April 30, 2014

More trouble for the Queens Library


The Queens Central Library. Image via Wikipedia.

The Queens Central Library. Image via Wikipedia.

Following earlier revelations that Queens Library President Thomas Galante has not only a salary larger than the mayor’s, but also the sickest office rooftop deck ever, the city has frozen part of the Queens Library’s budget. In the Daily News, Erin Durkinreported that the freeze affects 5% of the library’s capital budget, which the library has in the past been able to use on projects with relatively little oversight from the city. But now:

“They’re all on hold,” DDC deputy commissioner David Resnick said.

The freeze covers some $20.27 million in projects — including the Queens Central Library renovations exposed by the Daily News that have gotten library president Thomas Galante in hot water.

City officials say they won’t release any funding until they’ve received sufficient documentation the expenses are legitimate.

The clampdown affects the Central Library branch in Jamaica, as well as the Richmond Hill and Cambria Heights libraries.

This is part of a relative shitstorm of bad news for Galante and the Queens Library system in recent months; at a library budget meeting in early March, Democratic councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley took the Queens Library trustees to task for deciding to spend $30,000 on a public relations campaign to counter the negative publicity that has resulted from the revelations about Galante’s salary and the fact that, as MobyLives reported back in January, “one hundred and thirty jobs have disappeared in the last five years,” and none of the librarians or custodians have received a raise in four years.

Crowley had tough questions for Galante at the meeting, which was also attended by the presidents of the Manhattan and Brooklyn library systems, Anthony Marx and Linda Johnson. From March 11 article in the New York Times by Sarah Maslin Nir:

“Are we using city dollars, tax-levied dollars, to pay for private attorneys and these P.R. firms to make the library look better?” Ms. Crowley said.

Mr. Galante strongly denied that any lawyer would be paid with public money, but stopped short of expanding on how a lawyer would be paid — or whether the library had hired one.

And back in February, it was revealed that, among other choice bits of information:

Though Galante’s salary and perks and side deals are disturbing, the trustees’ willingness to throw money at consultants to fix these problems seems equally problematic. (Though I have to confess, it can be hard to concentrate on these issues when the Daily News keeps running photos of Galante like this one.) Crowley’s point is important to keep uppermost in these debates, however, because it applies not only to this specific situation, but also the broader question of where money, much of it public, is going at a time when libraries continually face funding cuts—the NYPL’s hiring of the lobbying firm the Parkside Group to help promote their renovation plans comes immediately to mind.

It begs the question: couldn’t that money be better spent on salaries, on raises, on renovations that truly benefit the public? Roofdeck-loving opportunists come and go, but the boards and trustees must take ultimate responsibility for these expenditures in tough times for libraries.


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.