NYC Libraries: Despite City Cuts, Attendance Spikes

Beth Garbitelli & Greg Jacobs |
Encore: February 27, 2013

The Center for an Urban Future’s David Giles, author of year-long study “Branches of Opportunity,” talks to Pi Roman about the city’s libraries and their new role providing services and programs to immigrants and low income communities.

Across New York’s five boroughs, the library system is experiencing an unexpected renaissance with circulation and program attendance on the rise despite deep funding cuts.

The city slashed $68 million from New York public libraries’ operating budgets, according to a new report called “Branches of Opportunity” published in January by think tank Center for an Urban Future. While the libraries receive what the report calls “the lions share” of their support from the city, they also depend on private donors.

City funding for libraries decreased by 8-percent, according to Center for an Urban Future’s research. The report also notes that the city’s funding cuts have cost many library employees their jobs and led to reduced hours of operation. City libraries are now open an average of 43 hours a week, according to the report, which makes them open considerably fewer hours than other urban areas reviewed in their survey.

“[M]ore and more people are going to libraries to better themselves intellectually, and to pick up the skills they need to succeed in this economy.”

Despite the cuts and resulting challenges, demand for library services is spiking, the report found. In the last decade, circulation grew about 59-percent and program attendance increased 4o-percent. The report also outlines some of the communities specifically served by a vibrant library system. These populations include immigrants, seniors and students, all especially attracted to a wide range of free classes.

“[W]e live in an information economy now,” David Giles, the research director at Center for an Urban Future, told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. “[M]ore and more people are going to libraries to better themselves intellectually, and to pick up the skills they need to succeed in this economy.”

Continued Giles: “We’re talking about courses, sometimes intensive courses, like GED preparation courses and ESOL courses. English as a Second Language courses for immigrants, and these are free to the public and the vast majority of people that participate wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

Still, Giles lamented the cuts. “[T]he future is […] that we are going to continue to see continued growth at the libraries, but they really do need more support.”

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