In Branch Libraries, Fewer Books but High Demand

This story is part of 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 — There are thousands of books in the children’s room at the High Bridge library, but it’s hard not to notice the empty shelves. At one end of the room, where a colorful mural depicts the high arches of the nearby bridge connecting the Bronx and Manhattan and a dark green reading rug mimics a grassy hill beneath a wood and fabric tree, a bank of powder-grey metal bookshelves lines the walls, and more than half are empty. Only a few of the remaining shelves are over half full. Most contain short stacks of books and foot after foot of empty space, with an occasional title displayed facing outward.

Those shelves at High Bridge are more vacant than most, but recent budget cuts and rising circulation have made for slimmer pickings at many city libraries. Since 2002, citywide circulation has grown by nearly 60 percent, but over the last decade the number of books, periodicals and e-content materials available to circulate increased by a much smaller number – 16 percent in the New York Public Library system, which serves Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Though rates of circulation growth varied between the NYPL and the separate Queens and Brooklyn Public Library systems, all three systems have seen major cuts to their book budgets since 2009 even as the cost of materials continues to rise.

Each budget decrease “really affects the number of items you see on the shelf,” says Charlene Rue, deputy director of collection management for BookOps, a new shared division of the New York and Brooklyn public libraries that oversees the acquisition and distribution of materials for both systems.

Read the entire article by Suzanne Travers here.