This is the opportunity that the Queens Library, one of the borough’s greatest institutions, has to offer. Investing in the library is investing in the people of Queens.
Thanks to an improved fiscal outlook, the city is well positioned to begin to expand library service and hours in every library, which is something our patrons want and need. This means increased access to programs: adult education, job preparedness, school work assistance, computer use, consumer health information and more.
As a city, we must continue investing in the physical infrastructure that protects the assets of each of our 62 community libraries and the knowledge and educational dividend they return. To miss this opportunity based on sensational headlines and unproven innuendo would truly be a disservice to the people who rely on the Library.
I have been a volunteer on the Board of Trustees of Queens Library since 2000. I volunteer my time and expertise because I know firsthand about the enormous, positive impact the Queens Library makes on the community. The Queens Library is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking public resources we have. It is consistently a national award winner.
Queens Library’s outstanding performance and invaluable contributions to the quality of life cannot be divorced from its management and governance. If the board or the senior management were lacking, surely the library could not achieve the high level of excellence that it does.
The library has an outstanding track record regarding capital improvements to its community library branches. It works with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to consistently build and upgrade libraries across the borough.
When it can achieve building projects more rapidly and at lower cost by self-managing the construction process, it has done so. All expenditures of city funds are then under the oversight of DDC, the Office of Management & Budget and the Comptroller’s office.
While an onerous review process, it is a customary and necessary part of the public review which enables this highly efficient, both in time and money, renovation of library space. It makes good business sense and is prudent public policy. In addition, the Queens Library recently requested that the Independent Budget Office review and analyze this process.
The Queens Library Board of Trustees has regularly taken aggressive action to enhance our governance practices. We are not above criticism and not averse to making changes.
The library’s Board of Trustees has been ahead of the curve in implementing the mandates of the New York State Non-Profit Revitalization Act. This action, ahead of the law’s implementation in July, has established a new library board Audit Committee and requires trustees and key employees to provide financial disclosures, as well as meet required independence mandates. All of these actions are geared toward enhancing oversight and transparency.
As taxpayers, we all have the right to know that funds are being spent prudently. The Queens Library is providing records of all city funds to the Comptroller’s Office, and as of this writing, the office has already reviewed thousands and thousands of financial records.
I am confident that when the cloud clears, when the inquiries and audits are completed, that the integrity of the library and its leadership will be confirmed.
In the end it is critical to stay focused on the mission of the institution and our role, as trustees, in its future: to reinvest and serve as caretakers for one of the nation’s great library systems and the more than 12 million constituents it serves each and every year.
Joseph Ficalora is president of the Foundation Board and has served on the Queens Library Board over the past 15 years, and in that time, has been chairman of the Administrative Committee and chairman of the Board.