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.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page

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

SIGN OUR PETITION TO SUPPORT LIBRARIES:  Sign our new updated petition here:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
You can also stay informed by following us on Twitter (@DefendLibraries) and by liking our Citizens Defending Libraries Facebook page. And we post videos on our Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.
When We Started and Why

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 at great public loss, with libraries being intentionally underfunded, their books and librarians eliminated.  Citizens Defending Libraries was first to point out how the the real estate industry's interest in turning libraries into real estate deals was driving such sales and the reduction of funding and library resources.


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.  These successes include: 
    •    The sale of Mid-Manhattan, the most used circulating library in Manhattan, was prevented with the help of two lawsuits in which Citizens Defending Libraries was first in the list of named plaintiffs.  That sale was prevented as Citizens Defending Libraries joined with others to successfully derail the New York Public Library’s ill-conceived consolidating shrinkage of major Manhattan libraries known as the Central Library Plan.  Citizens Defending Libraries accurately predicted this sell-off and shrinkage of libraries was likely to cost over $500 million, far more than the $300 advertised by the NYPL as it promoted its real estate deals.  Unfortunately, work remains to be done as aspects of the Central Library Plan still ominously survive:
    •        The NYPL still plans to sell and close the largest science library in New York City, SIBL, the Science Industry and Business Library, eliminating its collection of science books just when they are needed most,
    •        Millions of additional books are still missing from and need to be brought back to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library at Fifth Avenue (yes that's the building with the lions, Patience and Fortitude).
    •        The NYPL still plans to subject the Mid-Manhattan Library to a consolidating shrinkage with a concomitantly vast reduction in available books.
    •    The sale and closing of another beloved central destination in Manhattan, the 5-story Donnell Library is now widely understood to have been a mistake. Library administration officials now apologize acknowledging it was a significant mistake, but that is only so long as we keep reminding the public what was lost and how the library was sold for a pittance, while real estate industry insiders like Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner benefitted from this first “shrink-and-sink” deal by replacing it with luxury tower, a tiny underground and largely bookless library in its base.
    •    Working with others in the community, we have so far prevented the sale the Pacific Branch Library, the first Carnegie in Brooklyn, next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (now aka “Pacific Park”), which in 2013 the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) announced was one of its two highest priorities to sell as it launched a program of real estate deal sell-offs.
    •    For almost four years, from 2013 to 2017, we delayed and fended off the sale and destruction of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library, which included the central Business Career and Education Library and a now shuttered Federal Depository Library making federal documents, records, and history available to the public.  This was another “shrink-and-sink” sale of property, also next to (and involving) Forest City Ratner property was the BPL’s other first announced highest priority.  Again, a luxury tower will stand where an important central destination library once stood.  Garnering over 2,000 testimonies from the community we surprised everybody by causing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to come out against the project after it was launched.  It was also reportedly the subject of a “play-to-play” investigation with respect to the development team that was an inferior bidder channeling funds to Mayor de Blasio.  That investigation appears to have been dropped immediately after Donald Trump stunned the public by firing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
    •    We alerted the public and Red Hook community about “Spaceworks,” a real estate company formed Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to shrink libraries viewing library space as being under utilized we helped to prevent the already woefully small 7,500 square foot Red Hook library from being shrunk down to just 5,500 square feet.  Brooklyn Community Board 6 helped kill the shrinkage.  (While we also worked to get the word out to the Williamsburg community about a proposed shrinkage there with Spaceworks being handed the second floor of the Williamsburg Library, we were not able to act fast enough and Councilman Steve Levin and Brooklyn Community Board 1 were supporting the scheme.)
     •    We alerted the Sunset Park community about long-secret plans to sell the Sunset Park Library and redevelop it into a mixed used project.  We believe that because we were on the scene to shine this spotlight, and also because the BPL wanted to overcome our opposition to the Brooklyn Heights Library sale, Sunset park is the first time the BPL actually proposed to enlarge one of the the libraries it was targeting for sale.  That will be a sort of victory if there is no subsequent bait-and-switch.  Unfortunately, it is not a perfect victory.  Our sense is that for good and valid reasons the informed Sunset Park community was still largely, perhaps 90%, opposed to the library replacement plan they were not involved in developing and from which they will suffer while the library is closed for many years before it is replaced.  Unfortunately, those who were in place to fight for the Sunset Park community’s interests did not ultimately defend them.  That includes Brooklyn Community Board 7 and City Councilman Carlos Menchaca.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries was also on the scene to shine a spotlight and help put things quickly in perspective for the Inwood Community when the NYPL announced it wanted to turn the Inwood Library into a real estate deal, likely also as a part of an effort to help push through a upzoning of the area.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries similarly sounded the alarm before word was out publicly about a proposal for a consolidating shrinkage of the Brower Park Library with the Prospect Heights Children’s Museum (reversing a previous expansion).
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries has been engaged in an education and publicity campaign.  It included:
     •        Forums, including a mayor forum during the 2013 election with most of the candidates endorsing our proposals that libraries be properly funded, not sold and shrunk.  Mayor de Blasio, whose position we changed during the campaign, joined with us in July to proclaim that our libraries should not be sold saying: “It's public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”  Unfortunately, by October he was taking money from developers behind the curtain.
        •    As a result of our activism there have been hearings about the sale and shrinkage of libraries starting with a very important June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing that embarrassed city library administration officials. 
       •    A letter of support signed by multiple community organizations, electeds and candidates running for office.
        •   In May of 2016 Citizens Dfending Libraries was honored to be a recipient of the Historic Districts Council's Grassroots Preservation Award.
Despite our battles won, our NYC libraries are still besieged by a major war and the threat of such plans.

