Make New York City’s Libraries a Higher Priority

THE HUFFINGTON POST — New York City’s neighborhood libraries play crucial roles in the life of our city — ones that often go unrecognized. Yet their need to improve their facilities grows greater, even as the public’s reliance on them increases as well. That’s true for all three of the city’s library systems — the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library (serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island), and the Queens Library.

A recent report by the Center for an Urban Future revealed that New York City’s 207 branch libraries have $1.1 billion in capital needs. The study, titled “Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries,” found that the average branch library is 61 years old, and 59 branches need $5 million or more in basic repairs. In addition, the study found that the vast majority of libraries are poorly configured to meet the demands of the digital age.

A previous report — titled “Branches of Opportunity” — published by the Center for an Urban Future last year found that over the past decade circulation at New York City libraries has increased by 59 percent, program attendance by 40 percent, and program sessions by 27 percent while City funding has declined by 8 percent. Perhaps surprisingly in a digital age, the need for libraries has only expanded.

That’s in part because the roles of libraries have increased as well — far beyond the traditional one of making books and other materials available and providing a quiet place to read. Today, libraries play far greater roles, as evidenced by the thousands of nominations that have already been received in the second annual NYC Neighborhood Library Awards, co-funded by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which I lead, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

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