Michael Wong spends most of his time surrounded by thousands of books, but you won’t see him reading from the Harry Potter series anytime soon.
“I hate books,” said Wong, a phrase he often tells his co-workers jokingly.
For most of the week, Wong, 47, a senior librarian works full time maintaining books and collections, helping customers and manning the check out desk at Queen’s Library Broadway Branch.
He is also a delegate for the Local 1321, a Queens Library union that’s been fighting for higher wages and an increase in staff – especially after cut backs from the City and the library’s constant contracting out to outside workers. The shortage of staff is often due to multiple reasons: retiring librarians, a lack of new hires and most of all, librarians who look for higher wages in the tri-state area.
And according to Wong the difference in salary is often not for much more.
“Sometimes they leave and it’s for a few thousand more,” said Wong.
According to salary.com and the American Library Association, the average yearly salary of a Queens Librarian is $50,000 as opposed to New Jersey — $50,765 — and Connecticut — $54,080.
“The fight to fund public libraries comes down to money to fund staff,” said Aliqae Geraci, chair of salaries and status committee at the American Library Association and Industrial and Labor Unions Research Librarian at Cornell University. “Library workers make the libraries happen and provide early childhood literacy programs our communities rely on.”
The staff is often stretched so thin that they “routinely” cover other branches, said Wong, leaving one person to cover two floors at the Broadway Branch. On Tuesdays the branch doesn’t open until 2 p.m. to make time for work (such as managing the collections and professional development training sessions) that can’t be done with multiple customers continuously coming in with a need for help.
“We don’t have the staff. We try to provide as much help as we can,” said Wong. “It can be difficult.”
Wong also said he often feels sympathy for part-time employees, like the security guards and the pages who shelve the books.
“Some of them have families and they take on the task of regular staff,” said Wong, who often takes on duties beyond his job title as well.
“He covers for me sometimes,” said Eva, a security guard stationed outside of the children’s room at the Broadway Branch. “When I go out to lunch or need to get some air.”
“He’s a sweetheart,” said Eva referring to Wong.
Wong, who describes himself as more of an “information person,” started working at the New York Public Library in the 1990s and can still recall the numbers for sections of the Dewey-Decimal Classification System from memory.
From there he moved to Queen’s Library and has been there for 14 years.
“When you work in the library long enough you know these numbers,” said Wong after telling a customer the books on history of New York can be found in “974.71” but the history of traveling in New York is in “914.47.”
But although Wong said he “appreciates working in the library and having a job that carries benefits,” he noticed there was some “grievances” his colleagues were apprehensive to address.
It was during that time Wong decided to join Local 1321 — especially after noticing that a lot of his co-workers weren’t aware of their rights. For example, workers have the right to request compensated time if the temperature in the library exceeds 85 degrees or falls below 62 degrees. He or she can even request to move to another location for the duration if it is a prolonged issue.
It’s almost all Wong can do as the fight for higher living wages and better working conditions continues for Local 1321 – that and occasionally enjoy a non-fiction book.