In Our Opinion
Mar 24, 2009 | 6718 views | 0 0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This week has been dominated by talk of A.I.G. and corporate greed, exorbitant executive bonuses and the Obama Administration's cautious approach to handling the scandal.

Yet for most city residents, the tens of millions of dollars floating from hand to hand and lofty financial debates in Congress are a far-away fairytale.

In Brooklyn and Queens, the city's two largest boroughs, people have their own problems to worry about. Problems such as less access to books (we'll get to that) which in comparison may seem smaller, but in fact means just as much if not more to the people trying to solve them. First, a short, familiar list:

The country is shedding more than half a million jobs every month; the national unemployment rate is over 8 percent; the MTA is planning to increase fares by at least 25 percent; and the foreclosure crisis is hitting homeowners in Brooklyn and Queens, where hundreds of small businesses have closed in the past year.

People are taking whatever work there is, if they can find it, often working in places they would have never imagined themselves in only one year ago. People are switching careers, twenty-somethings who can afford it are dodging the workplace by returning to school (or leaving the country entirely, for long spells abroad as volunteers or travelers in places - the Galapagos Islands, Thailand - they always dreamed of visiting).

Studies have shown that periods of economic crisis stimulate creative growth and indeed, in a growing trend, people are pursuing wacky, out-of-the-box business ideas because, well, why not?

With less expendable income than anyone can remember in recent years, families are cutting back wherever possible - fewer meals out, or even slices of pizza, a freeze on new purchases, as shopping statistics show, certainly no vacation. Instead, for fun, just as for work, Brooklyn and Queens residents are tapping their creative sides. Looking for that free museum event listed in the paper, waiting for spring, and long weekend days in the park.

Not surprisingly, people are flocking to the library, which brings us back to those wonderful ancient things: books.

The Brooklyn library experienced a 13 percent surge in usage in February, and 450,000 people attended free events throughout the Queens library system in fiscal year 2007, which ended as the economic crisis broke. That number will surely increase this year. Or will it?

Sadly, the latest victims of the recession are our libraries. As the recession unfolded - as the housing crisis exploded, the stock market collapsed, and yes, financial institutions like A.I.G. that were bailed out by the government even as they paid off top executives - people could at least count on their local library. Not anymore.

In its proposed budget the city has slashed funding for the Brooklyn and Queens libraries by $17 million and $14 million, respectively. Almost 500 library employees will lose their jobs. Library hours are slated to be reduced by as much as 33 percent, leaving less time for people to escape reality with the help of a good story. While the kingmakers in Washington argue over millions, wouldn't it be nice, at the very least, to know our libraries are safe?

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