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BY ZACH WILLIAMS | Advocates want to restore $65 million in cuts to public libraries made since 2008 as city councilmembers negotiate the city’s budget this summer. They have enlisted residents to write reams of support letters. But where the written word reaches its limits, they have another tool in their lobbying arsenal in the form of a toddler-sized puppet who goes by the name Leroy Hudson.
The fuzzy-haired hand puppet appeared at Seward Park Library on June 1, just one of nine scheduled sites across the city where library supporters rallied for increased city funding. He also appeared in a recent video made by staff members at his Hudson Park Library home, at Hudson and Leroy Sts.
Local libraries received $300 million in Mayor de Blasio’s proposed 10-year capital plan, but library representatives say $1.4 billion would more comprehensively address many branches’ aging infrastructure.
“Some libraries are crumbling,” the blue-headed Leroy says in a video. “Some libraries need elevators. Some libraries have leaky roofs. With your support we can give you even more of what you want: more books, more programming, more classes, more bubbles, more music.”
Leroy’s video further urges library supporters to contact city councilmembers, attend rallies and join their letter-writing campaign, which has neared 70,000 participants, according to a New York Public Library spokesperson.
Despite the novel fuzz-covered advocate, library staff were quick to emphasize that Leroy is by no means a full-time “political puppet.” His true role lies in assisting educational programs for young children and babies.
Nonetheless, he added a curious element to the rally at Seward Park Library, according to Lakisha Brown, the library’s manager. She said that the colorful Leroy is a good example of how libraries can accommodate neighborhood needs and present educational resources to children. Yet, only three percent of city library branches are open seven days a week, she noted. And her branch needs window and elevator repairs, she added.
“Libraries are, and have always been, a place where anyone can go to get free access to information,” she said. “And today, that information can be books, or Internet access, or ESOL classes, early-literacy programs, computer training, afterschool programs, even author talks.”
Staff at the Hudson Park Library conceived him as part of the 45th anniversary celebrations of “Sesame Street” last fall. A crowd-sourced fundraising effort financed his production by toy company FAO Schwarz. Dozens of local children voted on his features, which include an orange, puff-ball nose and debonair robe with bow-tie.
Leroy took on a pedagogical role following his debut at an exhibit in honor of the famed children’s TV program. He’s become a prominent attraction for local toddlers and babies as they expand their intellectual horizons through the traditional media of sing-alongs and storybook time at the South Village-area library branch, located at 66 Leroy St.
At a May 29 event held there for infants, library staffer Chris Ruiz played the guitar while children’s librarian Kristy Raffensberger helped maestro Leroy conduct.
It was fun and games, but with plenty of mental stimulation for several dozen young minds. The branch’s infant and toddler patrons responded with glee to the enthusiastic renditions of childhood sing-alongs.