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Boro readers lash out against library cuts

Readers showed up at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library Friday to tell Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum about their aversion to the mayor’s proposed library budget cuts.

“If this budget is as bad as they say, we’re in big trouble,” said Rabbi Martin Cooper, a Flushing resident and president of the Friends of Flushing Library association. “We would like it to be properly funded.”

Gotbaum has been visiting publicly funded services and listening to concerns about the looming budget cuts. This time she got an earful from students, adults, immigrants, and library management, all of whom fear that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed $10.5 million cut to the Queens Library system would seriously debilitate services.

Library officials said under the mayor’s plan only 11 of the 63 branches in Queens would be able to open on Saturdays and nearly two-thirds would have morning and evening service one day a week. Only the central library’s hours would remain unchanged and 12 libraries would be open five days a week, only in the morning, a library spokesman said.

“Two or three times a week we work or hang out and read” during the evening at the Flushing Library, said Alice Reyes, 17, a student at nearby John Bowne High School on Main Street. Asked what she would do if the library curtailed its hours, she added half jokingly, “I don’t know. I might fail.”

The Flushing branch attracts more customers than any other branch in the borough.

Another John Bowne student, Pierre Yepes, 18, echoed Reyes’s sentiment, saying he visits the library nearly every day to study. “We work and stuff late at night,” he told Gotbaum.

Adults and immigrants are worried about the cuts to the library system’s material budget and cultural programs. The Queens library system is the busiest in the nation, boasting programs such as English as a Second Language and other classes helpful to immigrants, to name just a few. Under the mayor’s plan, cultural and recreational program would be slashed by 25 percent.

The Connecting Libraries and Schools Program, an educational program for students, parents and teachers, would be suspended and the summer children’s reading program would be drastically downsized under the plan.

“The library is a warehouse for minds, ideas, and arts,” one woman, who emigrated from Iran, told Gotbaum. “The library is a place people from 100 countries can get together and learn about America.”

Still, everyone seemed mindful about the city’s budgetary problems and recognized that the libraries would have to suffer some reduction in service.

“Everybody’s got to take cuts,” said Anat Jacobson, Gotbaum’s press secretary. “But some things can sustain a larger cut than others.”

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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