Preliminary Budget Testimony of Brooklyn Public Library

March 13, 2009





March 13, 2009


Good afternoon. I am Dionne Mack-Harvin, Executive Director of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). On behalf of the library’s Board of Trustees and staff, I would like to thank Committee Chairmen David Weprin, Domenic Recchia and Vincent Gentile for inviting BPL to testify today concerning the Preliminary Budget and its potential impact on BPL’s operations.

We fully appreciate the steadfast support shown to the library by your committees, the Brooklyn Delegation, and the entire Council under the leadership of Speaker Christine Quinn.

During the two most recent times that I testified before the Council, I spoke about how BPL is working smarter to make the best use of our limited resources, highlighting three initiatives –Summer Reading, Para Los Niños, and the Skills Training & Employment Project (STEP)– that demonstrate our commitment to innovative, high-quality service.

Today, my testimony will focus on several additional steps BPL has taken to reduce spending as we prepare for the future and outline how the funding proposed in the Preliminary Budget might impact public service, even with those savings.

Usage Continues to Grow
Our circulation and programming data from the first quarter of FY2009 showed that more people are making more use of their libraries during these tough economic times. A review of the circulation and programming figures for the FY2009 second quarter, which ended on December 30, provides further evidence that library usage is continuing to grow as this difficult economic period intensifies.

Overall, second quarter circulation grew by more than 9% to 4.3 million, and we are on pace to reach a circulation of 18 million by the end of the fiscal year. Just in February, checkouts increased by 13% over the same period last year. Program attendance is also on the rise. In pace with our goals, we expect 1 million people to attend a program at one of our 60 libraries before the end of the year.

Efforts to Control Costs and Increase Revenue
Over the current fiscal year, we have taken a number of steps to reduce costs. Last fall, we instituted a hiring freeze and cut library spending by $5.2 million. We have also reduced spending on books, technology, programming, employee travel, and training and overtime.

On January 4, 2009, we made the difficult decision to eliminate Sunday service at our Central Library and at five neighborhood libraries where half-day Sunday hours were offered. The elimination of Sunday service, for which all staff is paid overtime, helped preserve six-day service at all locations and immediately reduce our current fiscal year expenses by $400,000.

In addition to the savings outlined above, we have intensified our private fundraising efforts with a focus on increasing support from individual donors. Just last week, with the help of Speaker Quinn, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and members of the Brooklyn delegation, we kicked-off the “Support Our Shelves” campaign, a grass-roots effort to raise $300,000 for neighborhood libraries across the borough. We are off to a great start and have already raised more than $75,000 in donations and pledges for this effort. Unfortunately, these cost reduction measures and revenue increases, when taken together do not close the significant reductions in funding proposed in the Preliminary Budget.

Impact of the Preliminary Budget
The proposed reductions in the City’s Preliminary Budget pose a significant threat to the days and hours of service we currently have in place.

Proposed Funding
The Preliminary Budget proposes funding to BPL for FY2010 at approximately $70.8 million, which is $14 million, or 17%, less than we received at the start of FY2009. This figure includes the $2.2 million, or 2.5%, cut imposed during the current fiscal year; the $2 million, or 2.5%, cut previously outlined in the November plan; the $5.6 million, or 7%, reduction in funding proposed in January, and the loss of $4.7 million in funding included in the FY2009 Adopted Budget that is not outlined in the FY2010 Preliminary Budget. The loss of 17% of funding in a one-year period will have a significant and devastating impact on the service we provide to the public. On top of the City’s proposed budget cuts, the state has proposed an additional $1.4 million, or 18%, reduction in funding to BPL.

Impact of Reduced Funding
Under the direction of the library’s Board of Trustees, senior executive management is considering a wide range of scenarios to achieve savings of $14 million. One complex dynamic that we face is that 70% of the library’s expenditures are for staff salaries and benefits— and the vast majority of that staff provides direct customer service at one of our 58 neighborhood libraries, Business Library and Central Library, making our options for achieving this level of recurring annual savings very limited. Every model we are considering includes significant reductions in spending on books, programming, technology, and additional administrative savings. Under the worst-case scenario, we face the loss of as many as 220 staff positions. Regrettably, given our current rate of attrition, which dropped steeply last fall to an average of six positions per month, we cannot achieve this level of staff reductions through attrition alone.

Should we face the loss of as many as 220 staff positions, we would be forced to significantly reduce public service, as we would not have enough librarians, security officers, custodians and clerical support to maintain the current universal six-day service that we provide. Presently, we are considering a service plan that will maintain full-day six-day service at approximately 15 neighborhood libraries and only offer after-school service – 1:00 to 6:00 pm five days per week– at the remaining libraries in the system. We would continue to provide full six-day service at our Central Library and provide a high level of service at the renovated Kings Highway Library, which will reopen in June, and prior to a multi-year renovation, was our highest circulating neighborhood library.
We know that this level of service – five partial days at most locations – is much less than Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents expect and deserve. But, given the reduced levels of funding that we face in FY2010, fewer days of service is a very real possibility.

Capital Budget
Before I close, I want to take a moment to discuss the library’s capital budget. Just this past week, the City’s Office of Management and Budget asked us to submit a plan to reduce our FY2010 to FY2019 capital funding package from all sources –the Mayor, Borough President and New York City Council– by 30%. With more than $250 million in deferred maintenance at our neighborhood libraries, and as much as $100 million needed to return our Central Library to a state of good repair, these proposed cuts will make it even harder for us to serve the people of Brooklyn in libraries that are ready for the 21st Century.

BPL is committed to providing the best possible service to our customers – offering as many hours of service at as many locations as funding will allow, with the newest books and technology, and a full slate of educational and culturally-enriching programs.

We know the Council understands the vital work that our more than 1,700 full-time and part-time employees do each day to enrich the lives of thousands of Brooklynites, especially in the midst of these very difficult times. With the growing demand for City services, particularly for libraries, we ask that you provide as much support as possible so that we can continue our important work.

I would be happy to answer any questions.

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