What libraries are affected?
Library officials said early on that they wanted to sell the most valuable NYC libraries first.  And indeed, that is exactly what the NYPL did when its first move was to sell the central destination Donnell Library, a library that was documented to be on most valuable block in Manhattan at the time.  Similarly, the concurrently launched Central Library Plan with its proposed sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library focused on the choicest real estate.  The BPL did the same thing prioritizing two prime site libraries adjacent to Forest City Ratner property for probable luxury towers, the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch library.  Unfortunately, the libraries that are most valuable to real estate developers are also the most valuable to the public for very similar reasons, including central accessible locations.

The most valuable libraries may be at the top of this list, but all libraries in the New York City system are currently under siege.  All libraries are under siege because of the deliberate, unprecedented and absolutely unnecessary underfunding of NYC libraries that is being presented as an excuse to sell libraries affects all libraries in all our city's boroughs.

All libraries in the New York City system should also be considered currently under siege because each and every library sale becomes precedent and a model for the next.  The shrink-and-sink sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library replicates the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library (in fact it was conceived at the same time with the same people in the background).  Moreover, BPL president Linda Johnson told the City Council when it was approving the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library sale that it would be a model for future library deals by all three city library systems, the BPL, which she heads, the NYPL and the Queens Library.  Johnson has referred to herself as head of the Brooklyn Library system as having "over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate" at her disposal.

While Library officials are attracted to seizing for conversion the most valuable libraries first, they are also usually tactically coy about their plans. At this point they openly acknowledge going after only a few libraries at a time.  They go after the very valuable ones they want and they also go after the libraries where they believe they have ascertained that they can overcome community opposition and expect that they can, at the same time, perhaps achieve another objective that attracts them, like laying the groundwork for an upzoning in Inwood or establish and entrench a principle of reduction as with Spaceworks in Red Hook and Williamsburg.

For more details about affected libraries click here:  What Libraries Are Affected By City Strategy Of Defunding, Shrinking, Selling Off Libraries?

Are The Libraries Being Shrunk, Pushed Underground, Books and Librarians Eliminated Because the World Is "Going Digital"?

Although the people promoting library sales and elimination of books would like to use as an excuse that the world is going digital, that is not the case.  New York City libraries are more used than ever.  Although use was up 40% programmatically, most of the recent increased use is in terms of circulation, 59%, and almost all of that circulation is physical books.  That is despite an effort by NYC library administration officials to steer people into the use of digital books (which, maybe surprisingly, are actually more expensive for the libraries) and away from what they derisively refer to as "old-fashioned analogue books."

While digital books sometimes have some advantages the general population tends to prefer physical books.  Further, there are advantages with physical books related to the way people learn and think and there are problems and concerns about digital books that need to be considered.  See:  Physical Books vs. Digital Books.

At the same time, libraries do need to address digital needs and provide access to the internet; they need to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who don't.  For that reason libraries should actually be growing to address these expanded needs rather than shrinking.  In this regard it is, indefensible and inexplicable that two top-notch libraries with some of the most advanced and robust support of computer and internet libraries, SIBL the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library and the downtown Brooklyn Heights Library with its Business, Career and Education Library, were both targeted for simultaneous elimination.

Are Libraries Just Too Expensive a Luxury to Pay For?

In the overall scheme of things, New York City libraries cost virtually nothing.  When it comes to libraries, no matter how you slice and dice it, we are dealing with total funding figures that come to fractions of a percentage point, this despite the fact that, economically, libraries more than pay for themselves, and: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.”

