Despite evidence that Galante has spent excessive library funds on renovations to his own office and that he hired a friend to do the construction, the board voted to keep Galante in office while the city conducts an audit of the library.
Then, when Comptroller Scott Stringer requested the library’s financial records for the audit, the board voted to only share documents related to the spending of public funds, or about 80 percent of the library’s funding. The rest of the funding comes from the state and federal government and private donations, which the library will keep private.
This behavior from the board is both incomprehensible and unacceptable. No matter what the truth of the situation is or what the reasons are for the board’s decisions, the public perception of the Queens Library is now that they have something to hide.
As an institution providing a municipal service, the members of the board owe it to city residents to give them a full picture of how funds are being spent. It was reported that library spokeswoman Joanne King said the library’s refusal to share all of their financial records is in line with the ideals of the library’s founder, Andrew Carnegie, who wished for the library to be free from governmental control.
The issue, however, is not that the government wants to decide the financial practices of the Queens Library. The issue is that now the patrons who support the library have reason to distrust an institution that is supposed to provide a public service to all. The library’s commitment to the community that they serve is more important than any concerns they could have about government intrusion.
Board members should consider another ideal from founder Andrew Carnegie, who once said, “There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”
Libraries have a long history of providing equal opportunities for people of all economic backgrounds. How can residents continue to support a board that does not run its institution in a way that aligns with the principals on which it was founded? If there is one institution in which greed, secrecy and monetary distrust do not belong, and democracy rules all, it is, as Carnegie puts it, the Free Public Library.