NYC libraries would end universal 6-day service under Adams budget plan, testimony says

NEW YORK — The heads of New York City’s three public library systems warned on Tuesday that they’d have to close the book on universal six-day service at their branches and enact other “devastating” cuts to their social programs if Mayor Eric Adams’ latest budget plan is adopted.

In afternoon testimony before the City Council, the presidents of the New York, Brooklyn and Queens public library systems said Adams’ $109 billion budget bid for the 2025 fiscal year would force all of their branches to continue to stay closed Sundays — while most of them would also have to cut another day of service. That would mean those branches wouldn’t be able to stay open at least six days a week for the first time since 2015, when that schedule became the standard across the city.

“The impacts will be both devastating and unprecedented,” New York Public Library President Anthony Marx, whose system is the city’s largest in servicing Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, said in prepared testimony. Marx added that the city’s libraries haven’t faced this big of a potential budget cut in over a decade.

All of the city’s more than 200 library branches have already operated without Sunday service since November, when a $22 million budget cut enacted by Adams forced them to end it. The cut was part of a string of agency budget trims Adams pushed through to offset city spending on the migrant crisis.

Adams’ 2025 fiscal year budget proposal would require another day of service to be curtailed because it contains $36.2 million in total additional spending shaves on top of continuing last year’s cut. That translates to a total funding drop of $58.3 million over pre-November levels, according to the library heads. The additional cuts wouldn’t slash baseline funding, but reduce discretionary spending buckets the library leaders said are typically renewed every year and which they have long pushed for making permanent.

Tuesday’s testimony comes as Council Democrats have argued many of the mayor’s enacted and proposed cuts are unnecessary and should be reversed before they have to adopt the 2025 fiscal year city budget by June 30. They’ve pointed to better-than-expected city tax revenue projections as a reason for reversing the cuts, a sentiment shared by the three library honchos, who urged the mayor to undo the full $58.3 million cut so their systems can go back to offering seven-day service.

“Stop these games with people’s lives with their futures,” Marx said while lamenting that library budgets have for generations been the first on the chopping block in times of fiscal strain. “We’ve had enough.”

The mayor has consistently said he doesn’t want to subject city agencies to cuts, but that he’s being forced to in order to balance the budget after spending more than $4 billion to date on housing and services for tens of thousands of newly-arrived migrants.

On the flipside, the mayor’s office released updated tax revenue projections in January that forecasted a more positive fiscal picture than it had previously predicted. That rosier forecast prompted Adams to reverse some budget reductions, including for the NYPD and the Sanitation Department, and cancel other cuts he initially planned to subject the libraries and other agencies to in January and April.

Asked in his weekly press briefing Tuesday whether the library bosses’ testimony will prompt him to also roll back the remaining library cuts, Adams said he and the Council will “land the plane together.”

“We’re going to get through this, that’s the most I can say,” he said. “We’re going to do it with as least pain as possible, but we have to be fiscally responsible.”

The prospect of slashing another day of service would play out differently across the three public library systems, according to Tuesday’s testimony.

Queens Public Library President Dennis Walcott said Adams’ budget would force his system to specifically end Saturday hours at all branches, except for the Flushing Library and the Central Library in Jamaica. Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson said an unspecified sixth day of service would disappear at “more than half” of her system’s branches, while Marx said “close to 60%” of the New York Public Library’s branches would scrap an unspecified sixth day, too.

In addition to scaling back another day of service, Marx, Johnson and Walcott testified Adams’ budget plan would force them to delay the reopening of several branches currently undergoing renovations, including Manhattan’s 125th Street Library, the Bronx’s Hunts Point Library and Queens’ Broadway Library in Astoria.

All of those branches are scheduled to reopen either this spring or in the first quarter of the 2025 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The new cuts would indefinitely put the reopenings on ice as the library systems wouldn’t afford staffing them under the reduced funding levels, the presidents said.

The library honchos said the mayor’s budget would also force the systems to further reduce spending on library materials, programming and building maintenance.

Johnson said her system’s spending on programming would be reduced by as much as one-third under the plan. She and the two other library heads said such cuts will result in everything from fewer free U.S. citizenship and English language classes for immigrants to a steep reduction in young adult literacy courses, fewer stipends for teen internships and a rollback of recreational and career development programs for school-aged kids.

All three library heads said they’d also be forced to cancel planned purchases of books for their collections. At New York Public Library’s branches alone, Marx said Adams’ plan would result in the purchase of 180,000 fewer books.

“It is heartbreaking to be in this position,” Johnson said.

Library advocates are already complaining cuts made in November have resulted in a reduction in availability of some popular in-person programs such as “Storytime” for young families.

Marx said he’s also worried the state could reduce its funding for city libraries by 25% if all of the cuts stay in place. That’s due to a state funding formula that requires the city to fund the libraries at a certain level in order for the state money to be unlocked, he said.

“It’s a piling-on that will have terrible results for everyone,” Marx added.