Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Citizens Defending Libraries Resource And Main Page

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . .  fund 'em, don't plunder 'em 
Citizens Defending Libraries Rally at City Hall 4/18/2013 with Comptroller John C. Liu
NOTICE: WE ARE WORKING ON A NEW MAIN WEB PAGE WE HOPE TO HAVE UP SOON.  (This page will be archived at that time.)

Citizens Defending Libraries was founded in February of 2013 in response to then breaking headlines about how, across the city, our public libraries were proposed to be sold and shrunk, with libraries being intentionally underfunded, their books and librarians eliminated.   During its its as yet short existence Citizens Defending Libraries has had a number of significant successes fending off and preventing library sale and shrinkages and there has been some progress towards restoration of the funding of libraries to a proper pre-library-sales plan level of proper funding, but the libraries are still besieged by the threat of such plans.

This page (which will be periodically updated) provides resources in connection with the petition and campaign to oppose the defunding of New York City's libraries, the shrinkage of the system and the sale of library real estate in deals that prioritize benefit for developers.

Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
The first petition (gathered over 17,000 signature, most of them online- available at signon.org with a background statement and can still be signed).   On June 16, Citizens Defending libraries issued a new updated petition that you can sign now:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
You can also paste the following url into your browser.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/mayor-de-blasio-rescue-2?source=s.tw&r_by=5895137 

This José Marti quote which can be found in this plaque on 41st Street's Library Walk is included in the petition to save New York City's libraries

All libraries in the New York City system are currently under siege.  For more details about affected libraries click here:  What Libraries Are Affected By City Strategy Of Defunding, Shrinking, Selling Off Libraries?

Here are additional action steps you can take that go beyond promoting the petition in order to help this campaign succeed: Action Steps You Can Take Including Contacting Elected and Other Public Officials.

Note about Citizens Defending Libraries (and allied groups) on Facebook and Twitter:   This, or any other of the individual pages at this Citizens Defending Libraries web location can be "liked" on Facebook if you go to the bottom of this page.  In addition, there is a Citizens Defending Libraries Facebook page that can also be "liked" on Facebook at:  Facebook- Citizens Defending Libraries (which will help you get notice of articles and new information pertaining to the cause when there are updates).  You can also follow Citizens Defending @DefendLibraries on twitter.

Our Facebook and Twitter will keep you up to date with the latest news and articles as they come out and allow you to easily share Tweets and posts.

In addition, the Committee to Save the New York Public Library has a Facebook page, and can be followed on Twitter (@saveNYPL).  Library Lovers League also has a Facebook page, and can be followed on Twitter (@LibraryLoversNY).

 News ArticlesAvailable Reference Articles

 •    Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, by Ada Louise Huxtable, December 3, 2012.
“There is no more important landmark building in New York than the New York Public Library, known to New Yorkers simply as the 42nd Street Library, one of the world's greatest research institutions. Completed in 1911 . . . . it is an architectural masterpiece. Yet it is about to undertake its own destruction. The library is on a fast track to demolish the seven floors of stacks just below the magnificent, two-block-long Rose Reading Room for a $300 million restructuring referred to as the Central Library Plan.”
 •    New York Times: Critic’s Notebook- In Renderings for a Library Landmark, Stacks of Questions, by Michael Kimmelman, January 29, 2013.
“this potential Alamo of engineering, architecture and finance would be irresponsible. . . a not-uncommon phenomenon among cultural boards, a form of architectural Stockholm syndrome.”
•    Noticing New York: 
    •    New City-Wide Policy Makes Generation Of Real Estate Deals The Library System’s Primary Purpose, (January 31, 2013).
 “Do we want a shrinking library system for a growing, wealthier city? . .  
     . . .  It’s what we are going to get as the principal purpose of the library system becomes the generation of real estate opportunities for developers.  This new city-wide policy has, in a very harmful way, turned into a perverse incentive for the city to defund libraries and drive them into the ground.”
    •    City Strategy Of Withholding Basic City Services To Blackmail Public Into Accepting Bigger Development, (Friday, February 1, 2013)
    •    What Could We Expect Forest City Ratner Would Do With Two Library Sites On Sale For The Sake Of Creating Real Estate Deals? (Sunday, February 3, 2013)
Two of the sites identified for sale in the forefront of this march towards divestiture of assets with a concomitant shrinkage of the system are in Brooklyn.   . . .  Whether by coincidence or not, both of these sites . .  are immediately adjacent to property the government has previously put in the hands of Forest City Ratner pursuant to no-bid deals . . .
    •    Libraries That Are Now Supposedly “Dilapidated” Were Just Renovated: And Are Developers’ Real Estate Deals More Important Than Bryant Park? (Saturday, February 9, 2013)
    •    If Our Besieged Libraries Could Speak For Themselves: Maybe They Do! A Petition And Efforts To Save New York’s Libraries From Developer Deals, (Wednesday, February 20, 2013)
The greatest shame of such a plan is that it, even if it shakes loose a few real estate deals, maybe a few every year, it is a travesty to continually drives all libraries and the entire system into the ground financially.
•    Center For An Urban Future:  Report - Branches of Opportunity, by David Giles, January 2013
[Libraries] “have experienced a 40 percent spike in the number of people attending programs and a 59 percent increase in circulation over the past decade”
 •    New York City Independent Budget Office:  Funding Cuts Could Shelve Many Library Branches, by Kate Maher and Doug Turetsky, April 13, 2011 
“The funding fall-off is already taking a toll on the city’s three library systems, particularly the systems in Brooklyn and Queens.” . . .“more than three dozen branch libraries may be closed.”  [Bloomberg on a course to bring waning city funding for New York’s three library systems to its] “lowest level since the 1990s.”   [The city’s 59 community boards ranked library services their] “third highest budget concern” . . [and] “Brooklyn’s community boards ranked libraries their top priority.”
.•    The Albert Shanker Institute:  The High Cost Of Closing Public Libraries, by Matthew Di Carlo, April 18, 2011
In fiscal year 2008 (again, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), there were roughly 9,300 public libraries in the U.S., with a total cost of around 10.7 billion dollars. That figure represents roughly 0.4 percent – four tenths of one percent – of all state and local government expenditures. On a per capita basis, this is about 35 dollars per person.  [local-level analyses] “have found that for every dollar we spent on public libraries, the public realizes about 3-5 dollars in benefits.”
•    The Daily News:  Coming to Brooklyn Heights: the incredible shrinking library, patrons and residents charge -- Controversial plan to sell library building to private developer who will build apartment tower over it, by Lore Croghan, February 17, 2013.
. . . a controversial plan to sell the city-owned Brooklyn Heights Library building to a private developer who will erect an apartment tower with a new, 15,000 square foot branch - smaller than the book hall that’s there now.. . . many patrons use the business library like it’s part of their neighborhood branch — and are upset the space will be eliminated.
•     Library Journal: Donnell sale highlights need for transparency in decision-making, by Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief, February 1, 2008
. . . the building that housed Donnell has been sold to make way for a hotel and a much smaller public library. .  (w)ith the proposed library having less than half the space for public services as the old Donnell . . . questions remain about the location of some of the collections. . . More importantly, the breakup of the collections diminishes the role of Donnell as a central library . . .  The decisions . . .  [were] communicated to staff (and in the case of Donnell, to the public) largely after the big decisions have been made.

Should a public/private entity like NYPL. .  so blithely sidestep public and staff input?
[The] Libraries Subcommittee chair of the New York City Council . . . “. . didn't know about the Donnell sale ahead of time.”  “It's troubling . . . in terms of . .  the whole mission of the library.”

. . .  It's way past time for NYPL leaders to come out from behind their cloak of secrecy. .  get staff and public feedback before making any other sweeping changes.
•      Walkers In The City:  Patience and Fortitude, by Romy Ashby. February 22, 2013.
The meeting was crowded with mostly older people hearing the same kind of talk about their library and smelling a rat. “The 42nd Street library isn’t the only library in trouble,” a man said. “It’s the whole library system.” A lady in her seventies told of standing up to Robert Moses and winning. “We’re not gonna watch our libraries be demolished!” she said. “We want the library we have, nothing less! The minute you give in to their conditions you’re finished! You get bupkis!” I sat and listened, and some of what I heard was this:

The city is deliberately underfunding the libraries despite library use being way up. Perfectly good libraries are being labeled ‘Dilapidated’ to justify their destruction. Librarians have been warned to sound enthusiastic if asked about any such plans. The money from the sale of libraries will not go back into the library system, despite what library brass may say. . .
•        The Leonard Lopate Show: Controversy at the New York Public Library, Scott Sherman, a contributing writer for The Nation and Caleb Crain, a former Fellow at the NYPL and author of American Sympathy, talk about the proposed changes, staffing cuts and construction plans, March 12, 2012.



•       The Nation: Upheaval at the New York Public Library, by Scott Sherman, November 30, 2011.

•       The Nation: The Hidden History of New York City’s Central Library Plan: Why did one of the world’s greatest libraries adopt a $300 million transformation without any real public debate?, by Scott Sherman, August 28, 2013.
 For two years, the NYPL has refused to discuss the CLP in detail, and many questions remain unanswered. How and why did one of the world’s greatest libraries get into the real estate business? How did the CLP, which was formulated between 2005 and early 2007, advance into late 2011 without any significant public debate or discussion? Who first conceived the idea of demolishing book stacks that were constructed by Carrère and Hastings in the first decade of the twentieth century? What role did the Bloomberg administration play in the creation of the CLP? Finally, what was the role of Booz Allen Hamilton—the gargantuan consulting firm whose tentacles reach into the defense, energy, transportation and financial service sectors—which was hired by the NYPL in 2007 to formulate what became known inside the trustee meetings as “the strategy”?
•       The Wall Street Journal: Clueless at the Corcoran- What the museum's latest bad decision says about nonprofit governance, by Eric Gibson, February, 24, 2014.
. . .  the untold story of our time is the emerging crisis in nonprofit governance, where boards embark on policies that go against-and even imperil-the mission of the institution they are charged to oversee and protect.

. . . The New York Public Library wants to gut its magnificent Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue and change it from a research institution to, as Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in this newspaper, "a state-of-the-art, socially interactive, computer-centered" circulating library, with fewer books, a good number of them moved off-site.
•       The Brooklyn Eagle (Exclusive): Brooklyn Public Library in line for audit, says Comptroller Stringer, by Mary Frost, February, 28, 2014.
Groups opposing the controversial sales of Brooklyn and Manhattan library branches to developers have long been pushing for an audit of the BPL and NPL systems. . .