Notwithstanding, subsidies to sports venues like the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena dwarf what we spend on libraries. In 8 years when we spent at least $620 million on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" included) that amount was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.

The underfunding of libraries is notwithstanding that libraries are one of the public's top priorities. The city’s 59 community boards ranked library services as their“third highest budget concern” and“Brooklyn’s community boards ranked libraries their top priority.”  In 2013 when the NYC Comptroller polled the public about its priorities for "The People's Budget" libraries were again one of the very top priorities.

Valuable in so many ways in their own right, libraries must also be considered an essential adjunct to schools and ensuring proper education and literacy of the population.  One thing that a recurring trope in science fiction scripts gets right is that there is a high correspondence, if not quite one-to-one correlation, between the demise of great libraries and the collapse of once great civilizations.

NYC Libraries Are Being Sold For Huge Losses And For Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

People ask whether the public is at least getting good deals or "value" when we sell our libraries.  We absolutely are not.  We are selling our libraries for far less than their worth and far less than we have invested in them.  The losses are actually profoundly embarrassing notwithstanding the proclivity of library officials to deceptively characterize proceeds from sales as "profits," and as "hefty" rather than "paltry."  That's been true since the beginning. . .

. . .  The first library sold, the Donnell Library, the central destination, 97,000-square foot, five-story central destination library on what was documented to be the most valuable block in Manhattan at the time, was sold to net the NYPL less than $25,000 million.  The penthouse in the luxury tower that replaced it in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.  Another single lower-level condo unit in the luxury building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower.  according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investors made that hotel,“the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.”

. . . The central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, expanded and fully upgraded in 1993, one of the most modern and up-to-date libraries in the system would cost more than $120 million to replace.  The city sold it for less than its tear-down value, for less than its value as a vacant lot, and because it was sold to a developer who's inferior bid was not the highest bid, it's sale became the subject of one of the pay-to-play investigations of the de Blasio administration.  When costs are finally calculated it is likely the city and library administration officials will have netted less than $25 million from this library's ruination.

. . . In two suspicious real estate deals the NYPL has sold the 34th Street SIBL library, the city's biggest science library . . . . .

TO READ MORE- Click:  TO READ MORE- Click: Libraries Being Sold For Huge Losses And Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

Who Is Selling Our Libraries?

The plans to sell our libraries were announced under the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and it appears that they go back to at least 2005 and probably at least 2004.  Prior to the Bloomberg administration, NYC libraries were being expanded significantly under the Giuliani administration.  During the 2013 mayoral race, candidate Bill de Blasio said that the library sales should be halted, but in short order Mr. de Blasio was taking money from real estate developers "behind the curtain  . .very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”

Once in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued with the library sales he decried as a candidate, although, to give the devil his due, de Blasio did not proceed with the full-blown NYPL Central Library Plan.  While the Mid-Manhattan library is now being subjected to a consolidating shrinkage it is no longer being sold straight out, but, under Mayor de Blasio we are still selling SIBL the city's biggest science library.  We are also still exiling research books off premises from where they were once readily and quickly retrievable at the 42nd Street Library.

There are other elected officials that are avidly taking the lead pushing these city library sales.  Foremost among them is city council member Brad Lander.  Also clearly conspicuous in his enthusiastic and unrelenting support for these plans is Jimmy Van Bramer head of the City Council Cultural Committee of which the city council's library subcommittee is a sub-component he domainates in leading.  .  .

 . .  Each particular local city council member must also be held responsible for what happens to the libraries in their districts, but revelations are that many of them, like Councilman Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg libraries), Ydanis Rodriguez (Inwood Library) and Carlos Manchacca (Sunset Park Library), were brought on board behind the scenes in advance to  . . .

TO READ MORE (including about the involvement of a Trump presidential son-in-law, Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman, the library boards of trustees, law enforcing officials standing idly by the sidelines and what are supposed to be charitable organizations serving the public) - Click:  WHO Is Selling Our Libraries?

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?
Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
As noted, although plans to sell NYC libraries were not announced by the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration until much later, those plans actually to go back to at least 2005 or probably 2004David Offensend was hired by the NYPL in June of 2004 and, though he is imprecise, he says that he started working on library deals not long after his arrival there.  Janet Offensend, his wife, who helped launch BPL library sales started haunting the BPL and its board in 2005.  Other city development officials were being positioned by Mayor Bloomberg on the BPL board around that time.  (The Bloomberg administration took office January 1, 2002, shortly after 9/11.  By contrast, the Giuliani administration implemented library expansion plans that carried over into the early Bloomberg years.)

