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Philly isn’t the only city struggling to keep its library system afloat; celebs decry budget cuts in NYC

Sarah Jessica Parker was just one celebrity to weigh in on the funding battles, saying cuts to the New York libraries "would be a big mistake that would leave countless New Yorkers without access to key services.”

Philadelphia advocates rally for more Free Library funding outside of Mayor Jim Kenney's office on Dec. 12, 2018.
Philadelphia advocates rally for more Free Library funding outside of Mayor Jim Kenney's office on Dec. 12, 2018.Read moreTyLisa C. Johnson / Staff

The Philadelphia Free Library isn’t alone in its battle for more funding.

The 54-branch system’s fight is just one of the bookworm battles across the country, as residents advocate for better-funded systems, especially in cities where vulnerable populations depend on public libraries.

New York City’s public libraries were threatened this week when Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed an operating budget cut of about $11 million, or 3 percent, much to the dismay of residents and City Council, according to multiple local reports.

The New York systems collectively operate 216 branches across the five boroughs, as well as four research library centers in Manhattan. Cuts could mean fewer librarians, fewer programs, and fewer hours for public use at libraries.

“We’ve made a record level of investments in the city’s libraries," a spokesperson for de Blasio told CBS New York, citing more than $1 billion for facility improvements in the capital budget over the next 10 years.

Efforts are already underway to express the importance of New York’s libraries, much of it begun by residents, including celebrities outraged to learn of the proposed cuts.

“As Carrie Bradshaw might, I couldn’t help but wonder: Can New York City survive without strong public libraries?” Sex in the City actor Sarah Jessica Parker wrote Monday in a guest post on the New York Public Library’s blog, referring to her character’s name in the show. “These cuts would be a big mistake that would leave countless New Yorkers without access to key services.”

She and musician David Byrne were among those calling on better funding for the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library, according to AM New York.

At Parker’s request, dozens of New York residents posted notes about what their library means to them on an online forum that supports increased library funding. “My library was a teacher for a time when my family could not afford to purchase books,” one wrote.

The issue there parallels the Philadelphia Free Library’s struggles, where Friends and advocates have been entrenched in a grassroots campaign for additional library funding since last year to stanch facility emergencies and staff shortages that have led to daily closures.

Read more: As Mayor Kenney prepares to deliver budget address, Philadelphia Free Library asks for $15 million more

Read more: Proposed federal cuts to libraries send wrong message | Opinion

Read more: Kenney announces $2.5 million more for Free Library; City Council members and advocates push for more

Philadelphia library advocates have said that the Free Library system never recovered from budget cuts as a result of the 2008 recession, and that the library needs additional funding — about $15 million — to be fully functional.

The library’s budget is nearly $49 million, with about $40 million from the city. Mayor Jim Kenney in March proposed an additional $2.5 million for the system. Since the fall, supporters have circulated petitions, met with Council members, assessed branch needs, among other efforts.

Both Philadelphia and New York City Councils will make final budget decisions by June 30.

Library funding has been threatened on the national landscape, too. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump proposed major cuts for library budgets in his 2020 federal budget, reducing funding from $242 million in 2019 to $23 million and looking to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

American Library Association president Loida Garcia-Febo, in a response, called Trump’s proposal “discouraging” but said “the bipartisan support in Congress over the past two years gives us reason to hope.”