Who would pay to go to the library? Well, in 1854, the first library in Flushing, Queens opened up and started out as a subscription basis meaning that whoever wanted to use its services had to pay for it — it was not always open to the public. That changed in 1884 when it became a free circulation library. The success of the library in Flushing, Queens encouraged other communities to open up local libraries which led to the Queens Borough Public Library becoming official in 1907.
When you walking in, you see every seat in the seating area taken, a crowded children’s room, a full cyber center, printing computers all taken, and a lively teens room. Queens Library’s mission statement is “Queens Library transforms lives by cultivating personal and intellectual growth and by building strong communities.” They fulfill their vision by creating an abundance of programs and services to benefit children, teenagers, adults, the elderly, people with disabilities, and even immigrants within their current 62 locations which makes libraries so much more than just a place with books. Such programs and services include Adult/Young Adult Literacy, Learn English/Language, Learn to Read, Writing Programs, and so many more.
With so many inclusive programs and services for the community, what happens if libraries don’t have enough money to fund all of them? What happens if their budget is cut? This is a big problem that Queens Libraries has to face annually. Libraries used to be open for seven days a week and longer hours, but this changed in 2003 when Michael Bloomberg decided to cut Queens Library’s budget despite it being the busiest library system in the country. In just two years, funding was cut by $14 million and with these cuts, 50 out of 63 branches weekend services ended and reduced Sunday service days to only 3 branches. What does this mean? It means less library open hours for those who utilize the library’s resources.
“A library is a piece of knowledge. Without knowledge in the world and art and reading, there is no hope and if there’s no hope, there is no future. Save this library --save all libraries.” Ray, a Queen's resident
In December of 2010, after a $4.5 million budget cut, Queens Libraries stopped buying new library materials including books, DVDs and homework helpers to save money and cost. Throughout 2011, the library only bought materials from money they received from grants and donations. Thankfully, people donated a generous amount of over $170,000 which allowed the library to purchase just about 12,000 new books (which is more than their typical 8,500 books they used to buy annually with their budget). The budget cut in 2011 resulted $25.3 million in service cuts to Queens Library meaning 13,000 fewer free programs, 1.5 million fewer free computer services, no weekly library access or homework help for 5,000 school children and 1.5 million unanswered requests for information through the library reference center.
With Queens being one of the most diverse places in the world, it is known that an abundance of immigrants also live here. Immigrants tend to have a lower income and so, most would not be able to afford to pay for services such as the ones that the Queen’s Libraries offer for free. Two immigrants, Zhi KangYao and Ling Chen moved to Flushing with the goal to be able to read the documents they receive in the mail and to speak to Americans.
"This is a segment of the immigrant populations that by and large do not have resources to pay for these kinds of programs. If we continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants, we have to be able to support them." Christine Fisher, a basic conversation teacher for a class in Flushing Library.
With annual budget cuts, how would libraries be able to afford these services for their patrons? Some people depend on the library for everyday needs such as learning a new language. Jung Ae Shul never had to learn English as she ran a salon where her customers were mainly Korean. After retiring, she realized that not knowing English was a disadvantage to her life in America. “I wanted to learn English so I can go to other places by myself. I was scared. I couldn’t even take the subway because I didn’t know English” she stated. Since she retired, she has been studying English through the free classes that the library provides as well as reading from the textbook, listening to CDs and receiving help from tutors at the library.
" People go to the library to learn how to read and write. For many people, the library is their only hope to learn English and obtain computer access for educational research… Libraries open doors to new worlds and opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach for so many people. To dump the library in the name of budget cuts is like burning down your house to save on the electric bill.” George Stamatiades, Queen's Library Trustee