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Monday, August 07, 2006

Budget victims

Hey, it's not a library, but it will do

Gloomy tale of N.Y.'s libraries

Special Report

They're in demand – but frequently closed


It is the shame of the city: libraries that are closed at all hours of the day, robbing New Yorkers of access to a kingdom of knowledge.

Branch hours in the three systems that make up the city's libraries - the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Borough Public Library and the New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island - now average just 38 hours per week.

Go to the Throgs Neck branch in the Bronx on Thursday and you'll be disappointed: It's closed.

Come back the next morning and it's still closed - all the way until 1 p.m., and even then you had better hurry: Closing time is five hours away.

And that branch is hardly the exception.

Fewer than half of the city's libraries are open six days a week, and then only with staggered hours that keep doors open for as little as five hours on some days.

That's a far cry from the 58 hours per week that readers in Chicago can peruse their branch library shelves, or the 56 hours per week in Miami, or the 49 hours in Los Angeles - or in most other big cities in the nation.

Drive a few miles outside the five boroughs and you'll find the same or greater differences - 58 hours a week in Long Island's Port Washington, 64 hours in working-class Yonkers, even 76 hours a week in places like Plainview, L.I.

"I think it means New York City doesn't focus on libraries as much as other cities," said Jamel Burgess, 15, a student at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx as he clacked away on a computer at the Throgs Neck branch last week.

New York's libraries are among the city's crown jewels - spanning 209 branches in all five boroughs, housing some 65 million books and periodicals.

Keep them open longer and people will come.

Demand - as measured by the number of books loaned every year - is climbing steadily in all three systems, especially in immigrant-heavy Queens, according to the latest Mayor's Management Report.

The real story, however, is told not by statistics but by the lines of people that now snake outside many city libraries before they open, a testament to both the high quality services they provide and the few hours they are open.

Talk to those in line and it is clear that libraries remain many things to many people: a resource for scholars, an air-conditioned haven for the elderly, a wondrous story land for toddlers, a gateway for immigrants trying to learn English or find a job. And all of it for free.

"The demand," said Ronald Chan, supervisor of the jam-packed Chatham Square branch in Manhattan's Chinatown, "is bottomless."

posted by Steve @ 1:59:00 AM

1:59:00 AM

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