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One Last Sunday at Two Brooklyn Public Libraries: ‘It’s a Big Loss’

Thanks to budget cuts by the Adams administration, libraries across the city have been forced to eliminate a day of service.

4:02 PM EST on December 18, 2023

Protesters outside Greenpoint's Brooklyn Public Library branch on its last day of Sunday service. (Hell Gate)
(Hell Gate)|

Protesters outside Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Public Library branch on its last day of Sunday service. (Hell Gate)

On a bleak and rainy afternoon, Brooklynites said goodbye to Sundays at all their local libraries.

Thanks to budget cuts from the Adams administration, eight branches in the borough that were previously open seven days a week will now be open six: Borough Park, Brooklyn Heights, Central, Greenpoint, Kings Highway, Macon, Midwood, and New Lots. New York Public Library and Queens Public Library branches across the rest of the boroughs already opened and closed for their last Sunday in late November because of those same cuts, minus a lone QPL branch in Kew Gardens, which is closed on Saturdays instead.

"This is news to me, and it's disappointing," Daniel Schwartz, who was at the new BPL branch in Brooklyn Heights, told Hell Gate. Schwartz said he sometimes hosts a writing group at the library in its rentable rooms. "I'm just wondering where the money is going instead, that was my first thought," Schwartz added. "As an institution of knowledge and a hub for culture, the community will be missing out. People work during the week and on the weekend, it’s their time to come here. It’s a big loss."

This the second time that the city's libraries have found their way to the chopping block this year. In the spring, New Yorkers rallied against a proposal to slash $36 million before the fiscal year 2024 budget dropped. Under pressure, the Adams administration and the City Council reversed the cuts, but in November, the mayor ordered up another round of cuts—this time, $23.6 million would be taken from libraries. The cost-cutting measures also hit popular programs like community composting sites and universal pre-K. Mayor Adams has cited the cost of housing migrants, along with a dearth of federal funding and decreased tax revenues, as justifications for the cuts, which have already been contested by the City Council and are the subject of a lawsuit brought by the city's largest union of public sector workers.

A pro-library protester in Greenpoint. (Hell Gate)

By 1:00 p.m., a line had already formed outside of the Brooklyn Heights BPL branch. Inside, people took out loaner laptops, students borrowed textbooks, and tables in the library filled up quickly as visitors settled in. Margaret, who declined to give her last name, was at the library with her two children, stroller in tow. Her daughter Rosemary told us she loves reading books at the library, with the bonus of not having to buy them. "We go to the library every other Sunday, at least, especially on rainy days like this one," Margaret said. "It’s just really nice to get out of the house, go read books. For kids, it’s good to have a place like this."

Outside the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. (Hell Gate)
Visitors browsing inside the new Brooklyn Heights BPL branch. (Hell Gate)

Meanwhile, in Greenpoint, it was also business as usual in the neighborhood BPL branch —an older guy charged his phone, a mother and daughter browsed the children's book section, and a disheveled man whose pants had fallen down to somewhere around his knees scrolled YouTube. "A library is a cornerstone of human connection and development," one visitor, who declined to give his name, told Hell Gate. "I was homeless twice. And the library was home—maybe I cannot sleep in it, but I can definitely grab a book and escape, go and develop business ideas. I'm a freelancer because the library inspired me to do so." 

Outside, near the corner of Norman Avenue and Leonard Street, around 50 people had gathered in front of the library to rally against the closures. Emily Drabinski, a Brooklyn resident and president of the American Library Association, traveled from her home in Windsor Terrace to join the pushback. 

Library supporters held signs and lit candles outside of the Greenpoint BPL branch. (Hell Gate)

"It's a rainy day, and I can't think of another place in this city on a Sunday where, without purchasing anything, any single person walking down the street can go inside, have a seat, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, log on to email, check out a book, learn how to knit," Drabinski said. "When you say 'times are hard,' I want to ask, 'times are hard for who?' Times are hard for the people who need to access this public institution on a Sunday. Are times hard for the people who are not paying their fair share so the City can serve the needs of everyone who lives here?"

Local lawmakers echoed Drabinksi's sentiments. "The mayor is very focused on public safety, and what studies across the country and across the world time and again have shown is that providing safe spaces like libraries is the core of public safety," State Assemblymember Emily Gallagher told Hell Gate. "New York City is the greatest city in the world, and we shouldn't have to fight for our bare minimum services for residents every single year. There's a lot of other ways we can make the budget work."

Councilmember Lincoln Restler addressing the pro-library crowd in Greenpoint. (Hell Gate)

In a speech, Brooklyn Councilmember Lincoln Restler pointed out the many services Brooklyn Public Libraries provide New Yorkers—free of charge, and often difficult to get anywhere else, like after-school support, community fridges, literacy assistance, and public bathrooms that don't cost a dime to use. "What is up with Eric Adams and his austerity agenda? The Independent Budget Office said there are billions of dollars in additional revenue this year, the Council finance division said there are billions of dollars in additional revenue this year," he said. "There is no need for the mayor's cuts."

Another speaker, Lauren Comito, executive director of Urban Librarians Unite, talked about the intangible benefits libraries provide New Yorkers, too—the kinds of things visitors brought up when we spoke with them. "This is a place where people know each other—those sort of tangential connections you don't get when you're working from home or staring at your phone on the subway," she said. "Everybody loses when the library closes for a day."

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