The BPL's minutes for 2005 show that in January a developer, perhaps jumping the gun based on inside knowledge, was angling to buy the 12,200 square-foot Midwood Library.  In November 2006 the New York Times ran a little noticed article about tearing down “obsolete” branch libraries to produce “new,” "better" library space in multi-use developments saying that a study had produced "an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City" to identify "candidates for redevelopment" (like the "Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park" libraries and the "Clinton Hill Library," which involves pushing through an accompanying rezoning.)  The article mentions "deferred maintenance" as a reason to redevelop the libraries.

In May of 2006 it was revealed that four Connecticut librarians had won a fight, secret because of a gag order since it began in July 2005, to resist broad federal surveillance of their library patrons.

Although the public did not know what it needed to know in order to see it happening, 2007 and 2008 were extremely eventful years in terms of furthering the plans to sell NYC libraries: 
    •    In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government) was hired to assist the NYPL trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.
    •    In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.
         •    In November The Donnell Library sale was announced . . . .

TO READ MORE (a complete timeline of library sale events and maneuvers in 2007, 2008 and right through to to the formation of Citizens Defending Libraries) - Click: When Did Library Selling and Underfunding Begin?

It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries

While most New Yorkers are attuned to the power and excesses of the city real estate industry and therefore easily understand its role as a key motivator in the assault on libraries, it's unfortunately naive to believe that only the real estate industry has an agenda that is adverse to the tradition of continuing libraries as the democratic commons we have known them to be.

This gets us into some other big questions. TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats

Control of Information

Does dumbing down the public make sense, is it truly workable if you want an effective democracy?  The availability and control of information, including in libraries as copious storehouses of information, has always long disconcerted authoritarians.  For instance, is it surprising to know that Senator Joseph McCarthy exercised his influence to ban from U.S. controlled libraries the music and scores of the "Fanfare For The Common Man" composer Aaron Copeland, because McCarthy believed  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats 
No doubt there are those for whom it would be preferable if information in libraries was tidily circumscribed so that it just slipstreams comfortably behind the limited thinking and reporting of the corporate conglomerate controlled national media.  That's a corporate media which among other things and by example underreports the climate change crisis, and  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
 While the tradition has been to protect and preserve the information entrusted to libraries, information on the internet can be startlingly evanescent, its continued existence subject to decisions made by whim or out of wrath about what the public should see. . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
The Internet And Digital as Business

As the world speeds into digital, it is important to recognize the pull and tugs of what the internet corporations would like, including reasons for wanting things to go digital.  There are reasons why, when just five or six (as of 2017) people control as much wealth as half of the rest of the world's population, that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon (and Washington Post) owner Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft's Bill Gates are three for them (with another Carlos Slim Helu incidentally, as part of his media holdings, being the largest shareholder of the New York Times.  Those reasons coincide with the reasons Apple, Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all vying (along with Exxon Mobile) for the spot as largest U.S. company.

 . . . Think where all this money comes from.  There is, of course, the ubiquitous advertising, as the pop-up ads that saturate far-flung corners of the internet will remind you, just as advertising saturates the monopolistically owned TV and radio airwaves.  There is also the data-scraping.  As the "old internet saw" was quoted when Google was wiring all of NYC's streets for wireless internet "for free": "If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product."  What the private internet companies know about you helps target you . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats (or start by reading some of the snippets in different categories below.)
Privatized Political Advantage

Among those buying the data are political parties and their campaign operations looking to control the elected seats of government. Now with unprecedented insight into your preferences, those actors and operatives use the data to decide, with tools like gerrymandering, how much your vote should or should not be allowed to count.  With "voter preference files" that contain tens of thousands of "sets of data points" they have graduated from "microtargeting specific groups" to "nanotargeting" with different kinds of messages (whether true or not) designed elicit particular `emotional responses' from voters.  "Pay to sway" services supply a smorgasbord of  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Owning Ideas and Culture to Charge For Them

The content industry has its wants as well.  Its purveyors desire, for instance, to get the public out to the very latest movie you see touted on billboards, simultaneously on the sides of city buses, via the ads on Comedy Central and other channels, perhaps also boosted by a "sponsorship" mention on your local public radio station as it does featurette reporting . . . 
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
A Reduction to Dollar$ Sense

. . Traditional libraries have always stood as models opposite to the concept that everything in the world, plus everything that ought to be prioritized and perpetually pushed to the fore should exist in stripped-down monetizable dimensions.  To evaluate the world exclusively in the very limited terms of seeing things in terms of just numbers or only following the money is, in an of itself, impoverishing.  A 2015 report published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review studied how  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats

The last big subject to mention bears a relationship to the first topic.  When the government, whoever is in charge, isn't actually preventing citizens from reading certain books it might proscribe, it can, nevertheless, be interested in surveiling what books and information members of the public are reading.  In theory, this could allow the government to  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially  Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

Defunding and dismantling our libraries hurts society broadly, probably more broadly than many may have considered.

