That’s the message Queens Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott shared last week while touring branches throughout Queens. He made a pit stop to read to students at South Hollis Library on Wednesday and later visited the Forest Hills branch on Thursday.
“We’ll be going around to a number of our libraries throughout the borough of Queens, organizing and telling people the importance of the funding levels and how it benefits their communities directly,” he said.
Walcott said he wants $66 million allocated in the city budget for all library systems in New York City, which includes New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library.
That would restore library funding back to 2008 levels, before the economy took a tumble and was rocked by the Great Recession.
The money would provide baseline funding for the libraries and address key infrastructure needs, such as repairing boilers and roofs, Walcott said. It would maintain the current six-day service with the goal of eventually reaching seven-day service. Right now, only the Jamaica and Flushing branches are open seven days a week in Queens.
“We have to make sure that all of our libraries, not just here in Queens but throughout the city, are maintained in a way that will allow our customers to get maximum service,” Walcott said. “Our goal is to have seven-day service in at least one [branch] in each council district.”
Walcott, who served as schools chancellor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said elected officials have been “outstanding” for supporting investment in libraries. He said he wants to make sure libraries remain a top priority at City Hall, which has a lot of competing interests for funding.
“It’s not over until we see it in the budget itself,” Walcott said. “Our goal is to keep reminding people the importance of it.”
He visited South Hollis Library last Wednesday for a read-aloud session with Councilman I. Daneek Miller. They then spoke to children about how critical libraries were in their own lives.
“We always hung out in the Central Library. After school, it was the place to be,” Miller said about the Jamaica location. “Each generation has stories over there because in south Queens, all of the buses go through that terminal. Everybody meets there no matter where you go to school.
“We lived in the library,” he added.
Miller called libraries a “beacon” in the community because they offer so many resources, including workforce development, ESL training and other supportive services. Residents can learn about coding and technology and gain access to information about filling out college and job applications.
“We want to make sure that they have all the tools in the toolbox and the resources to really serve the community as they come now,” Miller said.
The first-term councilman said he goes to South Hollis Library often and that it’s always busy. He said he sometimes brings pizza for the kids and plays a few ping-pong matches.
While the demand for library programs and service is growing, Miller said, the space has not. He said the library was built at a time when one-family homes actually had one family living in them. Now, the population has grown.
“This is a great place, but the fact of the matter is, it’s tiny,” he said. “We really want to expand it.”
The next day, Walcott went to Queens Library at Forest Hills to speak about the importance of restoring funding levels. He encouraged parents to speak to their local elected officials about the importance of maintaining library service and expanding opportunities.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Walcott then read to children.
“For a weekday afternoon, it really is fantastic to see this much engagement with parents and their children,” Walcott said. “The children are amazing, they listen and they respond to questions. It’s a great dynamic.”
Koslowitz added that libraries are very important for families, and that she will continue to fight for more service.
“I fought very hard for six-day services and this year, I’m going to work hard for seven days’ worth of programming,” she said.
(Jen Khedaroo contributed additional reporting for this article.)