“Some of the things raised with respect to the Queens library system are interesting and worth investigating but the Queens expenditures ($140K for a conference deck) are penny ante compared to the library sales at the NPL and the BPL,” commented Michael D. D. White, a founding member of Citizens Defending Library, following a Brian Lehrer interview with Comptroller Stringer. “The Queens Library system has not been selling off libraries like the other two,” White added.
•       City Limits: New Scrutiny of City's Library Trustees- The trustees of the city's library systems oversee more than 200 branches and the spending of hundreds of millions of city dollars. How representative of the city are they?, by Suzanne Travers, June 18, 2014.
Over the last year, library trustees have seen more of the spotlight than usual because of moves that put boards at odds with public opinion. . .

* * *
As repositories of information available to anyone who walks through the door, libraries have always helped foster transparency, accountability and democracy. Their boards, however, struggle on all three counts.
 
 •      The Brian Lehrer Show: Giving Libraries Their Due, David Giles, research director at the Center for an Urban Future and the author of the report, "Branches of Opportunity", argues that New York City's public libraries deserve even more support in the digital age. (Click below to listen) January 15, 2013.
More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.


Chart from the Independent Budget Office- Adjustments for inflation (per the Urban Future report) shows downturn in starkest relief.
Meville House article on Citizens Defending Libraries event used picture from July rally where Bill de Blasio joined CDL to call for a halt to these library sales.  Video of event on CDL's Youtube channel.
  •      Melville House: Citizens Defending Libraries calls the Central Library Plan “a real estate grab” and “contrary to the public interest”, by Claire Kelley, February 19, 2014.
Citizens Defending Libraries, which was co-founded by Michael D. D. White and Carolyn McIntyre, has been organizing protests and actions against the Central Library Plan. They have told us that they are continuing to solicit "petition signatures to ensure the de Blasio administration scraps all of the Bloomberg library sell-off plans.". .

. . . Citizens Defending Libraries is just now arriving at our first anniversary, just blowing out the single candle on our birthday cake.  We formed in response to breaking headlines at the very beginning of last year about how libraries were being sold off at the end of the Bloomberg administration in deals that would benefit real estate developers, not the public.
 
  •      New York Times: Denying New York Libraries the Fuel They Need, by Jim Dwyer, April 23, 2015.
The city's libraries - the fusty old buildings, and a few spiffier modern ones, . .  have more users than major professional sports, performing arts, museums, gardens and zoos - combined.

* * * *

Over the last decade, they have not gotten anywhere near the kind of capital funding enjoyed by sports teams.

From the 2006 fiscal year through 2014, the city budgeted at least $464 million to build new baseball stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets, and $156 million for the Barclays Center. That's $620 million for just those three sports arenas - a sum more than one-third greater than the $453 million that the city committed for capital improvements to the its 206 branch libraries and four research centers, which serve roughly seven times as many people a year as attend baseball games. (The budget figures were provided by the city's Independent Budget Office; the teams are getting an additional $680 million in subsidies spread over 40 years.)
For decades, the libraries have served a single function in the city budget process: hostages. Mayors say they have to cut library hours to make the financial books balance.. .
 Additional Links. For more in a running series of Noticing New York articles about the libraries click here: Libraries Series.  Also, here are pages with articles that reference respectively 1.)  The Central Library Plan affecting the Tilden Astor Central Reference Library at 42nd Street, the Mid-Manhattan, Library, SIBL and the Donnell, 2.) The Brooklyn Heights libraries, and The Pacific Branch library, and 3.) Libraries in general.  



Foreground: The lion Patience , of Patience and Fortitude fame, in front of 42nd Street Research Library, whose research stacks will be sacrificed.  Background:  Mid-Manhattan Library that will be sold in system shrinkage plans
Flyers and Handouts Images, Cartoons, Flyers, Handouts Posters 

For images and cartoons for posters, rallies and handouts CLICK HERE.  For flyers and handouts for canvassing and getting the word out about the petition CLICK HERE.

Videos

Citizens Defending Libraries is making videos available on the Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.  Selected videos from that channel can also be found here in the Video Page.

Related Petitions

(It is expected more will be added to this list with accompanying explanations)

**** Citizens Defending Libraries is right now is working with the Committee to Save the New York Public Library and Library Lovers League to make sure every signs and (electronically) sends this email to the mayor (CCs are going to other elected officials): Email the Mayor!  ****


There is another separate petition (currently over 1300 signatures) by the Committee to Save the New York Public Library that has been up for some time and specifically opposes the Central Library Plan in Manhattan:

    Anthony W. Marx: Reconsider the $350 million plan to remake NYC's landmark central library

The following petition to save Long Island College Hospital (LICH) is relevant to the save the libraries petition, particularly for the residents of Brooklyn Heights and Northwest Brooklyn, because of commonality of related issues that were explained at the annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting and in the following article:  Wednesday, February 13, 2013, One-Stop Petition Shopping: Report On The Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting, LICH and Libraries.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYS Health Department Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah : Keep University Hospital Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital open, by  Assemblywoman Joan Millman

The morning crowd waiting for the Brooklyn Heights downtown library to open
The Petition Being Put Forth By Citizens Defending Libraries


The first petition (gathered over 17,000 signature, most of them online- available at signon.org with a background statement and can still be signed).   On June 16, Citizens Defending libraries issued a new updated petition that you can sign now:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
You can also paste the following url into your browser.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/mayor-de-blasio-rescue-2?source=s.tw&r_by=5895137 

CONTACT: To contact Citizens Defending Libraries email Backpack362 (at) aol.com.

November 7, 2017 (Tuesday) NYC Elections- Voting Options & What Library Defenders Should About Candidates Running For Office

Candidates Steve Levin Victoria Crambranes, both running to be council member representing the 33rd district
Please remember to vote on Tuesday and remind all the library defenders you know to vote too. . .

No matter what, your votes sends a message to our elected officials that you vote and it can send a message* about what you care about, including libraries.
(* NOTE: If you are unhappy with the choices you can send a message by NOT voting particular lines or by writing in alternatives.  And, on things like judges, if you know and like some, but don't know about the others, only vote for the judges you like so you don't dilute your vote.  Voting Green Party can send a message and help that party get their message out better and better over time.)
Here is a roundup of some important voting options this Tuesday when it comes to defending libraries and information about the candidates’ positions and their records on selling libraries.

The second biggest library in Brooklyn was just sold, the central destination Business, Career, and Education Library Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn.  It was sold for a minuscule fraction of its value in a shrink-and-sink-deal mirroring the Donnell Library shrink-and-sink-deal debacle (a central destination library likewise replaced with a luxury tower).

That makes several races on Tuesday all the more important.

Race for 33rd City Council District

One of those important races is the City Council race for the 33rd district where incumbent City Councilman Steve Levin who pushed through that Brooklyn library sale (and let the top floor of the Williamsburg Library be given away) is running against challenger Victoria Cambranes.  The debate between the candidates was very telling.  More information here:
Debate Between Candidates For 33rd NYC Council District, Incumbent Councilman Steve Levin And Challenger Victoria Cabranes

On Eve of 10/29/'17 Debate With Victoria Cambranes, Challenger For His Office, Councilman Steve Levin Sends Transparency Request Letter to Brooklyn Public Library Promised in Spring 2015 (But it's deficient!)
The Race For New York City Mayor

City Councilman Steve Levin could not have pushed through the sale of the second biggest library in Brooklyn had it not been the plan of library-selling Mayor de Blasio who is now also pushing forward other ill-advised library sales like the Inwood Library.

Running against him is a candidate who opposes these sales and has signed out Citizens Defending Libraries Letter of Support.  More information here.
Democratic Primary (September 12, 2017)- Candidates For Mayor: Sal Albanese vs. Bill de Blasio
Race for Public Advocate

For years ago Tish James as Candidate for Public Advocate ran with full-throated statements about how if she was elected she would oppose and stop the sale of city libraries.  But what has she really done when had the chance.  David Eisenbach was running against her and supposedly remains on the Liberal line for the general election (but is apparently not actually on the ballot).  He has spoken out against the library sales and signed our Citizens Defending Libraries Letter of Support.  More information (important about Tish James) here.
Democratic Primary (September 12, 2017)- Candidates For Public Advocate: David Eisenbach vs. incumbent Tish James
Since it looks like you won't find Mr. Eisenbach on the ballot it is all the more important to direct your attention to another candidate running for Public Advocate (who you will not have any problem finding on the ballot), James Lane, whose strong position about not selling libraries was made very clear by him at our Public Advocates Forum.

Race for 35rd City Council DistrictAnother city council race to care about is the City Council race for the 35th district (Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Bed Stuy, and Crown Heights) where incumbent City Council Member Laurie Cumbo is running against challenger Jabari BrisportLaurie Cumbo wholeheartedly backed Councilman Levin’s sale of the second biggest library in Brooklyn and is enthusiastic about library sales generally.  (That’s notwithstanding that when she was running to first obtain office she signed our petition opposing the library sales.)  She is funded by a ton of real estate money and generally characterized as being blindly in that industry’s pocket.

In contrast, challenger Brisport has vigorously opposed the selling of the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights, currently one of the biggest issues in the district with respect to which Cumbo (whom we find untrustworthy when it comes to the sale of public assets) is no better than “ambiguous.” 

An Extra Thought About Why You Should Vote

And just in case you needed an extra push to think about why it is important to vote and why it is important to think about libraries when you vote, you may want to consider this:
How Did Trump Get Elected?: Michael Moore In "Terms of My Surrender" Envisions That It Was A Dumbing Down of the Country That Involved Closing Libraries
The United States is at the bottom of the list of countries in the world in terms of voter turn-out.  And of the fifty states New York is at the bottom of the list in terms of voter turn-out.  That unfortunate fact actually means that your vote counts all the more.  It's an unfortunate fact that can be explained by the way that our elected officials disappoint and fail to represent us when in office.  Still when the choices are wrong we can still send a message that the choices are wrong if we vote and, if necessary, don't vote certain lines or write in candidates.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

On Eve of 10/29/’17 Debate With Victoria Cambranes, Challenger For His Office, Councilman Steve Levin Sends Transparency Request Letter to Brooklyn Public Library Promised in Spring 2015 (But it’s deficient!)

Asking about the letter sent on the eve of the debate . . . And Levin's answer was?
On the afternoon of his October 29, 2017 debate with Victoria Cambranes, the challenger for the NYC 33rd Council District he holds Steve Levin forwarded to Citizens Defending Libraries a version of a letter he had promised in the spring of 2015 to demand transparency from the Brooklyn Public Library about the sale of Brooklyn Libraries and particularly the Brooklyn Heights Library.