It is, of course, usually recognized that cutting back on library services significantly impacts low-income neighborhoods relying on them.  A PowerPoint presentation to the Queens Library board told it that library service is most important to low-income users: 2/3rds visit at least weekly, & almost 30% visit every/most days.  A recent Pew research Center report says "Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities," see them as community anchors, and use them to pursue jobs.  And it's been astutely commented that wherever it happens the loss of libraries is "another surefire way to entrench inequality."
Researchers and students also use the libraries.  Arguing to destroy libraries, the NYPL tried a divide-and-conquer-the-community approach suggesting that the research library was elitist and not sufficiently populist when in any given year the researchers and students at its 42nd Street central reference library consult "only 6% of print sources."  The same argument was being used to thin out collections at neighborhood libraries and move books off-site from those locations too.  That "6%" consultation rate was referred to by Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column, published just weeks before her death (Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, December 3, 2012), in which she lambasted the NYPL's Central Library Plan including its stingy thinking that books should not be kept on hand if they are consulted infrequently:
If we could estimate how many ways in which the world has been changed by that 6%, the number would be far more meaningful than the traffic through its lion-guarded doors. The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace." But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.
Among other things, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and SIBL are the libraries for the graduate students at CUNY, the City University of New York, who  . . . .

TO READ MORE (about how the benefits of libraries are transmitted throughout society, the racial discrimination in selling libraries and divide and divide-and-conquer-the-community ploys) - Click: Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled?

How Many Books Are Disappearing?

Venturing into a library to witness scads of empty book shelves is a disorientating experience.  The empty shelves constitute early warning signs: Empty shelves at Mid-Manhattan Library, SIBL, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Grand Army Plaza Library, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library have meant that these libraries have been targeted to be involved in library sale and shrinkage plans.

It is stunning how many books have disappeared and become unavailable, multiple millions overall.  (Library administration officials have done their best to obscure true counts of the reductions.)  If the books disappear from targeted libraries far enough in advance library administration officials can deceptively promise that there will be as many books after the shrinkage of the library as before.  Another deception is for library officials to claim that if books are exiled to be consolidated elsewhere in a "deduping" center there will actually be "more" books as a result.  ("Deduping" is euphemism for book elimination, the idea being the more books you consolidate in a central location the more books you have that are "duplicates" to be eliminated.)

Amazingly, despite the increasing difficulty in obtaining books NYC book circulation is going up and circulation increases are mainly the physical books that patrons generally prefer.  The idea that because some books (not all- for instance, Robert Caro's "The Power Broker") are available digitally we no longer need libraries to supply physical books is a myth.  That library administration officials disparage physical books as "old-fashioned analogue books" or just "artifactual originals" or that those officials will spend more money to push people in to digital reading than what spending on physical books costs does not make that myth any more true.

When library officials solicit contributions from the general public they will jive about how they are asking for that money in order to buy more books because they know that is a vision the public will support and respond favorably to, but at the same time library officials are less than transparent about how they are actually removing books from library premises and from the system entirely.

For more information about how many millions of books have disappeared from which libraries . .

TO READ MORE- Click: How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?

Why Turning Libraries Into Real Estate Deals Isn't The Good Deal Library and City Development Officials Describe

At first blush, many people have accepted what city development and library officials have regularly asserted about the deals launching this city-wide program of converting libraries into real estate deals (or, similarly, "redeveloping" our schools for that matter), that by "unlocking" library real estate development rights with multi-use developments it is a "win-win" proposition that benefits the libraries as well as the developers and real estate industry.

The offer of a free lunch is a tempting thing to hope for, but it doesn't bear scrutiny.  The math, when you do it, simply doesn't work out: It is expensive to tear down existing, frequently recently renovated libraries that the public has already invested substantially in.  When these development ideas are promoted the math goes from initial wishful fantasies, to deliberately obfuscated lack of transparency, to outright mendacious misrepresentation.  If library officials had insisted that the Donnell Library or the Brooklyn Heights Library be fully and completely replaced when they were sold (irrespective or their spaces being shoved underground), the sales would have to be calculated showing deep and obviously absurd public losses. . .

There is also the disruption that affects the public. And, although library and city officials try to skip over the point, when library assets are being divested, the libraries are, in the process, shedding their opportunities for future expansion and to keep pace as the city grows.

