Velma Morton is on her feet all day. As she walks through the 125th Street Library, she is approached by both patrons and staff members with questions; she helps at the front desk when the line grows increasingly long; and, despite the crowd, she gives one visitor a tour of the building.
Morton is the manager of the New York Public Library’s 125th Street branch—not the easiest of jobs. “Once we open these doors at 12 o’clock, all of our laptops are used, all of our table PC’s are used, and all of the chairs have bodies in them,” she said. “So, we’re here and the patrons are using us.”
Overcrowding is only one of the problems the branch faces. Aging and crumbling facilities are a big problem and that branch is not alone in such struggles. The presidents of the City’s three library systems—The Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library—released a report in March asking for 65 million dollars to be restored to the operating budget and 1.4 billion dollars over the next 10 years for branch repairs and modernizing. Amy Geduldig, a senior publicist for the New York Public Library said that the libraries do not have “a sustainable model…to serve the public in the manner that they should be” at this time and the money is necessary in order for the “branches to be safe, secure, inviting places for the public to go.”
The report highlights 10 libraries across the five boroughs that would benefit greatly from the money. The needs of the libraries are diverse. Brownsville Library has “cooling and heating problems,” while Ulmer Park Library has “chronic water problems,” and Hunts Point Library has “malfunctioning windows.”
The 125th Street Library, Morton says, has a whole list of problems. The third floor remains empty and unused. With some funding, she hopes to renovate the space to accommodate an education center, computer labs, and ESL classes.
The library also struggles with water damage, outdated windows, and limited access for patrons with disabilities. With no elevators and stairs leading to every level, Morton said books have to be retrieved for children with disabilities who cannot make the trek to the second floor. She also explained that the ramp leading into the library is extremely slippery if it snows or rains and that if it breaks, it’s expensive to fix.
As one patron, Alexis Guevara, 64, leaves the library, she moves slowly. She pushes a large cart in front of her, and with no ramp leading to the front door, she’s forced to use the stairs. Guevara doesn’t visit the library as much as she used to since almost everything can be found online. But the services the library offers for some, she admits, are irreplaceable.
“There are a lot of people visiting the library and few computers,” she said. “So people are waiting longer and longer for a computer.”
But one of the most inconvenient problems at the branch is the absence of public restrooms. Morton explained that they regularly have to send patrons to the McDonald’s down the street or across the street to the gas station.
“We want to bring the issues that we’re having to our patrons to let them know ‘hey, we’re trying to be more sufficient for your needs and we are willing to fight for these things for you,’” Morton said. “‘This is not just our library because we work here but it is your library, this is your community where you live.’”