Electeds to track how funds spent at Queens Library

Elected officials are looking into the operations of the Queens Library. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Borough lawmakers are calling for an investigation — and even a reorganization — of the Queens Library after a news report detailed the library’s spending under President Thomas Galante.

Galante earned a salary of $391,549 last year, according to the website, and under his watch the library has undergone a $38 million expansion at the central library in Jamaica that included what one news report described as a private smoking area for Galante.

Galante was also reported to have said he was “paying $35 an hour to janitors to mop floors” before cutting costs through an outside vendor, a remark that rankled City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

“Over the last two days, I have read reports and statements about the Queens Library that cause me great concern,” said Van Bramer, the Council’s majority leader and chairman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries. “And I am deeply offended by comments made by President and CEO Tom Galante about the library’s hardworking and dedicated janitorial staff.”

The library is a nonprofit that operates independently of the city, but receives the majority of its funding through taxpayer dollars. In 2007 Queens had the largest circulation of any library in the country, but it has since dropped to No. 6 on the list, according to the Public Library Association.

Van Bramer, who worked at the library for 11 years before being elected to public office, said his stepfather was a public school janitor who “mopped floors so that me and my siblings might have a better life.”

“Janitors at the Queens Library serve an important and vital role in keeping libraries clean and safe, and they deserve respect from their boss and need to make a living wage so they, too, can raise their families,” Van Bramer added as he called for an oversight hearing on the library and its operations.

The library said it would provide the Council with testimony explaining its operations, and Galante issued an apology for what he called his “insensitive” remarks.

“I am deeply appreciative and proud of the work done by the hardworking employees of Queens Library at all levels of the organization and especially our custodial team who keep our libraries safe, clean and running smoothly day after day,” he said. “They do a great job serving thousands of people every day.”

Gabriel Taussig, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, said Galante’s compensation is “not more and not less” than the average for non-profit CEOs in the city.

The head of the Brooklyn Public Library made $250,000 last year and the former CEO of the New York Public Library made $711,114 in 2011, the most recent year for which has a record.

This is not the first hit of bad publicity for the Queens Library, which has been in a battle with its union, Local 1321, over outsourcing.

The library has for the last several years been contracting out janitorial services instead of filling more than 100 staff jobs lost to attrition.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) called on the city comptroller to audit the library, and said he would like to look into the possibility of combining the Big Apple’s three independent, nonprofit library systems.

“The city can hardly afford the annual operating costs of running three separate library systems, let alone foot the bill for expensive salaries, extravagant renovations and other wasteful spending,” he said. “I believe that one central citywide library system would save millions of dollars annually by reducing the bureaucracy and streamlining library services throughout the five boroughs.”

Ulrich added, “I have asked the Independent Budget Office to explore this proposal and to recommend whether or not it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he would audit all three of the city’s libraries — including a look at executive compensation — starting with Queens.

Former Borough President Helen Marshall has allocated more money to libraries than the city’s four other borough presidents combined and her successor, Borough President Melinda Katz, said she would conduct her own probe with her office’s appointees to the library’s board.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:01 am, February 2, 2014
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Reader feedback

Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
Why did you always look into how funds were spend AFTER the fact. Shouldn't this have been done from the get go? That is the common sense approach.
Jan. 30, 2014, 6:41 am
VikingIrish from Sunnyside says:
This is a politically motivated attack on Councilman Van Bramer for bucking the Queens Democratic Party. The library system and its president are pawns in a bigger game. Don't help fan the flames of public outrage and upset the entire city's libraries for the sake of sating the appetite for political revenge.
Jan. 30, 2014, 9:45 am
Youcant handle the true from New York says:
Can we also audit the current administration?
Jan. 30, 2014, 9:41 pm
Youcant hadle the true from New York says:
A longtime aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton was hired Monday to be New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray’s chief of staff, at an annual salary of $170,000.

Read more:
Jan. 30, 2014, 9:59 pm
Why oh why? from Queens NY says:
How come they don't just merge the three library systems and get rid of the patronage at the top?
Jan. 31, 2014, 12:45 pm
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights says:
There is a lack of balance here, to complain about Galente's salary and the $140k smoking deck, and not to question really big-ticket issues like the real estate sales selling off libraries, the selloff of Donnell (The public lost hundreds of millions of dollars) and the selloff of mid-Manhattan and SIBL. The salary of Pres. Tony Marks of the NYPL's far higher than Galante's (He gets perhaps $1 million) and there are lots of people at the NYPL and the BPL who are getting outrageous salaries to sell off library real estate for the benefit of developers, not the public. The Galante run Queens libraries are not being sold off at the moment.

Here is what everyone needs to be on the ALERT for: That these attacks on Galante and the suggestion that the systems be merged are really part of a plan to sell off the Queens libraries, which so far have been protected against such schemes because the residents of Queens, on their own, absolutely don't want that to happen and won't let it happen so long as Queens is a separate system.

Citizens Defending Libraries is opposing these sales!
Feb. 2, 2014, 12:38 am
Brandy Alexandra from Jackson Heights says:
I have had numerous complaints about the library in Jackson Heights and they act as if they are untouchable. I have addressed these issues to Mr. Galante who has virtually done absolutely nothing. Their employees are not volunteers and if they worked in the corporate world, they wouldn't survive very long. It's too bad they don't take courses in how to treat people. One man wrote in the Queens Chronicle, my sentiments exactly, "Reform the Library" and I hope to see it in my lifetime. They are not nowhere near indispensable. If local residents and citizens can see it as plain as can be, then why is it taking so long for elected officials and those in charge to take the bull by the horns and fix it once and for all. As an avid reader, our taxes are paying for these libraries; they are not doing us a favor.
July 1, 2014, 6:16 pm

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