May 28, 2022

New Report From NYC Think Tank Looks at Future of All Three New York City Public Library Systems

The Center for an Urban Future reports that New York City’s public libraries have increased circulation by 59 percent and program attendance by 40 percent in the past decade. Computer sessions increased 62 percent in the past five years. Growth was highest in the Bronx, which showed a whopping 134 percent increase in program attendance and 102 percent increase in circulation. (The report covers all three systems in the city: Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Public library, and New York Public Library, which provides service to the boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island.)

Over the same decade, they’ve seen an eight percent cut in funding (adjusted for inflation) and are open fewer hours than libraries in Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Columbus, or even Detroit.

“The public libraries are hugely undervalued by city policymakers,” the report concludes, with the exception of Queens, where libraries have been a priority for local elected officials. Between 2003 and 2012, the Queens borough president spent $24.33 per person on libraries; the Bronx borough president spent $14.37 per person on libraries, and the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island borough presidents all spent less than $8 per person.

Other criticism in the report include that many branches remain subpar, libraries meet only a fraction of the demand for English as a Second Language (ESOL) and GED prep, and the amount raised for renovations and new construction varies drastically by borough. While Queens has $68.79 per person and all of NYPL, $62.41 per person, Brooklyn has just $40.50. (Staten Island, though part of the NYPL, has much less than Manhattan.)–Meredith Schwartz


More from Gary Price, editor of

The new report comes from the Center for an Urban Future and is titled, Branches of Opportunities.

From the Report:

New York City’s public libraries are serving more people in more ways than ever before, and have become an increasingly critical part of the city’s human capital system; but they have been undervalued by policymakers and face growing threats in today’s digital age.

It’s likely reports for many other public libraries would come to a similar conclusion.

Direct to Full Text Report (52 pages; PDF)

Key Findings Infographic

Center for an Urban Future: Key Findings: NYPL 2013


Listen Online

The New Tech City program on WNYC (a New York City public radio station) is airing a seven minute segment about the report and includes a visit to NYPL Labs.

Worth Noting

Last March the Pew Charitable Trust released a report looking at the demands on public library systems Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Columbus (Ohio), Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Queens (NY), San Francisco and Seattle.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.