Library patrons go to the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library amid budget cuts. Credit: Jill Webb

Earlier this month, Jada Mathurin was hoping to spend part of her Sunday at the library. When she arrived, the doors were locked. The 22-year-old was confused. “I’m like, ‘alright, today is Sunday. Everybody at church today, that’s why it’s closed,’” Mathurin said. 

But that wasn’t why. Most libraries in New York City ended Sunday service due to major budget cuts, which began in late 2023.

And now there is a possibility of further reductions. Libraries may be forced to close on Saturdays too, after Mayor Eric Adam’s most recent proposed budget for 2025 did not restore previously cut funding to libraries.

Christine Schonhart, director of the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), says the loss of Sunday service has been difficult for the community.

“When we first closed, we got a slew of emails through our online portal of people just saying ‘Oh, we’re so disappointed. We’re so sad,’” Schonhart said.

Limited weekend access can be especially challenging for those whose work prevents them from visiting during weekdays when they work. 

“Having [Sunday] closed has been tough for people who just need a day to get here,” Schonhart said.

Wi-Fi access on the line

Jada Mathurin, 22, relies on library Wi-Fi to apply for jobs and government assistance programs, as well as develop her artistic endeavors. Credit: Jill Webb

Over the past few decades, libraries have evolved into information and technology centers, especially for working-class families. 

Mathurin emphasized how important it is to her to have access to library Wi-Fi, especially when her home service is down. She uses her phone at the library to look for jobs, work on her art, and apply to government assistance programs.

“Whatever I could find that could help me,” Mathurin said.

Library Wi-Fi access is especially crucial as the Federal Communications Commission has run out of funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program. The ACP provided low-income households with up to $75 in monthly discounts for internet service. One in six households were enrolled in the program.

“We had a digital navigator team here that signed up so many people for that program,” said Fritzi Bodenheimer, BPL’s press officer. 

Here’s a tip: Some internet providers – including AT&T, Spectrum and Xfinity – have established their own discount programs for low-income customers. EveryoneOn, a non-profit focused on affordable internet services, has a tool allowing users to search for the cheapest internet plans serving their zipcode.

Study spaces, community programs, and socialization

Matilda, 15, and Hillary, 17, grab a snack from Emma’s Torch Cafe at the Central Library. Credit: Jill Webb

Layla and Lauren, both 10, spend a few days each week at the library with their tutor, Vanessa. They’ve been practicing taking state tests in quiet and noisy areas of the library.

“Our tutor makes us [take practice tests] in here so that we can learn how to concentrate in any place,” Layla said.

“You can be in the midst of a crowd and have to focus on something,” Vanessa said.

“One of my favorite things about the library is the librarians in there,” Layla said. “They’re really nice to us.”

Layla also likes special displays at the library. One of her favorites was The Book of HOV, an exhibit celebrating the Brooklyn-raised rapper Jay-Z.

Cuts don’t just result in one less day to check out books, access computers, and get help from librarians.

“It’s a loss of a programming day for us,” Schonhart said.

One popular Sunday program was Classical Interludes, where patrons got to hear live music.

“It would fill our auditorium with 150 people just to listen to classical music [and] be with their neighbors,” Schonhart said.

Since the Sunday cuts, the Central Library has hosted a few Classical Interludes on Saturdays. But as more cuts are possible, the future of weekend programming in the borough’s many libraries is unclear. 

Using the library as a third space can be vital in combatting loneliness and isolation. Schonhart often hears from patrons who prefer to work remotely from the library instead of their homes, especially after companies shifted to a work-from-home model after the pandemic. They’re not necessarily chatting with others or forming friendships, but they want to be part of an in-person community.

“You just notice that there’s more people doing their work here in the library,” Schonhart said.

The level of socialization that libraries provide can be especially important to populations developing their communication skills. That includes community members who are learning to speak English, as well as patrons with disabilities.

Marilyn Lambey works for AHRC New York City, a non-profit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization brings clients to the library to access educational material and engage them in a social environment.

