Sunday library closing plan riles Jewish patrons

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A proposal to close the Kew Gardens Hills Library Sundays beginning next month has incensed area residents, who say the move will be devastating for the neighborhood’s predominantly Jewish residents since they do not use the library Saturdays.

“All the families, all the kids, they don’t go on Saturday because it’s a holy day, so they go on Sunday,” Kew Gardens Hills resident Evan Libes said at the library this week. “It’s not a good thing to close it on Sunday.”

Library officials announced last week that nearly $20 million in budget cuts have forced them to end weekend operations at 14 Queens library branches at the beginning of February.

“Reducing service hours is a painful course of action. Queens Library has been in a hiring freeze that began in 2008. At this time, we are forced to reduce our service schedules as our workforce has been reduced,” Queens Library President Thomas Galante said in a statement.

Starting Feb. 1, the Arverne, Astoria, Baisley Park, Court Square, East Elmhurst, East Flushing, Kew Garden Hills, Lefrak City, North Forest Park, Ozone Park, Queensboro Hill, Ridgewood, South Hollis and Windsor Park branches will only be open weekdays.

“We wonder how the Kew Gardens Hills branch, with its unique collection of Judaica, which is especially important to the many Orthodox Jews who reside in Kew Gardens Hills who are unable to use the library except on Sundays, was chosen for closing,” said Patricia Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association.

Library spokeswoman Joanne King said the branches were chosen for a number of reasons, one of which included accessibility.

King said the decision was made based on such factors as traffic patterns, other libraries in the community, and if a venue would soon be undergoing construction.

“It makes sense to close a library that’s going to be closed anyway,” King said.

Kew Gardens Hills library is slated to undergo renovations in the future, including a 3,000-square-foot addition to the existing building.

The system’s other branches, including the Central Library and Flushing branches, will remain open on weekends, according to the spokeswoman.

Shira Hecht also said she was disappointed to hear the Kew Gardens Hills library may shut its doors Sunday.

“It’s very unfortunate, especially in an area like this that has a lot of Sabbath observers,” she said. “It’s important for children, and adults, to be around books.”

Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said he plans to urge library officials to more equitably spread the burden of hour reductions.

“If there was burden sharing, then it should hit all libraries equally so all libraries would have some slight reduction in weekend hours instead of one branch bearing all the cuts,” Gennaro said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Updated 5:42 pm, October 10, 2011
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