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Dozens protest cuts to Queens Library at Jamaica rally

The Queens Library’s supporters and users of all ages came out in large numbers at the central branch Tuesday to send a message to City Hall that they will not accept any cuts in service.

Dozens of protesters came with homemade signs that expressed their rage against the proposed $25.3 million reduction in the library’s budget from the city. The cuts would reduce hours at several branches of one of the nation’s second-largest library systems, lay off library workers and decrease the amount of services offered at the branches.

Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante welcomed the rally members and said the only way they would get the money back is if the powers that be in the city knew how hard the service changes would be on the community.

“You know you can make libraries work,” he said. “We’re going to be successful, we’re going to be fighting hard.”

The cuts would reduce the library’s overall budget by 30 percent, according to library officials, and have an immediate impact on the branches throughout the borough. More than 470 staff members would be laid off, 48 libraries would be closed four or five days a week and 13 libraries would be the only ones that would be open on weekdays.

The central branch would be the only location that would offer six-day service, according to library officials.

Selina Sharnez is one of the 230 library workers who was given a 90-day layoff notice.

“The Queens Library has given me the opportunity to grow,” she said.

The workers and users were not alone in their protest.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) joined representatives of other Council members at the rally and said he would push to block the cuts. Van Bramer, who worked as a community affairs liaison for the Queens Library prior to taking office, got into a heated argument with a member of the mayor’s staff during a budget hearing Monday when the topic of the library cuts was discussed.

The councilman said he knows how important branches are for Queens residents because the system not only gives them free access to books, entertainment and the Internet, but also allows them to have a safe, trusted community space.

“I am fighting every single day for our libraries because I know how important they are,” he said.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) echoed Van Bramer’s sentiment during a similar rally at the Laurelton branch the day before. The library, at 134-26 225th St., currently operates 33 hours a week on weekdays only, but the cuts would reduce the hours to just three days a week, according to the branch’s manager, Dave Wang.

Sanders said the branch is important in the neighborhood because the young students in the area frequent the location to enhance their academics after school.

“There are two things we are supposed to give our youth,” he said. “We’re supposed to give them roots ... [and] also give them wings.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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