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Queens public libraries’ Sunday hours shortened

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Queens Borough Public Library officials plan to reduce the system’s Sunday hours starting Nov. 25 in response to a partial freeze in the library’s budget after the events of Sept. 11.

At the same time, the Forest Hills Branch will close for renovations Sunday, Nov. 25, and remain closed for two weeks until Sunday, Dec. 9.

Only the Central Library in Jamaica, Flushing Library and Jackson Heights branch will continue service on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Eleven other branches which were scheduled to be open on Sundays from mid-September until mid-May will be closed, including Bay Terrace, Broadway, East Elmhurst, Far Rockaway, Forest Hills, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens Hills, Queens Village, Richmond Hill, St. Albans and Sunnyside.

All Monday-to-Saturday schedules will remain the same, but further changes were expected.

The Forest Hills work is to include renovations to improve accessibility for the handicapped, to remodel the restrooms and to install a new elevator, new circulation desk and new equipment.

The renovations, made possible in part by $625,000 secured by City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), were expected to be completed by spring.

The Queens public library system is the largest in the world and serves more than 2 million people in the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. It offers more than 16,000 free programs at its 62 branches.

Library Director Gary Strong said the cutback in Sunday service was one of the changes the library was considering to fulfill its duty as a “partner in the recovery.”

“The current 15 percent freeze in the library’s budget translates to an immediate loss of $10.5 million,” Strong said. “A reduction of this magnitude requires serious and severe changes.”

City Councilman-elect Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he believed the change would be an inconvenience for his district, especially because parking near the Central Library in downtown Jamaica — the only southeast Queens branch that will remain open on Sundays — is difficult to find.

“I understand the library has to bite the bullet and come up with some means to be fiscally responsible, but I would prefer if they didn’t cut Sunday service,” Comrie said.

He said he was disappointed in Gov. George Pataki and President George Bush for not giving enough state and federal aid to help the city in its recovery from Sept. 11.

With a $50 billion deficit, the city must continue to spend money on work at the World Trade Center site, Comrie said, and without money coming back in, the city government is forced to ask agencies like the libraries to cut back.

Strong said he was “proud of the way in which the library responded during the [Sept. 11] crisis.”

“The day after the attack all our buildings were open and full of people e-mailing friends and family across the world, getting news and information, researching and finding a sense of community and the familiar in a suddenly uncertain world,” Strong said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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