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City budget cuts threaten 144 jobs at boro libraries

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More than 30 employees of the Queens Borough Public Library marched in front of the Central Library branch in Jamaica last week, chanting “no layoffs” to protest the proposed elimination of 144 jobs under reduced city funding.

The library’s budget had been slashed by $14 million in city funds since fall 2001, and it has responded by cutting programs and by reducing service hours to five days a week at 50 of its 63 branches. The new cuts may translate into 144 layoffs unless the city restores money in its final budget, said library spokesman Joe Catrambone.

But the employees, members of the Queens Library Guild, say the library administration should have taken more steps to prevent the layoffs, including a freeze on vacant positions, said John Socha, president of Local 1321 and the branch manager in Howard Beach. He had called the union members to the protest in front of the Central Library on Merrick Boulevard Friday evening.

“The library has always been very big on training and development,” Socha said. “You can’t just get rid of that level of service.”

Chanting “you say cutbacks, we say fight back,” about 30 employees protested the fact that the Queens Borough Public Library represents 25 percent of the city library system but would face 47 percent of the layoffs under current proposed funding. The New York Public Library would see 110 projected layoffs, and the Brooklyn Public Library would lose 50 employees this year and 50 next year, Socha said.

“Why are we taking 47 percent of the cuts in the city?” Socha asked. “Something’s wrong in that equation. Either we’re severely underfunded or our guy screwed up big time. In my experience it’s usually somewhere in the middle.”

The layoffs would affect the public service staff — the librarians, who receive a starting salary of $33,000, and the clerks, who make $19,000 to start, Socha said. The 144 positions would be the equivalent to the staff of 18 of the 63 branches, which average eight full-time employees each, he said.

“We have the highest circulation of any library in the country and we’re having the biggest layoffs of any of the three New York City library systems,” said Jane Jacobs, assistant coordinator of cataloging at the Central Library. “I’ve got a fine staff and none of them deserve to be laid off.”

The library is hoping it will not have to lay off 144 people and that it will be able to reduce the positions through attrition instead, Catrambone said.

“That number is going down,” he said. “We’re all angry about this.”

But employees at the protest said the library has hired 51 people since November 2001 to fill vacant positions.

“They’ve been hiring people left and right,” said librarian Joan Tener. “Half the people I work with have been hired since January.”

The employees also questioned the library’s need for an international relations office, its policy of hiring outside companies to run reading programs, and why hours and the book budget were not cut sooner to prevent the layoffs.

“It’s very hard to fund-raise for staff salaries,” Socha said. “You can raise money very easily for books or projects.”

But the library is now planning to suspend weekend service at 50 branches, and end Sunday service at all but three locations beginning May 5, Catrambone said. The Central Library, the Flushing Library and the Jackson Heights branch will remain open seven days a week through May 18, when Sunday service is traditionally suspended during the summer.

“Keeping public libraries open is important for the quality of life in Queens,” said library director Gary Strong. “We are struggling to do our best with the budget allowed, but reduced service is inevitable under the circumstan­ces.”

Monday through Friday service will affect branch libraries at Arverne, Astoria, Auburndale, Baisley Park, Bay Terrace, Bellerose, Briarwood, Broad Channel, Cambria Heights, Corona, Court Square, Douglaston-Little Neck, East Elmhurst, East Flushing, Glen Oaks, Glendale, Hillcrest, Hollis, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens Hills, Langston Hughes, Lefrak City, Maspeth, McGoldrick, Middle Village, Mitchell Linden, North Forest Park, North Hills, Ozone Park, Peninsula, Pomonok, Poppenhusen, Queensboro Hill, Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, Rosedale, St. Albans, Seaside, South Hollis, South Jamaica, South Ozone Park, Steinway, Sunnyside, Whitestone, Windsor Park, Woodhaven and Woodside.

Monday through Saturday service will be available at Bayside, Broadway, Elmhurst, Far Rockaway, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Laurelton, Lefferts, Queens Village and Ridgewood.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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