July 17, 2013

Brooklyn libraries remain closed after being hit with a heat wave


A library patron reads a sign at the Brooklyn Heights library branch announcing that the building would be closed for the weekend.

On the Brooklyn Public Library website, a blog post from 2010 offers respite in the borough’s branches from sweltering New York summer heat:

The dog days of summer are upon us. These humid days and sweltering temps can not only be miserable, but potentially life threatening. Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) would like to urge you to stay cool at one of our 60 locations. The New York City Office of Emergency Management has designated BPL as one of dozens of cooling centers throughout the city.

But even with its official “cooling center” status, four branches of the Brooklyn Public Library system—Brooklyn Heights, Brownsville, Flatlands, and Clinton Hill—have been forced to close over the past week due to a lack of funds to fix brooken air conditioners and other infrastructure needs and repairs. According to an article in the New York Daily News, the cost  of these fixes in the 60 libraries in the Brooklyn Public Library system—which include roof repairs, broken boilers, old computers, and run-down furniture—would require $300 million. The Brooklyn Eagle tabulated that the Brooklyn Heights branch alone needs repairs that cost $13,872,127.89. Library spokesman Jerermy Soffin said the problem doesn’t have an immediate solution:

While we do have a number of upcoming projects to repair (air conditioning) systems, our ongoing capital funding crisis means there are branches that have to close altogether in heat emergencies because we simply cannot afford the upgrades needed to keep them comfortable.

The fact that these Brooklyn libraries cannot reopen demonstrates how cash-strapped and the New York City library system is—these closures are part of a larger crisis. The libraries will get $15 million in maintenance money from the Bloomberg administration, but it’s not enough to keep them open in a heat wave. Libraries need our help and support.
The good news is that advocacy groups like Urban Librarians Unite are working hard to raise awareness and prevent further cuts. Just last week, they announced that their efforts to organize events including the Read In and the support of their Volunteer Library Brigade and City Council members like Jimmy Van Bramer and Vincent Gentile helped to prevent any cuts in the budget this year:

The budget battle this year ended in the clearest victory we have seen in years. For the first time since 2008 there were NO cuts to the city library budgets. Yes we are absolutely ecstatic about things holding level, that might be a little strange but since we have been watching a slow death by a thousand cuts this year staying whole is really important.

Urban Libraries Unite also has just announced that they are organizing a new office space for advocacy, programming after Hurricane Sandy, and volunteer coordination, and they’re eager for help.


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.