Avella lead dozens in rally protesting library cutbacks

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Dozens of children and seniors joined City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Queens Borough Public Library director Gary Strong in a rally outside the Bay Terrace library last Thursday to fight the libraries’ shrinking operating hours due to budget cuts.

“We want our library saved,” said Avella before the crowd. “It’s something we have all come to depend on.”

The last round of budget cuts eliminated weekend service at 50 borough branches, including Bay Terrace, as of May 5. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest budget plan calls for cutting service at those branches to just three days a week, Strong said.

The director has been appearing at rallies throughout the borough to advocate for the library, which has the highest circulation of any public system in the country.

“I’m here fighting through the budget process,” said Strong, who is set to take a job running UCLA’s library in September.

The director hoped that city lawmakers, who had not yet decided how to allocate money from last weekend’s sales tax increase, would set aside funds for the Queens Library.

“There are four other delegations in the city that have to be influenced,” he said, referring to lawmakers from the other boroughs.

Avella wondered why the higher property and sales taxes could not pay for the libraries to stay open.

“With all of that, we can’t save these libraries? That’s criminal,” he said.

Avella said the Queens Library system is discriminated against in city funding. He said the Queens Library accounted for 43 percent of all customer visits in the city and 39 percent of the circulation, but received only 29 percent of city library funds.

“That’s an inequity that has to be eliminated in addition to restoring the funding,” said Avella.

PS 169 student Rachel Kim, 9, was one of several children at the rally who are part of the Bay Terrace library’s after-school program. The program allows students to receive homework assistance and use the computers in the afternoons.

“If this library weren’t here, I wouldn’t be able to finish all the schoolwork,” said Kim.

Frank Fanizzi, 72, a regular customer at the Bay Terrace library, said the facility’s opening at 1 pm. four days a week did not allow much time for him to use the computers before the schoolchildren came in.

“You only really have two hours,” he said.

Blanche Friedman, 72, called the Bay Terrace library “an anchor and a cornerstone for the community.”

Friedman, a volunteer at PS 169’s library, said the Bay Terrace library was important to the children.

“It stretches their intellectual capacity, and it’s a good habit that should be formed early in life,” she said.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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