It would, of course, be nice for Councilman Levin to have demanded transparency from the BPL about it sale of the library in 2015, before the library sale was approved and consummated.

Another problem, almost as significant, the letter that Councilman Levin so belatedly sent side-steps requesting a lot of the most important information that needs to be requested for the sake of achieving transparency, like what’s the actual cost and public loss associated with selling the library, information about the financial windfall from the transaction to the private Saint Ann's school, what was being spent on high-paid lobbyists to push the library sale transaction forward, and how many books were disappearing from Downtown Brooklyn with the sell-off of this central destination library, the second biggest in Brooklyn.

Citizens Defending Libraries has been pursuing Councilman Levin for some time now to have Councilman Levin fulfill his fundamental obligation to work with the community to obtain this transparency.  But Councilman Levin has been avoiding it.  See:
Councilman Stephen T. Levin Comes To Speak About His Approving The Sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library at Independent Neighborhood Democrats Meeting- Doesn't Answer Questions Asked, Including Whether & When He Will Insist on Transparency from the BPL (Thursday, February 18, 2016)
 Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats passed a resolution asking for such transparency that Councilman Levin did not respond to.  See:
Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats Resolution Calling Upon Councilman Steve Levin To Demand Transparency From Brooklyn Public Library Respecting Its Library Sales. ( Thursday, April 28, 2016)
Not surprisingly the question of the letter came up during Councilman Levin’s debate with Victoria Cambranes.  It was during the Q&A.  You can hear it specifically addressed in the video below starting at minute 1:20.

From Victoria Cambranes Facebook Page- Preserved Live Stream Part 2 (for best possible viewing also click through to Facebook posting also posted on the Citizens Defending Libraries page.)



In the exchange of communications below you will find the letter Councilman sent to BPL president Linda Johnson dated October 27, 2017, Councilman Levin’s debate afternoon transmittal of it to Citizens Defending Libraries and the reply that day of Citizens Defending Libraries noting its insufficiencies with an itemization of what was drafted and left out of the letter.
October 29, 2017
Dear Councilman Levin,

Thank you for letting us know you sent the October 27, 2017 letter below.

A quick review looks to me as if the letter that you have now sent out to BPL president Johnson as you were promising back in the spring of 2015 asks president Johnson to supply some information in exactly the same form the BPL has previously been stating it for PR purposes (and therefore, we believe, in a somewhat obfuscatory manner) and it sidesteps asking for the following information needed for real transparency (previously identified as drafted below):
    •    Information about the true and complete costs to the public of selling and shrinking this library as proposed.  That includes:
    •        The current value, from the public’s perspective, of the recently expanded and fully upgraded library being given up (i.e. not from the perspective of the acquiring developer who sees its value as less than that of a vacant lot).
    •        What it would cost to replace the asset that is being given up (including land and development rights), in total apparently well over $120+ million.
    •        All the costs, including construction and design, associated with moving the Business, Career and Education functions of the library from Downtown Brooklyn and reestablishing them at the Grand Army Plaza Library.  Also please supply the date and details about when those Education functions were moved from Grand Army Plaza to the Brooklyn Heights Library because of, as I understand it, the shortage of space at Grand Army Plaza.
    •        It should also include all the costs of disruptions and what the public must forgo and bear to undergo this transaction.  That should include, among other things, the cost of moving books back and forth as well as storing them off-site.
    •    The background communications between the BPL and the Department of Design and Construction based upon which representations about the acceptability and suitability of the air conditioning at the Brooklyn Heights Library were made to this council district’s office, back when David Yassky held my office, before any planned sale and shrinkage of the library.  Information has also been requested and not furnished to the public about the air conditioning repair firm, Performance Mechanical Corporation, that the BPL engaged in an extended multi–year contract for its entire system not all that long before problems with the Brooklyn Heights Library’s and a number of other air library’s air conditioning systems started receiving attention.  Early analysis in this regard about the Brooklyn Heights Library (2007/2008) by Karen Backus and communications regarding the air conditioning have also not been provided.

    •    Information about your communications with the city’s Landmarks Commission about which historic libraries might get designated as such, and which libraries the BPL has indicated it would, instead, prefer to push forward into real estate deals avoiding such likely appropriate designation.

    •    Further, it is my impression that in a time when the scarcity of available funds is cited as troubling, the BPL is spending a considerable amount of money on consultants and lobbyists in connection with its promotion of its real estate plans for libraries.  The requested information about this has not been furnished.  It is a matter about which the BPL needs to be forthcoming.  That includes monies paid to Booz & Co., BerlinRosen, WSP Flack & Kurtz, K&K Property Solutions, Ed Tettemer and Mo (Maureen) Craig for branding and PR advice.

    •    Information about book counts: what they have been, what they are now and what they are intended to be in the future.  For instance, the BPL and the architect representing it, and the developer in this regard have not been able to state what the book shelf capacity of the entire Brooklyn Heights Library (we are not talking about supposed branch sub-component) has historically been, or what it is intended to be in the future.  Information respecting the entire system would be relevant.

    •    All communications with Saint Ann's School respecting development rights and the Brooklyn Heights Library. As you know (to provide perspective on this), what Saint Ann's School will net in income, motivating it to push for this transaction is proportionately more in the scheme of things given that half the city’s development rights were already transferred to Forest City Ratner in 1986. Saint Ann’s, with all its extra development rights still intact, doesn’t have to tear down its own building or incur a loss to cash in. By contrast, the library’s potential sale of its air rights is not such a painless transaction or opportunity.
So for instance, besides not asking about the costs of selling the Brooklyn Heights Library, you chose to ask about book counts for the Downtown Brooklyn Heights Library not regarding it as Brooklyn's second biggest library, a central destination library, but only about books that the BPL might nominally assign as associated with its branch functions.

Nevertheless, obtaining the Strategic Real Estate plan and the Revson Study will be important (we may have actually obtained the latter now, but have yet to confirm this to be the case).

MICHAEL D. D. WHITE
Citizens Defending Libraries

* * * *

From: Levin, Stephen <SLevin@council.nyc.gov>
To:  [Michael D. D. White & Carolyn McIntyre]
Sent: Sun, Oct 29, 2017 3:12 pm
Subject: Letter to BPL President Johnson

Dear Michael and Carolyn,
Below please find the text of the letter that I sent to BPL President Johnson on Friday, October 27, 2017. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Steve

Stephen Levin
New York City Council Member, District 33

October 27, 2017


Linda Johnson
President, Brooklyn Public Library
10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238


Dear President Johnson,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing at this time because, as it has been almost two years since the Council's approval of the disposition and sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to Hudson Companies and its subsequent development, I think it is a good time to circle back on some of the issues that were debated during that process. As you know, many members of the public and constituents of the 33rd District, who were both for and against this action, were very passionate about preserving our libraries, both in terms of their physical spaces and in terms of the services that are provided to the public in our libraries. Many of those constituents continue to ask me for additional information pertaining to BPL.

As you know, one of the primary reasons why BPL pursued the disposition and sale at Brooklyn Heights to Hudson Companies was to help address the significant capital needs throughout the entire BPL system. In light of that consideration, I am requesting that BPL provide me information regarding the current financial picture at BPL.

I would appreciate any information that is available regarding the funds that were generated by the disposition and sale at Brooklyn Heights.. Specifically, I am asking:

-How much funding was generated by the sale?
-To which capital needs will the proceeds of the sale be directed?
-Are there additional real estate transactions throughout the system that BPL is continuing to consider along the lines of the Brooklyn Heights sale? I have heard for some years about a "strategic real estate" plan and "Revson study"-do these documents exist and can you provide them to me?
-Can you provide me with any current documents that present an overview of BPL's financial situation such as you provide to members of your board?

Also, with regard specifically to the Brooklyn Heights branch, can you provide me with the book count of Brooklyn Heights branch at his highest number prior to its disposition (both the local branch and the business branch) compared to the proposed replacement branch? Lastly, can you provide a similar comparison regarding the amount of shelf space at the Brooklyn Heights branch before and after the sale.

Thank you very much for your consideration and l look forward to continuing to work with you to further a love of learning for all Brooklyn residents.

Best regards,
Stephen Levin
Councilmember, 33rd District

Debate Between Candidates For 33rd NYC Council District, Incumbent Councilman Steve Levin And Challenger Victoria Cabranes

Councilman Levin vs. challenger Cambranes at debate in Brooklyn Commons
Sunday, October 29, 2017 at 7:00 PM a debate took place between the Candidates in the November 7, 2017 election for 33rd NYC Council District, incumbent Councilman Steve Levin and challenger Victoria Cabranes.

You can watch the video of the debate below and we will be adding to it with additional posts.

On the afternoon of his October 29, 2017 debate with Victoria Cambranes Steve Levin forwarded to Citizens Defending Libraries a version of a letter he had promised in the spring of 2015 to demand transparency from the Brooklyn Public Library about the sale of Brooklyn Libraries and particularly the Brooklyn Heights Library.

It would, of course, be nice for Councilman Levin to have demanded transparency from the BPL about it sale of the library in 2015, before the library sale was approved and consummated.

Another problem, almost as significant, the letter that Councilman Levin so belatedly sent side-steps requesting a lot of the most important information that needs to be requested for the sake of achieving transparency, like what’s the actual cost and public loss associated with selling the library, information about the financial windfall from the transaction to the private Saint Ann's school, what was being spent on high-paid lobbyists to push the library sale transaction forward, and how many books were disappearing from Downtown Brooklyn with the sell-off of this central destination library, the second biggest in Brooklyn.

More about that here:
On Eve of 10/29/'17 Debate With Victoria Cambranes, Challenger For His Office, Councilman Steve Levin Sends Transparency Request Letter to Brooklyn Public Library Promised in Spring 2015 (But it's deficient!)
From Victoria Cambranes Facebook Page- Preserved Live Stream Part 1 (for best possible viewing also click through to Facebook posting also posted on the Citizens Defending Libraries page.)



From Victoria Cambranes Facebook Page- Preserved Live Stream Part 2 (for best possible viewing also click through to Facebook posting also posted on the Citizens Defending Libraries page.)


xx

The Brooklyn Commons hosting the event also produced a viewable live stream that you can watch, but you may find the sound gets to low after about the first eight minutes.
Viewable live stream produced by the Brooklyn Commons
We are working on a Citizens Defending Libraries video of the event.