Moreover and probably most important, such multi-use development schemes force the libraries to "partner" with powerful private real estate interests that ultimately wind up in the drivers seat, setting the priorities with big checkbooks that bankroll false and misleading PR.  With the moneyed interests throwing their weight around, the public is exposed to bait-and-switch variations.  The Donnell Library sale deal that was described to the press and public when it was announced in no way resembled the deal that was consummated.

Selling Libraries And The Broader Issue of Private Sector Plunder of Public Property

Libraries are not our only public commons that are undemocratically under attack.  The attacks on libraries reflect a much wider scourge of plundering our public assets with the selling off and privatizing of schools, hospitals, public housing, parks, and even the privatization of our streets and sidewalks.  Accordingly, instead of just fighting the library fight, Citizens Defending Libraries (and you can join us) has reached out to other activists to hold a series of forums on the selling off of public assets and help engender and understanding of the commonalty of the threats and tactics an subterfuges we see.  For instance, as Noam Chomsky has explained one such "standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.". .  (In other words, when the door is open to privatization and sell-off there is an inducement to underfund.)  And then, with the transfer to private ownership, the result for public gets even worse.

Some of The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For 

City and library officials working with real estate developers trot out a standard set of misleading falsehoods and ploys to promote library sales.  If you think they sound good, watch out, often what they are saying is pretty much opposite to the real truth.

Want to know what lies to watch out for? . .

TO READ MORE- Click: The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For When Official Sell Libraries

(Read about: lies about public process * Lies about how to oppose a sale * Lies that "replacement" libraries will be as big or bigger *  Lies that libraries are too "dilapidated" to fix * The "same number of books" lie)

Where Does It Go From Here?  What Can You do?

One thing you can do is consider this a worthy cause and inform yourself and others about it.  Protection and preservation of our libraries is something that most people instantly and automatically understand.  As one member of our group observed early on: "If you can't stop them at libraries, where can you stop them?"  That's why we must stop them.. .

 . .  But also, because people do understand what it means to protect libraries, because they understand it in their very bones, the protection of libraries is an issue and a cause that can be used as a fulcrum to push back on the many other issues that relate to it, the impoverishing privatizations of public assets in general, abuses of the real estate industry, the corrupting influence of money in politics, inequality of power and wealth and the abuses of power by the wealthy. 

What Can We Do Next?

TO READ MORE- Click: How to Defend Our Libraries.

(Read about: Altering the law * Insisting on transparency * defending library buttons * Our Letter of Support * Our petition * Our mailing List * Testimony at public hearings *  Birddogging elected officials  *  Contacting the press *  Social media * Having us speak to yous community organization * Letters to the editor/comment on web articles * Research help * FOIL assistance * Singing the marvelous Judy Gorman library song )

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

The archive of our previous web page (used into December 2017) can be found by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Bankruptcy of State Governments And Privatization In The Time Of Covid

Remember those mad scientists make tiny shrunken people movies?  Mitch McConnell and friends want to privatize the public's assets and add to the piggy banks of the corporate overlords.
Senate Majority Leader, Republican, Mitch McConnell suggests that it may be better for states to declare bankruptcy than for the federal government to give them access to the federal money they need during the coronavirus crisis.

Library Defenders have seen this before.  It’s the same thing as with libraries.  It’s purpose is to privatize the public assets held by the states.  Here it’s being done the same way as with libraries in New York City: You withhold funds making up a story about what you do and don’t have money for and then use the disaster that your underfunding creates as your cover and excuse for selling off and privatizing the assets that belong to the public.  Citizens Defending Libraries has held forums on privatizing public assets and the playbook for how it works is posted here: Our Public Assets Under Attack- A Calamity of the Commons Unfolding That We Must Act Collectively Against- How best To Express It?

Once privatized, formerly public assets are no longer under democratic control and, in private hands, the private sector takes whatever tithing of profit it feels the market will bear.  When, for example, that means that when healthcare must be delivered to the public through the intermediary of a profit-taking insurance industry, it also follows that healthcare is delivered far less efficiently, far less effectively and at far greater cost.

The coronavirus crisis is being used as an opportunity to besiege other public assets– We are also witnessing an effort to, by selectively withholding funds, take down the United States Post Office.  As is obvious, the coronavirus has created financial need and financial stresses every which way, creating a need for financial support to be deployed almost universally at all levels, but we are witnessing an effort by those in the federal government handing out the dollars to target the Post Office, in particular, for such rescue and maintenance funding to be withheld, even though that office’s vital infrastructure is constitutionally mandated and normally self-supporting on a not-for-profit basis.  As a Bernie Sanders tweet notes, “How in the hell does Carnival, a cruise ship company that pays virtually no federal income taxes, receive a bailout, but the Postal Service, the most popular government agency in America, does not?”