Marilyn Lambey brings clients with developmental disabilities to the library to boost their social skills and access various resources. Credit: Jill Webb

“It’s important to bring them to the library and see people, just get [them] accustomed to interacting with other people,” Lambey said.

Library interaction can help people with disabilities prepare for future employment. According to Lambey, they “learn to be sociable and be around people” before entering the workforce.

Free spaces for teens and unhoused people

Matilda, 15, enjoys doing schoolwork with friends at libraries on the weekends.

“We were gonna go to this really nice library in Manhattan, but it’s not open anymore on Sundays,” Matilda said.

Her group ended up going to a cafe to work, but relying on businesses as study spaces can be expensive for teenagers. Hillary, 17, goes to the library to study whenever it’s too loud at home to focus.

 “Also, finding random books to read whenever I’m bored,” Hillary said.

The teens both found a sense of community through BPL’s internship program.

“We’re with a bunch of other teenagers and it’s really nice because we get to meet new people,” Matilda said.

Hillary points out there are a lot of activities for teens at libraries, like DIY button-making and knitting groups.

“That’s also [a] little fun thing to do to de-stress,” Hillary said.

Growing up, she spent her summers bike-riding across the city with friends.

“It’d be really hot, so we would go to libraries to cool down because of the AC,” Hillary said.

As climate experts predict another excessively hot summer for the city, access to free air conditioning is crucial, especially for those who are unhoused. New York City designates many libraries as cooling centers where neighbors can take advantage of the facilities’ air conditioning. But even branches without an official designation often become spaces for city-goers to beat the heat.

“We don’t ask people why they’re here,” Schonhat said. “They might come in for a little relief but then go out again.”

 Librarians always find a way

Even when the doors closed on Sundays at Central Library, access to some of the library’s resources continued, such as the Wi-Fi, which extends to the outside plaza, where there are tables and chairs. 

This change was made during the pandemic lockdowns when workers realized that many people were still accessing the Internet from outside.

“We left [the Wi-Fi] on, on purpose,” said Bodenheimer. Even though no one was in the building, the number of people using it was high.”

Many of BPL’s resources are available online 24/7, such as checking out audiobooks or e-books.

“You can use a database to do research for a paper or for your genealogy project or learn a new language,” said Bodenheimer.

Additionally, BPL has a Books by Mail program for those who are homebound. 

“We also have a librarian who calls and checks on you and [asks] ‘Hey, what books do you want this week?’” said Bodenheimer.

The program is mainly utilized by older adults, who have referred to it as “a lifeline,” according to Bodenheimer.

“Even though [they] can’t physically come to the library, by reading a book, [they] can go somewhere else, or [they] can be connected to other people, or [they] can stay connected to the news,” said Bodenheimer

What’s next

114 – Christine Schonhart, director of the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, says the lack of Sunday service has been tough on the community. Credit: Jill Webb

After the mayor announced future possible cuts, the presidents of BPL, The New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library systems expressed their disappointment in a joint statement: “We’ve already lost seven-day service citywide, and are looking at most branches being open for only five days a week should these cuts go through.”

Adams’ proposed budget does include restored funding for the NYPD. 

“​​I don’t understand why they’re doing the cuts of the library,” Lambey said. “They have money for wars, they have money to give to all these other countries, but they don’t have money to support people that really need the resources.”

“This is the one place that we should not be cutting funding from,” Vanessa, the tutor, said. “This is where our kids grow. This is where we develop.”

Adams and City Council leaders have until July 1 to negotiate a budget agreement. 

Despite budget cuts, library workers say they will continue to serve communities in whatever way possible. But for those who rely on libraries, the hope is that one day they will get more funding, not less. 

“I need this library,” Mathurin said. “I need all the libraries.”

If your library is closed during the only time you can visit, and you need access to computer services, NYC Parks and Recreation has 32 media labs in rec centers throughout the boroughs. Some have weekend hours. Customers can use PCs, Macs, and other equipment including digital and video cameras, and software such as Adobe Creative Cloud.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.