There is said to be more development going on in Brooklyn than anywhere else in the United States right now and the 33rd Councilmatic District is almost certainly topping the list of where in Brooklyn that development is occurring during the eight year period that Councilman Levin, now running for his third term, has been in office.

With three bulges that snake along the Brooklyn waterfront, The 33rd council district where Steve Levin currently holds the seat covers Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Fulton Ferry and Dumbo, Boerum Hill, Vinegar Hill, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and neighboring public housing projects, Greenpoint, Williamsburg.

PRESS COVERAGE OF DEBATE

•    Brooklyn Eagle: Levin to debate challenger Cambranes Sunday in Brooklyn City Council race, by Mary Frost, October 26, 2017

•    Brooklyn Eagle: New York City Council District 33 candidates Levin, Cambranes debate in Boerum Hill, by Andy Katz, October 30, 2017

•    King County Politics: Levin-Cambranes Debate Gentrification and Rapid Development In Northern Brooklyn, By Kelly Mena, October 30, 2017

•    King County Politics: Cambranes Is Here For The People & Is Looking To Bring Integrity and Transparency Back To City Hall, by  By Kelly Mena,  October 30, 2017

 •    Greenpoint Star: Levin defends record in office at City Council debate, by Benjamin Fang, October 31, 2017



Friday, October 13, 2017

How Did Trump Get Elected?: Michael Moore In “Terms of My Surrender” Envisions That It Was A Dumbing Down of the Country That Involved Closing Libraries

Michael Moore, the Film maker and activist provocateur, is currently on Broadway in “Terms of My Surrender,” his one man show still playing through October 22nd.  If you can get out to catch it before it closes do.  If you are an activist you will be rewarded.  If you are worried about what’s happening to this country you are more likely to come out an energized activist with some clearer thoughts about what to do.

And Mr. Moore surmises in his show, at least the version of it that we (two of the co-founders of Citizens Defending Libraries) caught, that defunding and closing libraries, dumbing down this country, has likely helped set us on this path.

Near the beginning of the show Moor asks: How did Trump get elected? . . .

. . .  How did the dumbest person to ever run for president get elected?  (And, parenthetically, how did we lose control of the Supreme Court and both houses of the Congress?)

Providing an answer, Moore envisioned a meeting thirty years ago in Queens when there were discussions to figure out: “How do we get this bozo elected as president of the United States thirty years from now?”

“And somebody said, you know, I’ve got the plan: Let’s start defunding education; let’s start closing libraries; let us buy up newspapers and close those; let’s dumb down this country to such a place where stupid will vote for stupid. - And here we are!”
Michael Moore gets a look at some information about Jared Kushner was involved as a major financial beneficiary in the shrink-and-sink deal disposal of the Donnell Library to replace it with a luxury tower. . .

After the show, we met long enough to have a few words with Mr. Moore by the stage door and he wanted to know more about the closing of New York City libraries.  His bodyguard (Mr. Moore’s activism has engendered attempts on his life) was clearly up on the topic: “Like the library in Inwood,” he instantaneously said.

We gave Mr. Moore information about how Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was involved as a major financial beneficiary in the first major shrink-and-sink deal disposing of the beloved central destination Donnell Library to replace it with a luxury tower. . .

. . . Wouldn’t it be great if that gets incorporated as an expansion of Mr. Moore’s observational reflections on the state of the union?
A nice fellow

Reviews of "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" (Proof of Peril As Unwary Critics Film Fall Into Predictable Traps)

The reviews of "Ex Libris" are in. . . 
A new film about the New York Public Library is out in the theaters: “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library.”

The film is valuable, but likely a misleading trap unless viewed by an informed viewer equipped with warnings about what is missing and not readily apparent from the four corners of the film.  The scenes are far from as neutral and objective, entirely random, as they may seem: Wiseman worked closely with the NYPL’s Chief Officer in charge of PR.  Excluded from the film is any reference to the expensive, ill-advised Central Library Plan that recently imploded or the way that only partially abandoned plan ties in with still ongoing efforts by the NYPL, including some of its most senior staff given a lot of screen time, to sell and shrink NYC libraries in deals that benefit a powerful real estate industry while eliminating the books and the librarians that the public wants.

A more thorough and detailed review of the film by Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder By Michael D. D. White documenting the failures of omission and perspective is available at Noticing New York: "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library"- Reviewing A Film By Film Maker Frederick Wiseman- A "Love Letter" That Exposes NYC libraries To Attack? (Thursday, October 5, 2017).

The Noticing New York review is an essential guide, complete with warnings, for anyone going to see the film who is not already thoroughly informed about the way in which the real estate industry and current power structure threatens to dismantle libraries.  The good news is that, properly informed, viewers will find that parts of the film can could provide good ammunition and for library defenders who to know what they are looking at.

The not so good news is that, as Noticing New York predicts, there are few who will realize that anything “lurks” in the film “that is negative concerning the NYPL or its management” and that much will sail over the heads of people who traipse in thinking there are going to see “a film about how great libraries are”. . .

 . . . Those predictably confused includes most of the film’s other reviewers.  Here is a roundup of reviews “Ex Libris” from which you can gather the extent of that confusion, as well as how misled the general public is likely to wind up concerning what is happening at the libraries if they read these reviews.

However, one important point to keep your bearings: To the extent that Wiseman, the NYPL are anyone else is saying that the libraries are valuable institutions essential to democracy, we are all in agreement.  The necessary and profound objection to Wiseman's film is that by leaving out what he excludes concerning turning libraries into real estate deals he aids and abets the stealth and deceit with shich these attacks on libraries that are typically conducted.

First a few points of overview.

    •    Most critics are uncritically disposed to digest this film as a simple exercise in adoration of the libraries as a sort of `utopia’ or `paradise’ a "seemingly miraculous institution" (a "fantasy"?) where, implicitly, all is right, or relatively right with little need for concern.  The IndieWire review says the “Opus is a Love Letter” to the institution, with Variety concurring that it is a “love letter’ and “a hymn” to the NYPL, The Play List “an extensively detailed, postscripted and footnoted love letter.” The Smithsonian Magazine says that while there are those who would term Ex Libris a cinematic "love letter" to the NYPL, Wiseman himself `dispassionately’ says it is an accurate and compelling portrayal of a significant American place: "It's a fair film about the library's activities," he says.  The LA Times say it’s a “a magisterial mash note” to the library.  And multiple reviewers are adorational also about the senior staff running the libraries (without thought to whether they may be converting libraries to real estate deals): The Chicago Reader describes NYPL President Tony Marx as “urbane”; Variety finds him “deeply engaged and personable” and Chief Library Officer Mary Lee Kennedy “omnipresent”; The Boston Globe says Wiseman was “lucky” to have Marx as a subject as he “leads with charisma and easygoing humor”; The Guardian reviewer says the “NYPL administrators are far from the cliche of jaded bureaucrats” and he if he ever meets “Anthony T Marx, Carrie Welch, Iris Weinshall or Khalil Gibran Muhammad” he wants to give them “enormous bear hug”; The Nation’s reviewer compliments these senior staff people as “serious people talking about critical issues,” and says he did “Internet research” to identify these decision makers “uncaptioned” by Wiseman as Tony Marx, chief library officer Mary Lee Kennedy, ,chief operating officer Iris Weinshall, and vice president for government and community affairs George Mihaltses.  No reviewer, the Nation’s reviewer included, identifies Iris Weinshall as the wide of the powerful Senator Charles Schumer, or indicate as does the Noticing New York review, why that might be a problem, although the Nation’s review is (alone with Noticing New York)  does observe that:
Wiseman has given a much different treatment of the NYPL than you would find, say, in Scott Sherman's book Patience and Fortitude (written in part for The Nation, and published in 2015 just before Ex Libris went into production). Wiseman is interested in librarians as wonderful people
    •    Reviews generally identify the film as being exceptionally long although the reviews split on whether this is a good or bad thing.  Those that suggest cuts generally suggest that the senior staff meeting scenes as their prime candidate for cutting although if you actually know enough these are scenes where there is hidden ammunition for library defenders.

    •    Far too many reviews jump to pick up as the major theme of the film the words of an NYPL hired architect Francine Houben that “libraries are not about books,” that they are not “a storage space for books,” that “libraries are about people.”  That quote was key in the trailer for the film.  Another quote in the trailer picked up and repeated by too many reviewers was a librarian manning an information phone line who with deadpan seriousness explains that a unicorn is only a mythical animal.  For some things the movie trailer is as good a shortcut as the reviews.  In fact, so many reviewers wind up relying so heavily on references to things in the trailer one is temped to guess a few of them took some of their own shortcuts.

    •     Generally the reviews note that the film deals with "change" at the library, sometimes "change" the library is being "forced" to deal with, and that a central theme of the film is how the NYPL will steer into the future.  Casually accepted as if its an expected matter of course, computers, digital and "e-books" get mentioned a lot (partly as a consequence of the film covering senior staff meeting where its a favored topic to mention).  A line from The Ringer review pretty much nails the message most reviewers absorbed: "as one NYPL employee notes, digitization is seen as "the holy grail of the 21st century."

    •    The reviews are almost universal in how they start by assuming that the award-winning Wiseman (including a recent honorary Oscar) stands on a pedestal automatically immune to criticism.  At the outset of nearly each he is introduced to with terms such as "esteemed," "revered," "legendary," "masterful," "beloved," "brilliant," "heroic," "one of our most American artists". . . J.R. Jones writing for the Chicago Reader writes: "Knocking Wiseman may get me thrown out-of my profession-because he's the greatest living documentary maker . "  From this another trope formulates: that since it is revered by Wiseman, the library and the organization of the NYPL as a whole, ought naturally by extension to be as revered  . . .  almost as if it is merged with Wiseman.  The effect becomes nearly religious, kind of a holy trinity: Wiseman, the NYPL and ideals of democracy and education, as the multi-sided manifestations of a single unity.   (Screen International: "an illuminating, informative and gloriously productive match of artist and subject." Film Journal: "Wiseman's latest opus is deserving of widespread regard, much like libraries themselves.")  By contrast, Noticing New York's review, although respectful of Wiseman, is the only one that dares be iconoclastic.  Meanwhile, the feeling of church-like reverie continues with reviewers tending to refer to experience the film as "hypnotic," "mesmerizing," "spellbinding;" the Washington Post tells us, "The cumulative effect is calming, as if we are being invited to bask in the city at its most idealized," and Richard Brody in the New Yorker speaks of the "movie's air of benign, benevolent calm" while Slant speaks of "a sense of quiet . . embodying a dream of unencumbered meditation."

