Do Public Libraries Stand a Chance in New York City?

Libraries are more than just a place to check out book. In New York City, libraries also help large immigrant populations learn English, learn local customs, and integrate into American culture. City Hall's dwindling budget is threatening the public library system. Fortunately, philanthropic foundations like Revson are helping to pick up the slack.

The Charles H. Revson Foundation recently awarded a $10,000 grant to Sheepshead Bay Library. Funding for this Brooklyn library, as well as others in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, has been cut by $65 million since 2008. Not only does does this create strain on the library system by decreasing hours and limiting the employment of necessary employees, but immigrant integration is also being stunted.

“The libraries often can’t plan beyond a year because they don’t know what the budget is going to be,” Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, told the New York Times. “It’s not like schools or parks, who start with a set budget. The libraries start from zero.”

Especially in Brooklyn these days, the immigrant population is growing and new citizens are feeling the pressure fit in. Despite the financial challenges, Sheepshead Bay Library has offered everything from language and citizenship classes to arts and crafts, a Russian literature club, and preschool story time. Walk through the doors and you can expect to see a diverse crowd browsing foreign films, playing Scrabble, doing their homework and checking email.

But New York's libraries are more than just a place to hang out. “If you are going to be educated, you have to be in touch with the culture,”said Laura Sermassan, an immigrant from Romania who meets her three sons at the library each day after school. “It’s a point of integration into American culture. It’s a support.” Immigrants from Romania, Russia, China, Latin America, Albania, Poland, and Pakistan frequent the Sheephead Bay Library.

But Sheepshead Bay isn't the only library that Revson is supporting these days. Sheepshead was one of five libraries that received cash prizes as part of the foundation's NYC Neighborhood Library Awards program. The others were Corona Library in Queens, Macon Library in Brooklyn, New Dorp Library in Staten Island, and Seward Park Library in Manhattan.

So do New York public libraries stand a chance in economy? The Revson Foundation says they do, and its taking a unique approach to welcoming immigrants and keeping them engaged for the foreseeable future.