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Rally cry: Keep libraries open

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Queens residents of all ages and many ethnicities gathered at the Jackson Heights library last Thursday to protest New York City’s proposed budget cuts to the library.

About 40 people stood in the library entrance, where they held signs and chanted, “No cuts to the libraries. Save our libraries.”

“We have to tell the mayor that the libraries are too important,” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson) told the demonstrators. “Without libraries for education, our kids have no future. Our communities have no future.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget plans to cut a third of the funding for libraries, resulting in a loss of $25 million to the Queens Library system, would force most libraries to be open only two or three days a week. This will be the fourth straight year that Queens Library has faced budget cuts.

“It could get worse,” said John Hysop, president of the Queens Library Guild Local 1321. “Libraries will have to close. The smaller ones, LeFrak City, could be closed.”

Children held hand-drawn posters saying “Save Our Community Library” and “Do Not Cut my Toddlers’ Time Program.” Adults stood behind them, holding printed posters that said “Libraries Are More Than Just Books” and “No More Budget Cuts.” Reflecting the variety of different groups present, some waved posters in Spanish or Chinese.

“Jackson Heights is the most diverse place. The one place where people can come together is the library,” Dromm said.

Queens libraries have become more than a place for reading books, Jackson Heights branch manager Wei-Qing Dai said. Classes in English as a Second Language, computer literacy and Internet use have made the libraries important community centers as well.

Millie Ildfonsi is in her 40s and has been coming to the library for more than 15 years.

“This is where I learned how to use the Internet,” she said. “If they close the library, I think I’m going to cry.”

The Jackson Heights branch serves more than 40,000 customers a month, many of whom are middle-aged or older and spend hours in the library reading. Others use the library as a test prep resource for exams like the GED.

Following the rally, Dromm led a children’s storytime in which he read “House Mouse, Senate Mouse” by Cheryl Shaw Barnes. The picture book put the legislative process into a context that children could understand more easily.

But the book is not available at the Jackson Heights branch. Queens Library has not bought any new books with city funds in the last year due to a midyear funding cut.

“Now the Queens Library is in a very critical situation,” Dai said. “I’m so happy to see people come out. I’m so happy to see so many library supporters.”

Dromm urged those at the rally to contact their elected officials and let them know they want the library funds restored.

“It’s crucial that the mayor hear how upset you are,” said Jamal Wilkerson, community liaison for the City Council. “It’s crazy.”

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

Updated 10:52 am, October 12, 2011
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