Advance file photoPublic Library at St. George is among those facing cuts in hours and resources.
Drastic city budget cuts could slash hours at Staten Island's public libraries at a time when record numbers of residents are using them to borrow free books and movies and as an employment resource.
The mayor's budget, which needs City Council approval by June 30, includes a proposed 22 percent cut, or $28.2 million, to the city's libraries.
For the New York Public Library, six-day service -- only restored in 2007 following cuts made in the aftermath of Sept. 11 -- would be lost and 435 employees could be laid off.
This when attendance is up systemwide by 12 percent, much of that by the unemployed searching for jobs, according to Paul LeClerc, president and CEO of the NYPL, which also includes branches in Manhattan and the Bronx. Circulation is also up by more than 17 percent.
Traditionally, LeClerc said, Staten Island's 12 branch libraries have the highest use per capita among all branches. More than 2,000 have used them to look for work in the last year.
A similar uptick in attendance was seen during the Great Depression.
"We have opposing factors on a collision course," LeClerc said during an Advance Editorial Board meeting. "As the recession takes a hold on New Yorkers and Staten Islanders, the libraries are being used more and more.
"DVDS are flying off the shelves by people who can't afford to rent movies. People can't afford books. They are all coming to the library for our free services.
" At the same time, we've potentially got a huge, huge reduction coming that might limit how many hours these places can be open."
LeClerc pressed for a restoration of funding in testimony before the City Council last week and has met privately with several Council members.
"We are not unmindful of the difficulty the city faces, we're just asking for enough to keep us open six days a week," he said.
Many branches would revert to a four- or five-day schedule with average weekly hours reduced from 52 to 32. The cuts would result in 3.4 million fewer visits -- there were 17.5 million in the past year -- including 680,000 by children and young adults.
There would also be 5 million fewer circulated materials.
Also at stake on the Island is family programming, which has seen an increase of 78 percent, and the summer reading programming, up 20 percent last summer from 2007.
Visits by teens are also on the rise.
Attendance at summer programs is expected to spike as parents tell library staff members that they can no longer afford camp tuition, according to Marisa Parish, the library network manager for the Island's branches. They are asking about free activities for their children as an alternative.
"We're expecting more kids and a lot of families," she said.
An e-advocacy campaign prompts visitors to the NYPL Web site to send e-mails to their elected officials and to make donations -- $19,000 has been raised since the pop-up ad was created a little more than two weeks ago and 1,500 letters sent in its first three days.
Tables are set up in the branch libraries asking patrons to do the same.
And celebrity messages are being recorded and teens are creating YouTube videos pleading with the mayor to restore funding.
"The library is such an integral part of so many people's lives," said Deanna Lee, an NYPL spokeswoman. "The loss is great in so many different ways, but what you can't see on paper is the human element."