Budgets cut, but NYC’s Libraries Thrive–For Now

This story is the first in a City Limits series looking at the potential for New York’s libraries to fill a critical gap in our civic infrastructure, as well as the challenges and difficult choices the library systems face.

CITY LIMITS — Let’s get this out of the way: Binyamin Solomon is black and he’s Jewish and he lives in Crown Heights, and none of those things are the subject of this story. While his overlapping identities make him a member of an interesting if minuscule minority, Solomon also belongs to a much bigger demographic: the nearly 3 million New Yorkers without broadband Internet access at home.

That predicament spurred Solomon to membership in still another group, regular visitors to the city’s libraries. As often as five times a week, he spends ninety minutes or more at the Eastern Parkway branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which along with the New York Public Library and Queens Borough Public Library systems operates some 214 branches throughout the five boroughs. Eight years ago, Solomon started using the library’s computers, becoming more familiar with them through the help of library staff. “It’s because of them I know as much as I know now,” he said in a recent interview.

When he saw a promising job ad in a newspaper last year, he updated his resume on a library computer and printed it there for five cents a page. He got the job, as a security supervisor at the Hudson Yards construction site. Now he stops at the library on his way home from work to send email, check Facebook and scout the occasional item from an online store.

When Solomon visits Eastern Parkway, he registers for a computer session and settles down to read a newspaper. With a handful of computers reserved for adults, typically an hour passes, “sometimes an hour and fifteen minutes, depends on how crowded it is,” before he gets his thirty minutes on a machine.

“One or two more computers” at the branch would help, he believes. “I think it would be better if they could have at least six,” he says. “That way the wait time wouldn’t be so long.”

Read the entire article by Suzanne Travers here.