    •    Also lulling is the notion commentators convey that viewers are secure in Wiseman's skilled hands, those of a meticulous, precise, vigilant and rigorous craftsman with with "clear-eyed patience" driven by "curiosity" to do "in-depth examinations" using a "fly-on-the-wall" approach where we will "not being told what to think," but The Guardian assures that watching the film we will arrive at an "almost-transcendent understanding" of the NYPL.

    •    A huge number of reviews noted a brief discussion about how to deal with the city homeless falling asleep in the libraries.  (Only a few reviewers refer to getting dozy watching the film.)

    •    There is chasm between the Noticing New York review which is rich in footnoted warnings about what is missing from the film or what has to be watched carefully, with a jaundiced eye, or with skepticism.  However, to some extent, a careful pastiche of of select observations (the pickings are slim and far between) could provide a skeletal armature for a review paralleling the alarms raised by Noticing New York.
The New Yorker ran two reviews of "Ex Libris," which is interesting in that the editor of The New Yorker is David Remnick who is an active trustee of the NYPL and therefore within the scope of its subject.  NYPL and Central Library Plan critics have long wondered about how The New Yorker has fallen down on the job in covering the cultural threat and turmoil with goings on at the NYPL and speculated that Remnick could have something to to do with it.  Notwithstanding, one of the two New Yorker reviews of "Ex Libris," the one by Anthony Lane, is actually one of the most keenly perceptive, of all the reviews.  Lane asks: "Where are the books? Did they fly away, flapping their pages? Were they drowned by some apocalyptic Prospero? Because they sure ain't here."  He opines that the "omission" where we "scarcely ever " see "someone sitting at a table in the N.Y.P.L., in solitude and silence, and simply reading a book" is "deliberate."  He notes how "one person calls books `physical books,' as if they were an inconvenient subset, and another refers to libraries as 'passive repositories'-a phrase that wrinkles its nose in perceptible scorn."  If Lane had known more he might have have known how some of the tech company-promoted PR stunts he mentions as part of the film are probably not going to be of long-term importance to the future of the library.

Three reviews mention absence of reference in the film to the NYPL's colossally blundering Central Library Plan.  The New York Times says:
For all his access, Mr. Wiseman doesn’t overtly address the Library’s Central Library Plan, a controversial proposal initiated in 2008 that would have involved a radical redesign and new focus — away from research to circulation — for the main branch. Among other goals, the library was seeking to make its flagship more public friendly, a fuzzy term that can serve as a fig leaf for anti-intellectualism. Alarmed that the library was discarding its mission, scholars composed letters that the likes of Salman Rushdie signed, and committees and lawsuits ensued. The expensive plan was scuttled in 2014.
The Times however suggests that "If Mr. Wiseman doesn't openly engage with the debate over the Central Library Plan many of the issues that emerged during that dispute nonetheless reverberate over the course of the documentary, including the overarching question of the library's mission."

Similarly, Film Comment says:
Ex Libris does underplay the recent strategic crisis under much-featured NYPL president Anthony Marx, which threatened to gut the 42nd Street research library and spin off branch buildings under dubious terms. But those controversial plans still reverberate in the film's meeting mantra of balancing public and private partnerships, its boons and its dangers.
Recognition that the "public and private partnerships" oft-mentioned in the film are part of what is perhaps a seriously dangerous imbalancing of the NYPL's mission is critical (although going over the head of most uninformed viewers), but to say that film `underplays' the "recent strategic crisis" is an understatement.  The Times is more correct when it says the film in no way "overtly addresses' the subject.  It doesn't even hint at it, let alone "underplay" it.

As noted, the review in The Nation, also alludes to the non-coverage of the Central Library Plan when it says "Wiseman has given a much different treatment of the NYPL than you would find, say, in Scott Sherman's book Patience and Fortitude (written in part for The Nation, and published in 2015 just before Ex Libris went into production)."

Those who have read Scott Sherman's work and know the full title of his book ("Patience and Fortitude- Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library”) know that real estate grabs helped fuel the despicable aspects of the plan.  Only one review mentions such real estate grabs even though they are still pending and ongoing at the NYPL:  Prairie Miller as part of her Film Review/Wiseman interview of WBAI spoke very pertinently of the peril for libraries of "predatory urban removal developers, intent on demolishing and grabbing the land right under."  Unfortunately, when speaking with Wiseman Ms. Miller never raises the subject of these developers or the land grabs (There's other good coverage on this from WBAI). What's more, she speaks of the film as a "powerful blueprint for saving public libraries" from this scourge which the film definitely is not.

Many reviews seemed to find the NYPL senior staff meetings (often misidentified as "board" meetings) stultifying and would have been happy if they were removed or shortened, others accepted the documentation of such conversations as proof of the unqualified good intentions of those shown and proof positive that the library funding problems are exactly as publicly represented.  Aside from Noticing New York, two reviews found value in not accepting what was said at face value.

Slant speaks of NYPL president Marx's concern with "crafting PR messages each year" about funding and says the meetings "come to suggest anxiety dreams of comic futility, in which people are forever discussing intricate blends of private and public funding, speaking mostly in platitudes," platitudes that Slant thinks that Wiseman understands are necessary. Screen International commented (notwithstanding the "pretty flat viewing experience") that the meetings are: "Full of coded corporate-speak, these careful linguistic dances are intriguing in one sense, in that they demonstrate just to what extent the language of business and the politically correct minefield of American academia have infiltrated US cultural institutions and removed the sting, the drama, the eccentricity, from its internal debates."    (The problem of homeless seeking "shut-eye" in the libraries must previously have been discussed ad nauseum already in these meetings: Was it just coincidence that it was discussed with such adroit phraseology when Wiseman's camera was there?)

The  astute New Yorker review by Anthony Lane dares to complain of the signature Wiseman "tic" of not include names in the movie saying, "when it comes to the staff of the N.Y.P.L." and some others, don't "they not deserve to be identified?"  As noted, when writing The Nation review Stuart Klawans, did supplemental "Internet research" to identity the staff in the meetings, including Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall, but even he (and nobody else except Noticing New York) did not go further to identify Weinshall as the wife of powerful Decvomcratic senator Chuck Schumer or comment on Schumer's receipt of huge largess from rapacious plutocrat and NYPL trustee Stephen Schwarzman.  The New York Times and Noticing New York are lonely among the reviews when they bristle about the NYPL naming its renowned central research library after Schwarzman.

Noticing New York noted that when Errol Morris, discussed "Ex Libris" with Wiseman, he said he thought he saw juxtapositions with respecting different socioeconomic class in a film segment, but Wiseman disagreed leaping to argue with a defensive protectivenee of the NYPL.  However, a few reviewers saw such content in the film.  Film Stage  commented: "It's when the film juxtaposes the haves and have nots, that it proves to be one of the most relevant works to have premiered since the 2016 election."   Slant said:
Yet, the books, workshops, interviews, concerts, and study halls also suggest a hope for knowledge as a fount of democracy as well as for a more diverse economy . . .  But the hypocrisy sticks in the viewer's throat, especially when we look at the attendees of the 90th anniversary of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and witness a sea of predominantly wealthy and Caucasian faces-the very faces that must be courted so that this library may continue to receive private funding.

* * * *


. . . This filmmaker is a portraitist of ideals, of the insidious inspirations and nightmares that enable and undermine them, and, implicitly, of the
[politics]. . .
Film Journal evinces a similar consciousness:
Both Wiseman's choices of shots and dialectical editing, from the main branch to the outer boroughs and back, suggest the filmmaker rejects the conventional wisdom that the NYPL is a completely egalitarian system.

The contrasting mise-en-scène makes it clear where the bulk of the money goes (just as the private donations render the "public" label misleading). The kinds of activities also underscore the differences. . .
A few of reviews mention scenes of the factory-like book-handling, but they do not, like Noticing New York begin to talk about the implications for the libraries of keeping books off-site.  (One review, simplistically ventures a treacherous presumption that books are being sent back to the branches where the belong.)  AV Club notes:

    . . the director also takes a few fascinating peeks behind the curtain, illuminating the process of digitizing print materials and gaining access to labyrinthian sorting facilities, where books travel down conveyor belts like industrial product.
The Chicago Reader likes that scene: "Best of all, Wiseman visits the giant conveyor belt where staffers route an endless stream of returned items into plastic crates. ."  Smithsonian Magazine loves the scene too and sounds like they consulted with the NYPL to spice up their review's description with extra data:
This humanity contrasts beautifully with the technology at work behind the scenes.  A conveyer belt apparatus nearly 70 yards in length, a $2.3-million investment, is the largest of its kind on earth. With its aid, a crew of 14 staffers can accurately sort and route 7500 items per hour-that's more than two every second.
One other review, like Noticing New York, openly categorizes the supposed "documentary" as a "commercial" for the NYPL.   The Film Stage says, "Wiseman creates the ultimate commercial for an institution that many of us might have been taking for granted" (we could disagree with the assertion that this is "without becoming pamphletary.")   One other review, AV Club's, raises the issue but assures that the film isn't just a glorified advertisement:  "for as much as he may believe in the organization's aims, the filmmaker is much too questioning to make a glorified advertisement for the New York Public Library."  
    •    The are frequent mistakes in the reviews as reviewers go outside the four corners of the film for facts or assumption, mostly forced to by the Wiseman’s of captions, narration and  identifiers.  Many reviews, including the New York Times, convey the impression to readers that there are about 90 public libraries in New York City, instead of the that being the number of that the NYPL runs in just the boroughs of Manhattan. the Bronx and Manhattan, thus leaving out the libraries in the two sister systems, Brooklyn and Queens, each having another 60 plus.  (Plans to turn libraries into real estate deals apply to all three systems.)  Multiple reviews incorrectly identify a number policy discussions in NYPL executive staff meetings as “board meetings”: No actual business was seen being conducted at the only board meeting in the film (where there are glimpses of CDL cofounder Michael D. D. White attending- it was in a room lined with two flights of empty book shelves).
The own board meeting filmed by Wiseman- In a room with two flights of empty book shelves
    •    The reviews come out overwhelmingly positive for the film getting a 98% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (there is a much lower, less adorational audience score however).

Here are links with samplings from the reviews.

