By Chris Sommerfeldt, published January 31, 2024

New York City’s public libraries saw large spikes in visitors and social program participation in the months before Mayor Adams’ budget cuts prompted them to eliminate Sunday hours at all branches and scale back other services as well, newly released data show.

The data was tucked into the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report that Adams unveiled Tuesday afternoon. The report tracks performance metrics of city services from July 1, 2023, through Oct. 31, the four-month span leading up to the release of Adams’ November budget plan, which enacted the library cuts, among various other city spending reductions.

In that four-month window, the New York Public Library system, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, welcomed more than 2.6 million visitors to its branches and registered 195,897 new library cards, according to data in the report. That’s a jump from the 2.4 million visitors and 142,933 new library card registrations the system saw in the same four-month window in 2022, the data show.

“The data itself is reason enough for the mayor to restore the libraries to where they used to be,” said Manhattan Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who heads the Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, which has jurisdiction over the city’s three public library systems. “There’s a mental health component to the libraries’ work, it’s a social engine, and in a budget this big and considering how far these dollars go, these cuts have to be reconsidered. It will be a big priority for the Council.”

Adams, whose team started negotiations with the Council this month on next fiscal year’s $109 billion budget, has argued he must push through “difficult” cuts across all municipal agencies to address ballooning deficits exacerbated by expiring federal aid and the tens of millions of dollars the city’s spending every month to care for newly arrived migrants.

The November cut that resulted in the end of Sunday hours at all branches — as well as a hiring freeze and reduction in some social programs — lowered city funding for the library systems by about $23.6 million this fiscal year. Initially, Adams planned to slash funding further for libraries this month, but he backed off that idea after city tax revenue projections greatly improved and the three systems warned that another cut would force them to eliminate Saturday hours, too.

Adams spokeswoman Liz Garcia wouldn’t say whether the increased demand for city library services is giving the mayor  second thoughts about his November cuts. But Garcia tied the increase to “our investments in public safety, public spaces, and working-class people as part of our holistic approach to accelerating our economic recovery.”

Beyond visitor upticks, the NYPL, the country’s largest public library system, saw even sharper increases in use of its social programs, which primarily service low-income New Yorkers and include efforts like free literacy courses, after-school initiatives and career help workshops.

Overall, the PMMR report showed the NYPL had 369,555 people enroll in such programs in the latest reporting window — a 22% jump compared with the 287,701 who participated during the same span in 2022. Use of NYPL branches’ free Wi-Fi also skyrocketed, with the report logging 842,094 individual uses in the most recent four-month reporting stretch, a more than 100% surge over the 395,219 check-ins during the equivalent window in 2022.

The surge in demand for NYPL services was mirrored at the city’s two other public library systems, the report shows.

Queens Public Library’s branches welcomed some 2.1 million visitors and registered 36,081 new library cards in the latest reporting stretch — compared with 1.8 million visitors and 28,966 new cards in the four-month span in 2022, the data show. Social program use also surged to 333,825 individual users in the 2023 four-month period compared with 263,061 in the previous one.

Brooklyn Public Library’s branches saw the biggest spike in new library cards, issuing 105,876 in the latest period compared with 59,967 in the last one, the report shows. Library visits in Brooklyn went up from 1.3 million in the 2022 four-month span to more than 1.8 million in the latest period, while social program participation soared from 158,075 to 235,990, the data show.

The report doesn’t offer an explanation for the increase in demand for library services across the city. But Rivera noted that the uptick comes as many of the tens of thousands of mostly Latin American migrants who have arrived in the city since 2022 are known to patronize libraries.

In a joint statement to the Daily News, the three public library systems said the upswing in service shows “New Yorkers understand the value of libraries and very much need and rely on what we offer.”

“We will continue to work with city leaders to fully restore our funding so that we can build on the progress we’ve made in recent years providing New Yorkers with libraries they deserve,” their statement said.

Last year, Adams said he would subject all agencies, including the libraries, to another round of budget cuts in April unless the city’s fiscal situation greatly improves.

He hasn’t ruled out moving forward with those cuts. He has, however, suggested the library systems consider dipping into their endowments, which are provided by private donors, to bridge some of the funding gaps caused by the cuts.

During an interfaith breakfast event at the NYPL’s central branch in Manhattan Wednesday morning, Adams steered clear of talking about the budgetary issues looming over libraries and focused his remarks on spirituality.

His chief adviser, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, though, said in remarks at the event that the mayor’s a big library supporter.

“The mayor believes in libraries,” she said.

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