Two-and-a-half years ago, the Center for an Urban Future began documenting the powerful role that branch libraries play in communities across the five boroughs. Our reports and policy briefs helped change the narrative about the city’s public libraries. While many had mistakenly believed that libraries were becoming obsolete in an age of e-books, we showed that the city’s libraries are serving more people in more ways than ever before—and have become the go-to place for so many New Yorkers who lack the basic literacy, language and technological skills needed in today’s economy. We also highlighted the challenges that have kept New York’s libraries from realizing their full potential: in particular, too few of the city’s branch libraries are open six days a week, and too many branches suffer from major physical defects.
The Center for an Urban Future is proud to report that our research helped lay the groundwork for an enormous win for the libraries and the millions of New Yorkers who use them. Late last month, Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito agreed on a city budget for fiscal year 2016 that increases funding for libraries by $43 million and ensures six-day service in all 210 branch libraries across the city. Combined with an additional $300 million for libraries that was included in the city’s 10-year capital plan, this year marked “the largest ever combined increase in operating and capital funding for public libraries”.
There is still more that needs to be done by city policymakers and the libraries themselves to harness these critical community resources. Our reports—Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries and Branches of Opportunity—offer a number of ideas for doing so. But the significant increase in operating and capital funding for city libraries is a huge step forward, and it is worth acknowledging the many people inside and outside of city government whose leadership made it possible, including Mayor de Blasio; Speaker Mark-Viverito; Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer; Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras; Henry Garrido of DC 37; the presidents of the city’s three library systems; and Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which generously funded our research on libraries.
Please check out some of our reports, policy briefs and testimony about New York’s public libraries:
Branches of Opportunity, January 2013
Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries, September 2014
Library Funding is Behind the Times, April 2015
NYC Libraries by the Numbers, June 2015
Leveraging Libraries in the 10-Year Capital Plan, February 2015
Libraries of the Future, December 2014
A Long-Term Capital Plan to Transform NYC’s Branch Libraries, December 2014
De Blasio’s Time to Lead on Libraries, November 2014
Building Better Libraries, September 2013
City Library Support, Years Overdue, January 2013