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Little Neck branch holds fund drive amid budget cuts

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Bibliophiles at the Douglaston/Little Neck library took their noses out of their books last Thursday to drum up support for their branch of the borough’s library system, which is struggling to cope with funding losses.

In order to avoid layoffs in reaction to a mandate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to trim $4.5 million from its budget last year, the Queens Public Library’s book budget has been frozen since December, and the Douglaston/Little Neck branch is one of many open only five days a week.

“The Queens library is the highest circulating library system in the country,” said Leiman Johnson, president of the Friends of Queens Library at Douglaston/Little Neck. “I’ve never heard of an entire library system on a zero-book budget.”

In-between piano sets of Count Basie and Duke Ellington standards, Johnson urged those gathered at the library’s fund-raiser to participate in the Queens Library Foundation’s buy-a-book program in which a donor gets to choose a library that will receive a new book with his or her name written on the bookplate.

The mayor’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget came out the next day, and the numbers do not bode well for the library system.

“Queens Library is facing the most difficult budget challenge in its history. The city’s Executive Budget calls for a cut of $25.5 million July 1. Given the severity of the proposed reductions, I had no choice but to issue 90-day layoff notices, which would become effective if funding is not fully restored when the city adopts its budget for FY ’12,” Library CEO Thomas Galante said in a written statement.

The 12.32 percent reduction would mean that 471 employees would be laid off, many libraries would be open only two or three days a week and the book budget would be minimally restored, according to Joanne King, associate director of communications.

“Basically every year the mayor’s budget has pretty bad cuts,” said Manuel Figueroa, assistant director of community library services. “Generally speaking, the City Council restores most of that money. It’s been a more difficult dance these last few years.”

Figueroa said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Councilman Dan Halloran (D-Whitestone) have both made personal donations to the library.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for Halloran said it was still too early to say anything specific, but that the councilman would make preservation of the library’s funding a priority.

State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) was on hand last Thursday and said restoring Saturday service to the Douglaston/Little Neck branch was a priority for members of the community. He offered to work with the Friends in advocating on behalf of their branch.

In a phone interview earlier this week, Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the state budget had restored $3 billion worth of funding to libraries and called upon Bloomberg to use the city’s surplus to restore funding.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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