A privatizing dismantling of the Post Office at this time would have certain other effects.  Right now, the Post Office provides one of the only options for private and secure communications in a world where almost everything happens transacted through the private monopoly profit dominated universe of a data-scraping internet.  Because it is secure and run by reliable, trusted employees subject to strict laws, the Postal Service can be used for voting (a remote voting mechanism especially important in a time of covid), whereas the prospect of easily hackable internet voting is a joke.  Or in the future, when Amazon has taken over for FedEx, UPS, and the postal service, will Amazon handle the delivery of our election votes?

Naomi Klein, with her video warning about how we must fend off Coronavirus Capitalism (a particular flavor of the “disaster capitalism” she has astutely described for years now) refers to the bad ideas that come out of the woodwork as “ideas that are lying around” and “seemingly impossible” can be implemented in a crisis when the public's disorientation can be exploited.  (She sanguinely counsels the same can happen with good ideas that can be implemented in a catalyzing crisis.)   The idea of dismantling the Post Office has been around for a while: After all, what good excuse was there for Congress in 2006 to pass a hobbling law specially applicable to only the Postal Service requiring the Post Office, in an absurdly short period of time, to pay worker pension and health benefits three quarters of a century in advance?

These privatizing ideas have been, indeed, been lying around. Bankruptcy for states has been lying around as something the power manipulators have been eager to implement for a while.  But its not because state bankruptcy would enable the “red states” through the “ascendancy” of a conservative federal judiciary to impose “priorities upon the budgets of the richer states.”  Like a lot of other things, privatization, is not, and should not be diminished as a red team/blue team issue, the kind of thing that is so constantly used to distract us.  It’s another thing the corporatists want, because the extraction of profit and substitution of private control for democracy are always the end goals of the corporate elites.

Yes, bankruptcy of the states would enable a bleeding and ransacking of the pension funds of public workers.  That would reduce the workers’ pay, change the terms of their employment, maybe even after the fact.  But the pension funds that could be drained along with good working relationships with state workers are just a part of the assets and infrastructure that could be subtracted from democracy and democratic control.  There are also: schools, colleges, school systems, roads, bridges, every building any government occupies, parks, playgrounds, lakes, fire houses, police stations, hospitals, housing, memorials, and (as is a target in Puerto Rico) the electric power delivery system and grid.  When schools go, so do troublesome teachers unions, and what might be a unpredictable proclivity to actually teach children to think critically.  Oh. Are we forgetting to mention libraries,” because that’s what we started by talking about.

The way that the federal government has been printing and handing out money during a halted economy and how arbitrarily those decisions are made reveals the extent to which money and the assignment of wealth that is somehow measured in dollars is a fiction, something that’s clearly subject to what we decide the rules are today at this moment, rules that may not be the same tomorrow. 

It’s scary that we have stimulus bills crank up the press to print money that’s getting handed out disproportionately to the wealthiest, repeating the 2008 financial crisis mishandling of the economy.  The actions taken by government in 2008 was one of the greatest wealth transfers ever, increasing wealth inequality in America by pumping money into wealthy investment funds, banks, and corporations at exactly the time that asset prices were low and temporarily suppressed, prices for things like the homes of people in the Main Street economy.  Those assets and homes were then bought up by those hedge funds, banks and corporations.  Probably worst: It was paid for with taxpayer money.  The people who lost their homes paid the taxes that financed those tilted economy buy ups that deprived them of ownership.

While it’s scary, that we may be doing that again, it is also instructive, because its clear that where the money goes are just decisions, nothing more than that, just decisions about where we want the money to be, where we want to recognize it as being. When we were dealing with libraries as part of New York City’s budget we were dealing with just the most infinitesimal fraction of the budget when the fiction was being made up that there was no money to fund libraries so that they supposedly needed to be sold.  Now our fictions about where money needs to be sent during a stalled economy has us dealing with trillions of dollars.

If we are not careful, we will consent to recognize an even greater transfer of wealth to the wealthiest than in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.  The bankruptcy of states and the sell off of the Post Office would be just part of the privatization that would go along with it.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Although Gov. Cuomo Halted Most Construction Statewide In Response Coronavirus Crisis, In NYC Where Crisis Is Worst, The Construction Of Tower Replacing Beloved Central Library Continues As “Essential Construction” of “Affordable Housing,” Except It’s NOT- It’s A Luxury Condo Tower

Address: One Clinton Street, Brooklyn
Category: Affordable Housing
All jobs for this BIN are approved
This is interesting– In a time when we are all wearing masks to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, the luxury tower replacing what was one the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the Business, Career, Education, and federal depository Brooklyn Heights library is wearing the mask of “affordable housing” in order to be able to continue construction despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s declared halt to most residential and commercial construction.