    •    Variety: Venice Film Review: `Ex Libris: The New York Public Library'
Frederick Wiseman's latest long-form doc shows the New York Public Library as a vibrant place of lectures, workshops and community outreach. By Jay Weissberg, September 4, 2017.
Is there any other filmmaker who falls in love with institutions as much as Frederick Wiseman? Whether a museum ("National Gallery"), the ballet ("La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet") or now "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library," the master observational documentarian loves organizations, from the nitty-gritty details of directors' meetings to the public who benefit from decisions made in those boardrooms.

* * *
He's gone out of his way - too much so - to avoid presenting the library as a repository of books, emphasizing how its enlightened managers are ensuring the institution stays up-to-date and relevant in the lives of the myriad communities it's dedicated to serve.

* * *
 . . . Wiseman spends a lot of time filming meetings, especially with the NYPL's deeply engaged and personable president Anthony W. Marx and the omnipresent Chief Library Officer Mary Lee Kennedy.   

* * *

"Ex Libris" is a hymn to the NYPL,
    •    The Washington Post: `Ex Libris' celebrates the New York Public Library, and libraries in general, by Alan Zilberman, September 21, 2017
"Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" is a celebration of libraries - arguably among our most valuable cultural institutions - that leans toward fantasy. Frederick Wiseman, the prolific, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker with a distinctly cinema-verite style, treats New York's many library branches as hotbeds of intellectual pursuit and civic engagement. The cumulative effect is calming, as if we are being invited to bask in the city at its most idealized.

    •    NPR:  In Frederick Wiseman's 'Ex Libris,' The New York Public Library Gets Checked Out, September 14, 2017.
Some of Wiseman's earlier documentaries observe serious conflicts, but in recent years the director has turned his attention to such large and mostly well-loved cultural institutions as museums and ballet companies. This film repeatedly drops in on meetings of the library system's top administrators, who discuss funding issues, areas where improvement is needed, and problems beyond the system's grasp.
    •    LA Times:  Review Frederick Wiseman delivers an ode to knowledge in 'Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,' by Kenneth Turan Kenneth Turan,  September 21, 2017.
Frederick Wiseman's "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" is more than a magisterial mash note to that distinguished establishment, it’s a heartening examination of the vastness of human knowledge and the multiple ways we the people endeavor to access it.
    •    IndiWire: `Ex Libris - The New York Public Library' Review: The Best Thing to Happen to Libraries Since the Dewey Decimal System- The hypnotic and essential "Ex Libris" stands out as a definitive example of - and testament to - Frederick Wiseman's style and mission.  By David Ehrlich, September 3, 2017.
Never before have his goals as a documentarian so perfectly dovetailed with those of his subject.

"Libraries are not about books," someone says in the film, "libraries are about people."

"Ex Libris" . . . will make you awe at the New York Public Library.
    •    The Hollywood Reporter: `EX LIBRIS: The New York Public Library', by Deborah Young,  September 3, 2017.
There's a reason why Frederick Wiseman's long, rigorous documentaries attract such big, happy festival audiences, like the ones that greeted his Venice competition entry EX LIBRIS: The New York Public Library with applause at the simple appearance of the film's title onscreen. Wiseman has carved out a unique niche in American documentary filmmaking and after 50 years on the job, he is a beloved, reliable observer of American society and democracy. Never talking down to his audience, he rather pulls them up to an intellectual level where other filmmakers fear to go.

And it's not just about lending books. The library is first of all a liberal place to expand your mind and ideas . . .

Wiseman is at pains to stress the library's welcoming, inclusive attitude toward all New Yorkers.
    •    Film Comment: Review: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, by Nicolas Rapold in the September/October 2017 Issue
Frederick Wiseman surveys the institution and, in the process, reexamines how knowledge can be power. . .

. . . Ex Libris becomes a breathtaking work of erudition, attaining Godardian or Straubian levels of quotation and association. . .

* * *
Ex Libris does underplay the recent strategic crisis under much-featured NYPL president Anthony Marx, which threatened to gut the 42nd Street research library and spin off branch buildings under dubious terms. But those controversial plans still reverberate in the film's meeting mantra of balancing public and private partnerships, its boons and its dangers.
    •    Boston Globe: `Ex Libris' is textbook Frederick Wiseman,By Ty Burr, September 28, 2017
New York City's library system is an institution like no other. Idealistic and seemingly infinite, it's an organization dedicated to bringing all knowledge to all people at no cost, an outrageously radical notion made practical through day-to-day functionality.

. . . Meetings for Wiseman are democracy.

He's lucky this time to have a subject like NYPL president Andrew Marx, who on the basis of what we see here leads with charisma and easygoing humor while delegating specific initiatives to staff. The bulk of the meetings concern the future of the library and what that future might look like when e-books are rapidly replacing the physical article.
    •    Roger Ebert:  Ex Libris: New York Public Library, by Matt Zoller Seitz, September 13, 2017.
What's key here is the idea of the library changing, in the digital era, so that it's less focused on physical books, printed on paper and filed according to the Dewey Decimal System, and more concerned with the exchange of information.

. . . This idea of the library as cultural hub connects with every scene in the movie. .

. . the film's boundless enthusiasm for the idea of the library wins the day. "Ex Libris" portrays the New York Public Library system, and by extension all such systems, as a benevolent force in public life,
    •    The Guardian:  Ex Libris: New York Public Library review – the restless mind of the city (A treasured US institution opens itself to the painstaking view of fly-on-the-wall master Frederick Wiseman, who finds enlightenment, humour, compassion and soul within its walls).  By Jordan Hoffman, September 3, 2017
. . Wiseman's all-seeing, fly-on-the-wall cinema . . . links sequences that build to a rich, almost-transcendent understanding.

Frederick Law Olmsted is believed to have coined the term "lungs of the city" in reference to Central Park. It becomes quickly evident that the New York Public Library is its mind. . . . it houses our understanding of community and morality.

The NYPL administrators are far from the cliche of jaded bureaucrats (and if I ever meet Anthony T Marx, Carrie Welch, Iris Weinshall or Khalil Gibran Muhammad near a checkout desk they can expect an enormous bear hug) . . .
    •    The New Yorker: Frederick Wiseman's "Ex Libris" (The latest work from the great documentary filmmaker examines the New York Public Library as it reconfigures itself for the digital age.) By Anthony Lane, September 18, 2017
One tic of the movie is the want of names. None appear onscreen-fine if we're dealing with Costello, less so when it comes to the staff of the N.Y.P.L., or to the lesser-known speakers whom Wiseman captures in full flow. Do they not deserve to be identified?

Just one question: Where are the books? Did they fly away, flapping their pages? Were they drowned by some apocalyptic Prospero? Because they sure ain't here. We do see people lining up at a librarian's desk, in keen anticipation, yet what she hands them is not a printed volume but a gadget-a portable hot-spot device, which she has warned them not to share with friends, since multiple streamings of Netflix shows, say, will soon exhaust its capacity. Scarcely ever, though, do we see someone sitting at a table in the N.Y.P.L., in solitude and silence, and simply reading a book.

That omission is deliberate, and Wiseman has picked his moment well. Steeped in the study of institutions, he understands the value, and the thrill, of delving into them as they undergo a sea change, and no place could be richer or stranger than a library that is swept up in the electronic age, with its dissolving reliance on print. One person calls books "physical books," as if they were an inconvenient subset, and another refers to libraries as "passive repositories"-a phrase that wrinkles its nose in perceptible scorn. Libraries are now focussed less on books than on "people who want to get knowledge," and the getting, as becomes clear in repeated meetings of senior library figures, is a matter of connectivity, digitization, broadband rollout, and, my favorite, "e-content licensing purchase strategy." As the film proceeds, you suspect a quiet joke in its title, which means "from the books of," as one used to see on a personal bookplate, but also "out of books," as if they were a point of departure. Something perused on a Kindle, you might say, is an ex-book.

Wiseman, young at heart, is with the project-wholly persuaded, judging from his film, by the N.Y.P.L.'s express mission to involve the larger population in the knowledge trawl. When he shows rank upon rank of library users staring at screens, he is lamenting nothing. Nostalgists will receive cold comfort here. So revered is he, and so solid the reasons for that reverence, that one hesitates to attempt the role of devil's advocate, Luddite's friend, or grump, and yet, in one regard, "Ex Libris" disappoints, for it offers so little in the way of moral or political abrasion.
    •    The New Yorker: Frederick Wiseman's Utopian Vision of Libraries in "Ex Libris," by Richard Brody, September 13, 2017
. . . His films evoke a sort of utopia, a vision of a society that isn't quite real but that can be-and that these very institutions are, ever so incrementally and imperfectly, helping to realize. "Ex Libris" may be his clearest, most explicit exposition of the principles and activities on which this ideal depends. . .

. . The library's president, Anthony Marx, emphasizes that the new century's informational frontier is digitalization and universal access to information, and he emphasizes that the purpose of this transformation is essentially political and democratic . . .

"Ex Libris" is a vision of a virtual utopia of knowledge rendered accessible, and, like almost all utopian visions, it veers at times toward sentimentality. Like many films involving libraries, it also veers toward sanctimony regarding the fundamental value of reading, of consuming and producing culture. . . .  The movie's air of benign, benevolent calm suggests at times the sense of an official culture of impersonal gentility.
    •    Wall Street Journal: `Ex Libris: New York Public Library' Review: The Heart of a City
Frederick Wiseman's documentary about the storied institution makes the case for the library as an urgent idea., by John Anderson, September. 14, 2017.
From Rotten Tomatoes: One would be quite wrong to regard Frederick Wiseman as a mere observer, rather than the agent-provocateur he is.

[A pay wall makes access and consideration of this review exclusive to Wall Streeters and off limits to anyone else not paying to join that club.]
    •    Detroit News: Review: 'Ex Libris' a look at a library beyond the books, by Tom Long, October 5, 2017
. . legendary documentary director Frederick Wiseman . .  lets things drone on a bit longer than he likely should have here (and by the way, such a statement is blasphemy in film critic circles, so revered is Wiseman).

. . . Wiseman, the master of the fly-on-the-wall observant documentary, delivers a compelling look at a sprawling behemoth of information delivery that is undergoing radical change as it struggles to adapt to the digital age. In truth, actual hand-held, made-with-paper books are only intermittent players in the film, as they've become intermittent players in the modern library.

Wiseman serves up an often-stirring portrait of a massive institution and community center dedicated to the unbiased dissemination of information, a huge collective hive of intelligence and activity.

