Queens Library Hits High Marks
By MEGAN MONTALVO
|Queens libraries have the highest overall circulation of any borough and boasts eight of the 20 branches in the city with the highest program attendance numbers.
Photo by Xin Ping Tian.
As the future of reading continues to transition towards digital formats, such as the iPad and Kindle, Queens Public Library is proving that it is still an important resource in today's knowledge economy.
On Jan. 8, the Center for an Urban Future released a new report, titled "Branches of Opportunity," which found that despite each of the City's public library systems' struggle to meet the demand for its services as a result of funding cuts, Queens has the highest overall circulation of any borough and boasts eight of the 20 branches in the City with the highest program attendance numbers.
"The Queens Library has done an amazing job at adapting to the changing demography of the Borough," said David Giles, who authored the 52-page report. "One of the most noticeable differences that we found between Queens and the other libraries was that as more immigrants started to move into the Borough, the branches began stocking books that would appeal to their native language, making them an incredible resource for new Americans."
According to the report, which is the first-ever of its kind, nearly half of Queens' population is made up of foreign-born residents with more than 190 languages spoken in the county.
Noticing that in the case of a branch in Woodside, where an influx of Nepalese families had significantly risen in recent years, Giles said that his research lead him to discover that employees had proactively stocked more Nepali books and worked with local organizations to conduct outreach events.
"Queens Library has a great deal of outreach programs and conducts about 80 multi-cultural programs a year," Giles said. "Their repertoire of resources stands out as one of the best in the country and may be unequaled anywhere else worldwide."
In addition to an unparalleled level of immigrant community involvement, the report stated that branches in Queens have the highest circulation per capita in the City and are second among the five boroughs in overall program attendance-with 597,896 people attending programs in 2011, ranging from ESOL classes to computer literacy and GED prep programs.
"Queens Library enriches the lives of 45,000 people every day," Queens Library President Thomas Galante said. "In a world in which information is power, we provide people with the tools and assistance they need to succeed, and access to the technology that makes it all possible."
Although attendance for all adult programs at the Queens Library grew by 79 percent between 2002 and 2011, the report highlighted that its acquisitions budget is down from $15 million per year to $5 million.
"Due to budget restraints, we saw that many branches began limiting the amount of hours they remain open," Giles said. "Since 2008, Queens Library has received $17.5 million in City budget cuts. Obviously, this has had a negative impact on their ability to deliver services."
After comparing Queens Library to several other major cities, Giles said that it ranked 20th out of the 25 large urban libraries in the number of hours it is open per week. On average, branches in Queens are open at 40.7 hours a week, compared to Columbus at 72, Detroit at 45 and Boston and Chicago, which are both at 50.
However, despite the loss of City funding, the report found that within Borough limits, Borough President Helen Marshall has steered more money toward library projects than the other four borough presidents combined.
"Between 2003 and 2012, the Queens borough president spent more than $54 million or $24.33 per person on libraries," the report read. "During this same period, the Bronx borough president spent $14.37 per person, while the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island borough presidents all spent less than $8 per person."
In light of the report's findings, Giles' recommendations for progress include a proposed baseline library budget in the City's Financial Plan and a change in State law to allow libraries to receive Employment Preparation Education funds for adult literacy programs.
"It's unacceptable for New York City's public libraries to be open barely 40 hours a week on average when there is such overwhelming demand for the programs and services they offer today," Giles wrote. "There's no reason why New York's libraries shouldn't be open as many hours each week as the libraries in Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Memphis, Austin and so many other large cities."
Reach Reporter Megan Montalvo at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 128 or email@example.com.