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Thursday, March 5, 2020

$24 million Operating Ask Includes the Restoration of Critical Funding to Sustain Hours, Staffing, and Collections, as well as New Funding for Projects Supporting the City’s Education Initiatives—Including Fine Elimination for Children and Teens

MARCH 4, 2020 -- The heads of the city’s three library systems—The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library—presented their Fiscal Year 2021 funding needs to the City Council today, requesting $24 million in additional operating funds and $300 million in new capital money. 

The appeal for the increases, presented by New York Public Library President and CEO Anthony W. Marx, Brooklyn Public Library President and CEO Linda E. Johnson, and Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott—includes the restoration and baselining of $14 million in one-time City Council funding to protect hours, staffing levels, and collections. The Library systems have made significant progress in these areas over the last seven years with the support of the City, and those gains need to be protected.

The FY 21 ask also includes $10 million in new funding that the systems say is critical to enhancing equity, offering greater access to libraries for children and teens, and helping support the City’s educational priorities.

A significant piece of the request for additional funding is the elimination of late fines for children and teens, removing a proven barrier to access. Currently, about 60,000 NYC children and teens have blocked library cards (meaning they’ve accrued at least $15 in fines) and cannot check out material. A high percentage of those blocked cards are in high needs neighborhoods. Through amnesty and pilot programs (and an evaluation of fine elimination programs in major urban cities such as Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco), the libraries have concluded that eliminating fines generates increased library usage in high needs communities, encouraging reading and learning outside the classroom.

For example, in 2017, all three NYC systems cleared approximately $2.25 million in library debts for more than 161,000 children thanks to a one-time donation from the JBP Foundation. NYPL’s President Anthony W. Marx marked the occasion and made the case for going fine-free permanently with an op-ed in Quartz. 

One year after a 2017 amnesty in New York City, there was an over 60% increase in the percentage of children and teens who were previously blocked and then checked out materials from their public libraries; this effect was most pronounced in the lowest income neighborhoods.

In addition to the elimination of fines, the $10 million in new funding would cover the cost of branch programs aimed at engaging children and teens; examples are programs that support literacy amongst toddlers and pre-K (to support the City’s 3-K initiative) and programs that encourage research and the use of primary sources. 

The proposed operating increase would support the libraries’ efforts around emergency repairs, which are not eligible for capital funding.). It also would help cover the rising costs of important resources such as databases, ebooks and other materials. 

On the capital side, the library systems are seeking $100 million each to help pay for repairs and upgrades totaling $1 billion.

“In order for public libraries to remain New York City’s most vibrant, trusted, open, and democratic institutions, we must protect the progress we have made over the last several years thanks to the tremendous support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Chairmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Danny Dromm, and the whole City Council,” said the three library presidents in a joint statement. “Libraries are uniquely positioned to partner with the City on key initiatives, such as ensuring an accurate count in the Census, supporting a culture of learning across the City, and offering opportunities to all New Yorkers, including the most vulnerable. It is critical that we have the resources necessary to do this important work, remove barriers to access for children and teens, maintain and upgrade our aging footprint, and strengthen our City.”

For regular updates on the FY 21 budget ask and ways that they can participate, New Yorkers should visit

In the last five years alone, the City's three library systems—through their Invest in Libraries campaign —have secured critical City funding increases that have allowed for universal six-day service, important capital work and renovations, and increased staff and collections. Last year, following a campaign supported by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, radio host Angela Yee, and author Jennifer Egan, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the Council’s libraries committee chair Jimmy Van Bramer, finance committee chair Danny Dromm, and the entire City Council provided libraries with $33 million in additional, much-needed operating funding.

Nationwide, the importance of libraries is clearer than ever: a January Gallup study showed that visiting a library was the most common cultural activity amongst Americans in 2019: more Americans visited a library than went to the movies.


About The Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is an independent library system for the 2.7 million residents of Brooklyn. It is the sixth largest library system in the United States with 59 neighborhood libraries located throughout the borough. BPL offers free programs and services for all ages and stages of life, including a large selection of books in more than 30 languages, author talks, literacy programs, and public computers. BPL’s eResources, such as eBooks and eVideos, catalog information, and free homework help, are available to customers of all ages 24 hours a day at our website. 


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