NYC Library Systems See Budget Restored for FY22 in Mayor’s Final Budget

UPDATE: On June 30, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council announced the final $98.7 billion New York City budget for FY22, which will restore full funding to the city's libraries. “In an understandably uncertain budget year, we are incredibly thankful to Mayor de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Finance Chair Daniel Dromm, Cultural Affairs and Libraries Chair Jimmy Van Bramer, the budget negotiating team, and the entire City Council for keeping New York City’s public libraries strong as we all move forward into our next chapter,” directors of the three systems said in a statement. 

exterior of New York City Hall building
New York City Hall (CC BY-SA 2.5)

On Thursday, January 14, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio released his preliminary FY22 budget, as well as outlining cuts to be enacted this year. All three of the city’s library systems—Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), New York Public Library (NYPL), and Queens Public Library (QPL)—will see cuts to their operating budgets, with subsequent reductions spread out through 2025.

The $92 billion city budget addressed a $1.5 billion revenue decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes fallout from a $2.5 billion decline in property tax revenue and $5.9 billion in unexpected costs. BPL’s operating budget will be cut by $1.2 million in the current fiscal year, and faces a proposed $2.8 million reduction for FY22. QPL will also see $1.2 million cuts in FY21—which ends on June 30—and a $2.9 million decrease the following year. NYPL, the city’s largest system, will receive a $1.6 million cut this year and a $3.8 million reduction for FY22.

Overall, the preliminary budget proposes $2.2 billion in savings over FY21 and FY22. De Blasio’s Program to Eliminate Gap (PEG) cuts from a range of agencies across the city. In a press conference, he stated that some reductions were forestalled by his adoption of a “wartime” FY21 budget last April—which did not affect the city’s libraries—and his November announcement warning that more cost cuts would need to be found, giving city departments the opportunity to choose where to trim in advance. Many city departments will be feeling the bite so that funding can be allocated for COVID testing, student remote learning resources, food relief, expanded Wi-Fi in city shelters, and extra resources for 311 operators.

All three library systems were cautiously optimistic about their ability to weather the cuts—while emphasizing the importance of library services to New York City’s ongoing recovery.

“We expect, thanks to careful, strategic planning, that we can absorb these cuts without significant service impacts,” said Angela Montefinise, NYPL’s Senior Director of Public Relations, Communications, and Marketing. “Of course, we are in a time of economic uncertainty and only in the early stages of the budget process, so we will continue to closely monitor. Libraries can and should play a key role in the city's continuing efforts to cope and recover from the pandemic, so we hope that even in challenging financial times, our position will remain stable.”

QPL reiterated the benefits of careful fiscal planning. “Fortunately, it appears we are in a position to absorb this year’s cut through prior planning and savings,” wrote QPL Director of Communications Elisabeth de Bourbon. “However, our financial picture for FY 2022 is less certain. While we realize it is still early in the budget process, we are looking at a number of scenarios to achieve savings that may affect our resource and service levels. That said, we do not envision layoffs at this time.”

Although they stand to weather this year’s reductions without significant impacts to service or staffing, the three library systems are looking ahead at the advocacy they will need to muster for the year to come.

“Given the economic conditions the city is facing, these cuts are not surprising,” stated BPL. “However, libraries are integral to New York City’s recovery and we will continue to fight for the budget we need to help lead our communities out of the crisis caused by the pandemic.”

“There is no doubt that libraries will have an important role in the City’s recovery,” said de Bourbon. “We hope the Mayor and City Council will maintain their support of libraries with the understanding that the pandemic has demonstrated that New Yorkers never have needed their libraries more than now.”

Added BPL, “Over the next five months, with the support of patrons and staff, and alongside our partners at Queens Public Library and New York Public Library, we will do everything we can to persuade the administration and City Council to keep our funding intact and avoid any service reductions.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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