library hours. The simple fact is that their elected officials know that libraries become more, not less, important in times of economic uncertainty. As Mayor, I’ll fight for the funding to support staff and restore library hours.
Public libraries are commonly known as “the people’s university,” providing resources and services for young adults, English-language learners, small businesses, job seekers, seniors, and more. What would you do to help libraries in their work to support lifelong learning for all ages?
First of all, I would fight to keep every single library open! In recent months and years, we have seen a fire sale of public assets, especially libraries, to private developers. Luxury condos do not teach English, give a job seeker access to free legal and financial advice, or provide a senior courses on how to use the Internet. Libraries, however, do.
In addition to fighting for library funding, I want to see them develop into even greater hubs of community life by strengthening the network between libraries, schools, small businesses, job centers, and community organizations. I want to ensure that young entrepreneurs view libraries not as a 20th-century outpost, but as a 21st-century stepping stone to start their businesses. I want young students to see libraries as a safe haven where they can do their homework or explore their passions. I want seniors to see it as a lifelong classroom, where they can keep abreast of developments in technology, politics, and civic life.
By tethering libraries to other community institutions, we can ensure that the next time a local library is threatened with closure, the entire community is compelled to stand up and fight.