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New York City’s public libraries need $1.1B for crucial upgrades

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A new joint report by the city’s public library systems calls for $150 million in funding from the city

The New York Public Library’s Woodstock branch reopens today after a 2.5 year overhaul designed by Rice+Lipka Architects.
Jonathan Blanc / NYPL

The city’s three public library systems are banding together to demand a slice of the city’s fiscal pie to bring much-needed upgrades to its branches in the deepest state of disrepair. A new report collated by the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library is calling for $150 million in capital funding from the city in the coming fiscal year to provide updates to heating and cooling systems, rid branches of mold and mildew, and other fixes that would allow the libraries to better serve the public.

The report claims that the city’s 216 libraries are in need of $1.1 billion in maintenance, and interior and electronic upgrades to continue serving the public in a time when the services offered by libraries—from literacy classes to providing a safe haven—have never been more dire. “The city’s three library systems are struggling to maintain branches that have gone years without critical infrastructural upkeep—even as they expand programs and services to meet growing needs,” write the public library presidents in a letter included in the report, Time to Renew: Update on the $1 Billion Maintenance Crisis In Our Libraries. “This is unacceptable.”

The report highlights ten branches in the most dire need, and what the funds would be used for at those locations. This includes repairing chronic roof leaks at the West Farms Library in the Bronx, which plague a second floor computer room and often lead to its closure during inclement weather; updating HVAC and accessibility of Brooklyn’s Pacific Library; riding Queens’s Rosedale Library of its chronic mold and mildew; and boosting accessibility via a new lift to an underground room where programs are often held at the Saratoga Library in Brooklyn.

Investment in these spaces yield real results, the report proves. At the Kingsbridge Library in the Bronx, a full renovation in 2011 lead to a 90 percent increase in program attendance, and an 80 percent increase in visits. At Staten Island’s Stapleton Library, a full renovation in 2013 has lead to a 177 percent increase in program attendance and a 33 percent increase in visits. The report’s release is also timed to the reopening of the Bronx’s Woodstock branch, which has just undergone a major two and a half year renovation.

The report also calls for the city to increase the operating funding of the libraries by $34 million in the coming fiscal year, to allow for one library within every Council District in the city to be open every day of the week. As of now, only 15 of the city’s 216 libraries are open seven days a week, with majority serving the public six days a week.

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