 . . "Ex Libris" . .  makes you realize what wonders we too often take for granted, and how much work and passion go into such wonders.
    •    The Seattle Times: ‘Ex Libris’ an inspiring documentary about New York Public Library, (Frederick Wiseman's `Ex Libris' takes us to every imaginable aspect of the NYPL, creating a lovely, inspiring picture of a crucial institution.) By Moira Macdonald, October 4, 2017.
It's a lovely, inspiring picture of a crucial institution; one which, as an employee describes, serves as "a warm, welcoming place that's committed to education and committed to nurturing everyone's passions and curiosities."
    •    The Chicago Reader: In Frederick Wiseman's Ex Libris, the public library is still a laboratory of democracy (The legendary documentary maker dives headfirst into the New York public library system.) By J.R. Jones, October 05, 2017
Knocking Wiseman may get me thrown out-of my profession-because he's the greatest living documentary maker . .

. . he shuttles from scenes of librarians at work to public talks by visiting authors to lengthy staff meetings dominated by the library's urbane president, Tony Marx. . . .

. . . As framed by Marx, the New York Public Library is a profoundly democratizing institution. .

Best of all, Wiseman visits the giant conveyor belt where staffers route an endless stream of returned items into plastic crates. . .
    •    San Diago Reader: Ex Libris: New York Public Library, by Scott Marks, September 28, 2017.
Public libraries are neighborhood oases, some of the few safe and welcoming spaces left in the world.
    •    WBAI Radio- EX LIBRIS: DIRECTOR FREDERICK WISEMAN PHONES IN ("I'm someone who still likes to read books and hold them in my hand.") By Prairie Miller, September 14, 2017.
A powerful blueprint for saving public libraries from predatory urban removal developers, intent on demolishing and grabbing the land right under them - and in effect community centers for the masses by default, in a society lacking them under capitalism.

Listen to the show
    •    Flavorwire: Ex Libris, By Jason Bailey, September 12, 2017
As the architect for the current renovation of the Mid-Manhattan branch puts it, "Libraries are not about books. They're about people who want to get knowledge."

And Wiseman is, clearly, one of them. . .

. . The democracy of his filmmaking is, as ever, striking; this is one of our most American artists, and Ex Libris is the very definition of what he does well.
    •    The Nation: Book Rats (In his 42nd film, Frederick Wiseman examines the New York Public Library from both his Olympian and activist perspectives.) By Stuart Klawans, September 19, 2017
If you think of great libraries as archives of the human condition, maintained to preserve everything we've thought and done, then you'd figure Frederick Wiseman would eventually make a film about the New York Public Library. He, too, carries the totalizing virus.

* * *

. . .just as an activist streak runs through the branches of the New York Public Library, so too does it animate all but Wiseman's most contemplative works. . . . You get nothing except what you would have seen and heard if you'd been present with him when the action was happening. And yet, through his choice of what material to show and how to sequence it, he often constructs implicit arguments that address not so much the arrogance of power as its mindless, grinding indifference. These implied polemics are all the more persuasive for seeming to emerge from the evidence before you.

* * *

Pay attention to context and do a little Internet research, and you can find out that the uncaptioned decision makers overheard in their deliberations are NYPL president Tony Marx, chief library officer Mary Lee Kennedy (who has moved on since the film was shot), chief operating officer Iris Weinshall, and vice president for government and community affairs George Mihaltses. I identify them here to make the point that Wiseman had access to serious people talking about critical issues.

* * *
I pause to note that Wiseman could have put other librarians on the screen had he wanted to-the ones, for example, who have kept me waiting 40 minutes for a book that turned out to have gone missing, and then tossed back the call slip as if they were flipping the bird. But they wouldn't have suited the theme he has in mind for Ex Libris.

* * *
Wiseman has given a much different treatment of the NYPL than you would find, say, in Scott Sherman's book Patience and Fortitude (written in part for The Nation, and published in 2015 just before Ex Libris went into production). Wiseman is interested in librarians as wonderful people
    •    Art Forum: By the Book, by Nick Pinkerton, September 13, 2017
The glimmers of Utopia in Ex Libris make the present beleaguered state of the republic keenly felt, but to harp on the movie's "new, sad relevance in the Age of Trump," however, would be to ignore the degree to which Wiseman positions the NYPL facilities not only as repositories of world culture but as stages for the continuation of a floating conversation on the promises and pitfalls of American civilization that has been ongoing since 1776.

* * *
Wiseman's self-appointed mission . .  has always seemed to me a heroic act . .  Wiseman's films take on . .  that trouble, and in doing so provide a reminder to vigilance. . . . Ex Libris  [is] . . nothing short of emancipatory.
    •    The Playlist: Frederick Wiseman's Intensely Rewarding, Humane `Ex Libris: New York Public Library',  Jessica Kiang, September 15, 2017
`Ex Libris' is . . an extensively detailed, postscripted and footnoted love letter to New York, and to the New Yorkers of all social classes who find something of value in their local branch.

* * *

`Ex Libris' is a lively, jostling monument to an idea that represents the very best of civilized society . .
    •    Reeling Reviews: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, by Laura Clifford, October 4, 2017.
Uber-documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman is famous for his in-depth examinations of institutions, people and places . . .

It does give you a regained respect for a great institution that is integral to our society.. .

. . we see an architect reject the idea of a library as a repository of books, something Wiseman makes very evident here.
    •    Denerstein Unleashed: Spending time in the library, by Robert Denerstein, October 4, 2017
Ex Libris functions as a kind of time-capsule document, something that could be viewed years from now by those who want to understand something about the way institutions functioned in our tumultuous times, in this case, trying to keep pace with change while remaining faithful to its overall mission.
    •    The Stranger’s Daily Slog:  Ex Libris: New York Public Library Is Exactly What the Title States (A Sprawling, 3-plus Hour Venture Through the NYPL), by Andrew Wright, October 6, 2017
. . . the documentarian has made a remarkable career from delving deep into labyrinthine topics, while also giving the viewer enough room to figure out how it all comes together.

. . . viewers accustomed to the upfront Michael Mooreization of the form may be taken aback by Wiseman's seemingly invisible touch. .
    •    Seattle Weekly: An Elegant 197 Minutes With the New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman's documentary Ex Libris lets the library speak for itself.) By Robert Horton, October 4, 2017
Ex Libris is . . a wide-ranging look at the different functions of a complex institution. . . . If you think libraries are among democracy's greatest products, behold some heroes in the cause.

. . .But there is a recurring subject: the difficulty of defining what a library is in the 21st century. The notion of a library as a place where people check out books is only occasionally referred to; as befits a society in which libraries are distinguished by their banks of computer monitors, we only occasionally see an actual book in this film. As Ex Libris shows it, today's library is a community center, a resource for accessing the Internet and acquiring smartphones. . .

. . . if you're curious about how a system works, and prefer not being told what to think, Ex Libris may very well uplift and energize you.
    •    Spirituality and Practice: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library Directed by Frederick Wiseman (Another appealing documentary masterwork in the astonishing career of Frederick Wiseman.) By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, September 14, 2017
 . .  With the patience of a skilled creator and the curiosity of a child, this 87-year-old documentarian provides an impressive portrait of this venerable institution as not only a repository of books but as a rich supplier of resources, workshops, lectures, and community outreach programs.

. . Ex Libris: The New York Public Library is another appealing masterwork in the astonishing career of Frederick Wiseman!
    •    The Film Stage: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,  by Jose Solís, September 13, 2017
Frederick Wiseman's films are often filled with moments that subtly and unexpectedly jolt viewers who think they know what they're in for. In Ex Libris, in which he focuses on The New York Public Library, such a moment comes when Francine Houben, creative director of the firm selected to renovate the institution's iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman building in midtown Manhattan, explains that libraries are not about books, or their storage, but about people. With this simple statement Houben encompasses the spirit of Wiseman's generous, enlightening look at one of the most important organizations in the city, and as the film suggests, perhaps also an essential tool in preserving the American ideal of freedom and equality.

* * *

Without becoming pamphletary, Wiseman creates the ultimate commercial for an institution that many of us might have been taking for granted.

* * *

It's when the film juxtaposes the haves and have nots, that it proves to be one of the most relevant works to have premiered since the 2016 election. Wiseman posits the NYPL as somewhat of a rogue agent in public service, whose mission truly is to help everyone who asks. . . . .Who knew a documentary about the library could turn out to be the most thrilling political film of the year?
    •    Sight and Sound: EX LIBRIS - the New York Public Library, Fred Wiseman's ode to patience and fortitude   (The director's latest magisterial study of a public institution is a tribute to the power of education and the importance of community, characteristically ambitious yet surprisingly brisk.) by Neil Young,  September 12, 2017 (updated September 12, 2017)
And there's certainly no shortage of material across the four vast storeys of the Beaux Arts `main branch', officially renamed the Stephen A Schwarzman Building in 2008 after the Trumpist billionaire who funded the latest renovation (the NYPL has always been a `public/private partnership'). [Good and venturesome observation, but not exactly correct to say that Schwarzman “funded the latest renovation.”]

* * *

The NYPL, we see, isn't just a bunch of books. It plays crucial roles in filling education gaps for children and adults alike, spreading internet access to those languishing in what administrators (during one of those protracted managerial discussions which invariably prove catnip for Wiseman) dub the "digital dark". .

 . . . The huge canvas becomes an inadvertent self-portrait of this most self-effacing of auteurs, whom one senses entirely shares the NYPL's noble aims and belief in the power of education, community and hard work. EX LIBRIS is thus an illuminating, informative and gloriously productive match of artist and subject; Wiseman - now approaching his 89th year - embraces the vast ambition of the NYPL while revelling in its multifarious minutiae. .
    •    The Village Voice: House of Lions: Wiseman's "Ex Libris" Is a Humane Epic Examining New York's Public Library (The veteran documentarian continues to make absorbing, immense films about American life.)  By Bilge Ebiri, September 12, 2017
We don't actually see that many books in Ex Libris, Frederick Wiseman's massive new film about the New York Public Library. "People think that [libraries are] just storage spaces for books," one administrator observes, when in reality they're "about people [who] want to get knowledge to them." . .

A curious, welcome strain of utopianism has crept into Wiseman's recent projects. . . . The almost idealistic sincerity of this vision, crossed with the clear-eyed patience of Wiseman's filmmaking, has made for a striking combination.

