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Library cuts spark protest in front of Flushing branch

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Amid honking horns, rushing commuters and Mormons engaging passersby to discuss their religion, a new group took center stage in downtown Flushing last Thursday morning: librarians and their supporters.

About 100 people rallied in the small plaza in front of the Flushing Library on Main Street in hopes of restoring planned cuts for libraries.

“No more cuts to libraries!” they chanted.

The demonstration, organized by the American Library Association, was part of a campaign to prevent further reductions in service in the borough and throughout the nation.

“Here in Queens we have already cut days and hours of service,” Queens Borough Public Library Director Gary Strong told the crowd. Queens has the busiest library system in the country.

Over the last two years, funding for the borough’s system has been cut by $14 million as the city’s fiscal crisis has deepened. Sunday service has been reduced from 14 branches to three.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s current budget plan calls for the elimination of 144 jobs in the Queens Borough Public Library System and ending weekend service at 50 of 63 branches.

The rally was not the first of its kind in Queens. On April 4, the Queens Borough Library Guild protested cuts in front of the borough’s Central Library in Jamaica.

The event, however, was the first in the city organized by American Library Association, which has staged similar demonstrations in other major cities.

ALA President Mitch Freedman chose the Flushing Library over branches in Manhattan because of his friendship with Strong and the role the Main Street institution plays in the lives of newcomers to the nation.

“This is a beautiful library, and it symbolizes the history of the public library as the place for the new immigrant,” Freedman said

The Flushing Library is one of the few in the borough which is not slated to be cut, said Ruth Herzberg, its manager.

But Herzberg and members of her staff wanted to show support for their neighboring institutions.

“Libraries are really more like community centers, not just places for books,” Herzberg said.

The rally was not without reference to the war in Iraq. Several people waved American flags. One man held a sign reading: “Funding for Books/Not Bombs!/Yes to Learning and Life/No to Bombing and Death/Save Our Libraries/Stop the Killing.”

Freedman said the knowledge offered in libraries is important in times of war.

“The first casualty of war is truth,” he said. “Americans can count on their libraries to keep them informed and present all points of view.”

Many of those who attended the rally were librarians living or working in the borough.

“It’s important to let people know that a budget cut to the library will severely affect the way we can take care of our patrons,” said Nicole Rosenbluth, a College Point resident who works in a Bronx library. “A free society depends on libraries. Cuts threaten the very fabric of that freedom.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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