Queens library system turns the page

Textbooks in a library.
Textbooks in a library. Photo Credit: @abettertsq via Twitter

Dennis Walcott is a name familiar to many as the former chief executive of the New York Urban League and former chancellor of the NYC Department of Education.

Now, he’s focusing on the libraries of Queens.

As hoped for, the Queens Public Library’s board of trustees brought in an outsider to serve as its new president and CEO. But he’s an outsider with experience in leadership and city bureaucracy, politics and budget. Walcott can navigate that world while grounding the Queens library system in better practices, from finance to ethics. He can turn attention to the branches themselves by raising money, adding resources and transforming each one into an updated community center so critical to the economically and ethnically diverse borough.

By hiring Walcott, the library takes another step in its recovery from an embarrassing scandal: As CEO, Thomas Galante spent library funds on personal expenses, like meals, liquor and concert tickets, and raised executives’ salaries while cutting branch hours and staff. His chief operating officer, Bridget Quinn-Carey, also misused library funds, and said nothing about her boss’ practices. So, it’s good that Quinn-Carey, who served as the interim CEO after Galante, did not get the job permanently.

Walcott has no background in libraries and must learn quickly. He has to fill executive slots with smart and ethical managers. He must continue to transform the system’s culture, expand financial transparency and oversight, gain the staff’s trust, and woo old and new financial supporters.

Most important, he must focus on Queens’ 62 branches, and the 2.3 million people they serve. In Queens, nearly half the residents are foreign-born, and 15 percent live below the poverty line. They need their libraries for everything from story time and homework to job searches and community programs. The branches need books, technology and programming, as well as more staff and hours, and they must reflect the diversity of their communities.

Each branch is different, but they’re all critically important. Now, it’s time to make them all success stories.