* * *

. . . Ex Libris is spellbinding. Wiseman makes us feel like we're there, watching full thoughts expressed at the casual pace of real life. All the trimming and nipping and tucking the director does - and he does do quite a bit - is largely invisible. . .  That sort of disorientation is central to the director's work.
    •    The Ringer: Rats, Killing, and the Library (Three New Documentaries Explore Institutional Inequality. A trio of seemingly disparate new films-about Baltimore's rat problem, an untried Long Island killing, and the New York Public Library-have one thing in common: They all examine public institutions and the people they sometimes fail to serve.) by K. Austin Collins Sep 12, 2017.
. .  these films are all, at heart, about public institutions. .  More pointedly, they are about the people those institutions fail to support-and, in the case of Wiseman's insider take, about one institution's valiant efforts to make up for that failure.

* * * *

In Ex Libris, Wiseman trains a sharp eye on the New York Public Library, including its many patrons as well as its wide-ranging staff, during a time of great upheaval-a time when, as one NYPL employee notes, digitization is seen as "the holy grail of the 21st century." It's a time of e-books, digital literacy, and broadband promises from politicians. . .

. . . We see firsthand what it's like for a library to face the constant encroachment of e-books and the need to revise traditional acquisition models.

. . . As always, Wiseman, who at 87 is just as structurally rigorous and observationally precise as ever, morphs this institutional study into a story about people. You, in the audience, become one of them. And you walk away all the better for it.
    •    New York Times: We the (Library-Card Carrying) People of `Ex Libris' - Ex Libris: New York Public Library- (NYT Critic's Pick), by Manohola Dargis, September  12, 2017.
Frederick Wiseman . . .  lays bare this complex, glorious organism that is the democratic ideal incarnate.

* * * *

 Again and again, though, he returns to the main branch, now formally called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. A private equity executive, Mr. Schwarzman donated $100 million to the New York Public Library in 2008, effectively buying the right to have his name on the main branch alongside quotations from immortals like Jorge Luis Borges and Thomas Jefferson. Big money is a thread running through the movie, including in meetings with Anthony W. Marx, the president of the library, and other senior staff members.

For all his access, Mr. Wiseman doesn’t overtly address the Library’s Central Library Plan, a controversial proposal initiated in 2008 that would have involved a radical redesign and new focus — away from research to circulation — for the main branch. Among other goals, the library was seeking to make its flagship more public friendly, a fuzzy term that can serve as a fig leaf for anti-intellectualism. Alarmed that the library was discarding its mission, scholars composed letters that the likes of Salman Rushdie signed, and committees and lawsuits ensued. The expensive plan was scuttled in 2014.

If Mr. Wiseman doesn't openly engage with the debate over the Central Library Plan many of the issues that emerged during that dispute nonetheless reverberate over the course of the documentary, including the overarching question of the library's mission. Throughout "Ex Libris" both senior staff members and branch librarians speak about serving the public, service that has long extended beyond checking out physical books. .

. . . Mr. Wiseman never states outright what the library's mission is; he doesn't have to. It's as clear as the recitations from the Declaration of Independence in one scene and in a passionate discussion of a racist textbook's misrepresentation of the American slave trade in another. It is a soaring, Utopian mission. . .
    •    Film Journal: Film Review: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman's 43rd film is as complex and fascinating as his first, released five decades ago.) By Eric Monder September 12, 2017
On its surface, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library celebrates the library as an institution.  . . .  Wiseman's latest opus is deserving of widespread regard, much like libraries themselves.

As coverage of the current state of affairs at the New York Public Library, Ex Libris more than suffices as a straightforward document.

Clearly, Wiseman respects the well-meaning efforts by all those involved in library operations.

* * *

Both Wiseman's choices of shots and dialectical editing, from the main branch to the outer boroughs and back, suggest the filmmaker rejects the conventional wisdom that the NYPL is a completely egalitarian system.

* * *

The contrasting mise-en-scène makes it clear where the bulk of the money goes (just as the private donations render the "public" label misleading). The kinds of activities also underscore the differences. . .
    •    Slant: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, by Chuck Bowen, September 11, 2017
A sense of quiet defines Frederick Wiseman's films that cannot be found in unmediated society, embodying a dream of unencumbered meditation. . . a seemingly miraculous institution . .

Throughout his career, Wiseman has forged an incomparably epic survey of bureaucratic institutions, understanding that knowledge begets personal engagement which leads, in turn, to empathy.

. . . We're immersed in the New York Public Library, asked to find our bearings as if we wandered into one of its buildings, as elegant tableaux show people of varying colors, economic stations, ages, and cultures in poses that particularize their existences in seconds.

. . .  Yet, the books, workshops, interviews, concerts, and study halls also suggest a hope for knowledge as a fount of democracy as well as for a more diverse economy . . .  But the hypocrisy sticks in the viewer's throat, especially when we look at the attendees of the 90th anniversary of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and witness a sea of predominantly wealthy and Caucasian faces-the very faces that must be courted so that this library may continue to receive private funding.

. . . Ex Libris is obsessed with the precarious existence of institutions that get by on the ruling class's fickle interests. . .

* * *

Led by President Anthony W. Marx, the board is always concerned with funding, crafting PR messages each year so as to continually renew urgency of public interest . . .The board meetings [actually senior staff meetings] come to suggest anxiety dreams of comic futility, in which people are forever discussing intricate blends of private and public funding, speaking mostly in platitudes that Wiseman understands as necessary . . .

. . . This filmmaker is a portraitist of ideals, of the insidious inspirations and nightmares that enable and undermine them, and, implicitly, of the political waves. . .
    •    Time Out: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (A gloriously nerdy act of municipal pride, Frederick Wiseman's multilayered documentary captures a book-loving NYC that's worth cherishing.) By Joshua Rothkopf, September 10, 2017.
 . . . The stirring beauty of Wiseman's accomplishment is that it presents a top-to-bottom view of an institution devoted to serving the intellectual needs of an entire city-needs we may not know we have, but do.

* * *

Wiseman's epic Ex Libris might make you cry with happiness; it's the good fight being fought. Movies aren't usually a public benefit, much less an essential one. Here's the exception.
    •    AV Club: Frederick Wiseman heads to the New York Public Library for another overstuffed nonfiction epic, by A.A. Dowd, September 7, 2017.
. . the director also takes a few fascinating peeks behind the curtain, illuminating the process of digitizing print materials and gaining access to labyrinthian sorting facilities, where books travel down conveyor belts like industrial product.

Of all the institutions Wiseman has investigated over the years, libraries may come closest to embodying what's important to him as an artist; they're temples of knowledge, experience, and culture. But for as much as he may believe in the organization's aims, the filmmaker is much too questioning to make a glorified advertisement for the New York Public Library.
    •    Cinevue: Ex Libris: New York Public Library, (Frederick Wiseman enters the fray for the Golden Lion with Ex Libris, a three-hour-plus-change piece on the New York Public Library system. It's more interesting than a three-hour documentary about libraries has any right to be, but not quite as fascinating as hoped), by John Bleasdale, September 5, 2017.
"A library is not just a place to store books," an academic declares about halfway through Ex Libris. And indeed the thesis of the film is successfully proved.

* * *
The meeting of the board struggle with issues of funding and mission. [Wrong: senior NYPL staff.]

* * *
The library also has to adapt to new technology and help those living in what is called the 'digital dark', with no access to the internet. They loan out wifi hubs and phones as well as providing computers for people to access the web.

* * *
It therefore feels churlish to criticize the film, given that its own mission is to promote an idea of community and inclusion - "to create a kinder gentler world" according to one librarian - currently under radical attack. However, Ex Libris omits a lot of the arguments - either full throated on large policy issues or petty bickering on whether someone paid their library fines or not. . .  The voices are administrators and public speakers . .  It's as if Wiseman has taken his cue from the old style librarians and has wanted to give a portrait of a community but without the inevitable noise that goes with it, issuing one long "shhhhhhhhh".
    •    Screen International: 'Ex Libris - New York Public Library' (The world's fourth-largest library, with 87 branches, is examined by veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman) By Lee Marshall4 September 2017
Wiseman's meticulous and mostly absorbing record of the inner and outer workings of the world's fourth largest library, with its 87 citywide branches (one for each of the director's 87 years), charts the vibrancy, relevance and resilience of an institution, and an idea, that shows no signs of becoming imaginary anytime soon.

* * *

Less engaging are the frequent board meetings [actually senior staff meetings] helmed by library president Anthony Marx. As in National Gallery, these inner-circle discussions engage with issues that we see playing out on the `floor' of the institution - education, the need to attract private donors via gala dinners and other events, access to the internet among New York's digital have-nots ("three million are in the digital dark", one policy maker informs the group), what to do about the homeless who use the libraries as a place to keep warm and catch up on some shut-eye.

Full of coded corporate-speak, these careful linguistic dances are intriguing in one sense, in that they demonstrate just to what extent the language of business and the politically correct minefield of American academia have infiltrated US cultural institutions and removed the sting, the drama, the eccentricity, from its internal debates. But that makes for a pretty flat viewing experience.

* * *

Shot and edited with Wiseman's customary poetry and precision, Ex Libris is structured as a series of forays from the Library's Fifth Avenue heart to its orbiting satellites . . . [to] tell a story of private philanthropy and public engagement that acts a clear-headed reminder of a phrase of Toni Morrison's, quoted here at one point during a gala dinner speech: libraries, we are told, are the foundation of democracy.
    •    The Smithsonian Magazine: The Wondrous Complexity of the New York Public Library
A new documentary captures the sweeping human impact of one of the country's largest library systems, By Ryan P. Smith, October 5, 2017
The New York Public Library, as has been stated by many book lovers over the years, is probably the most democratic institution in New York. A subject in filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's new documentary about the library, Ex Libris, stresses this point, and Wiseman himself thinks the claim holds water. . . 

. .  The leonine statues looking out from the entrance of the flagship branch in midtown Manhattan-which appear several times in Ex Libris-embody well the stalwart dedication of the institution to its mission.

* * *

This humanity contrasts beautifully with the technology at work behind the scenes.  A conveyer belt apparatus nearly 70 yards in length, a $2.3-million investment, is the largest of its kind on earth. With its aid, a crew of 14 staffers can accurately sort and route 7500 items per hour-that's more than two every second.

According to the film, a full one-third of New Yorkers do not have internet access at home. Is the library responsible for filling that gap? Multiple scenes from the documentary show the NYPL board struggling with questions about their shifting responsibilities to the community. Strenuous debates over such matters as the acquisition of print media vs. digital and the treatment of homeless patrons enrich Wiseman's portrait of the library as a living-and ever-changing-organism.

* * *

There are those who would term Ex Libris a cinematic "love letter" to the New York Public Library. Wiseman himself is more dispassionate-all he set out to produce was an accurate and compelling portrayal of a significant American place. "It's a fair film about the library's activities," he says.