BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Weekdays at the Astoria library will find students strewn across circular writing desks, kids sitting with parents in the children’s room and patrons on computers or roaming the stacks under a Max Spivak WPA mural.
Nevertheless, this branch of the Queens Library is not living up to its potential, according to library management, staff and local elected officials. Like many throughout the City, the Astoria library lacks the funding necessary to meet service demands and make the most efficient use of its space.
Last Thursday, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) joined Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Queens Library interim president and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey and Astoria library manager Gus Tsekenis on a tour of the branch.
The tour was one of five that took place in each Borough over two days, following the launch of an “Invest in Libraries” campaign to highlight maintenance and infrastructure needs in the City’s three library systems.
According to Van Bramer’s office, City funding for public libraries has shrunk 20 percent over the past seven years, with library staff reduced by over 1,000. The Invest in Libraries campaign hopes to secure a $1.1 billion capital funding increase and $65 million expense funding increase in this year’s budget.
Tsekenis pointed out a number of funding needs to Thursday’s tour. His wish list of items for the library includes creating a teen space, making the building handicapped accessible and, perhaps most importantly, securing Saturday service hours.
For kids in Astoria, he said, “there aren’t that many options. It’s good for them to have a place they can go to feel safe.”
He also noted an outdoor amphitheater that goes unused and a downstairs room that for years acted as a storage closet. Despite the underutilized space and tight service hours, Tsekenis said that programs ranging from board game gatherings to technology help all take place at the library. Many programs offer interdisciplinary education, such as activity in the Shakespeare garden, where participants put their green thumbs to plants from the Bard’s plays.
“You have to be creative, because you don’t have a huge budget,” he explained.
On Tuesday, the City Council released its response to the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2015 Preliminary Budget, calling for a $65 million funding increase and six-day service for all libraries.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.