Apparently the luxury condo tower is calling itself “affordable housing” in order to be considered “essential construction” (see the image above with the site’s classification taken from the “Essential Active Construction Sites” data page.)   Let’s be clear, there is no affordable housing being built on this site.

The luxury housing was able to be built extra tall with more floor area because the developer has agreed to build and complete, ahead of time, affordable housing in Clinton Hill, but this luxury tower is not that affordable housing; there is no affordable housing being built at this site.
Curbed Governor Cuomo suspends construction in March, but "Affordable Housing Still Allowed"
At the end of March Governor Cuomo suspended “most construction statewide in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping New York, following outcry from workers and lawmakers when the industry was largely unaffected by a shut down of all nonessential businesses.”

Under Cuomo’s directive certain “crucial work, including on infrastructure, hospitals, and affordable housing, along with emergency repairs” was to be permitted.  Ergo, the luxury tower puts on a coronavirus mask and becomes “affordable housing.”

The Department of Buildings Commissioner Melanie E. La Rocca said that to “protect New Yorkers during this pandemic” there will be “stiff enforcement” of the rules (including shutdowns and fines of to $10,000) because “we simply cannot afford to continue business as usual.”  We'll see if this building being built by one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's favored developers, David Kramer, gets subject to that “stiff enforcement.”

Meanwhile, we will note that New York City libraries have been shut down during the crisis.  So libraries are not essential anymore, but that which replaces them is?  The shrink-and-sink deal agreed to by the city when it agreed to sell the central destination library means that a smaller library with far fewer books, pushed more underground is ultimately supposed to be built under the luxury tower.  Arguably that’s the actual public benefit to allowing the construction of the luxury tower to proceed.– We might hope then that, when that much smaller library is finally built, it is actually allowed to open, rather then the public simply being told at that time we have gone so long without libraries and physical books it proves they were never a necessity in the first place; that the only necessity in this world is luxury condos!
Views of David Kramer's Hudson Companies luxury One Clinton condo tower interspersed with the garden and library wall inscription that was lost
POST SCRIPT ADDENDUM: At the April 28, 2020 Brooklyn Public Library Trustees meeting following the original posting of this article, Jordan Barowitz of the Durst real estate organization, the BPL trustee who heads the BPL trustee committee overseeing real estate construction, told the trustees that most BPL library construction projects were halted.  He said that all DDC (New York City "Department of Design and Construction") library projects are halted.  DDC is the city's civil service agency accountable to the mayor from which library officials are working to wrest control, with among other things, the possibility of shifting projects to the Economic Development Corporation, an agency frequently criticized for how it is subject to developer capture.  Mr. Barowitz said that, because of its “affordable housing” component, the Sunset Park project was not halted.  Mr. Barowitz told the trustees that the David Kramer luxury tower Brooklyn Heights library construction was halted, but he added permission had been obtained to start construction again on the Brooklyn Heights project on May 5th.  Mr. Barowitz did not tell the trustees the basis for the grant of that permission unlike with the Sunset Park project.
POST SCRIPT ADDENDUM #2:  On May 7th, one of our Library Defenders reported the following-- They saw a project construction worker at the corner Pierrepont and Clinton, coming from Montague, holding a tall coffee or soda, no mask, ready to use cell phone.  First asking about when the building was to be completed, our Library Defender then curiously inquired: "I thought there was a ban on construction."  The construction worker answered, "This is essential construction."  To which our Library Defender responded asking, "How is it essential?"  The construction worker's answer: "It's affordable housing."  When the Library Defender expressed astonishment and insisted, "But this is a luxury condo!"  the construction workers disputed the point, saying that the building had an affordable connection.  "But that's in another neighborhood," our Library Defenders said.  "No, it's in this condo," the construction worker replied.  Perhaps the construction worker did not know he was wrong about where the "affordable housing" will be located?

Monday, March 2, 2020

As Michael Bloomberg Runs For President It’s Time To Resurrect And Reissue Our “Save New York City Libraries From Bloomberg Developer Destruction” Petition— (To Remind People How Mayor Bloomberg Defunded New York Libraries In Order To Sell Them To Real Estate Developers)

With Michael Bloomberg running for president it’s time to remind people what kind of mayor he was.

In 2013, when Bloomberg was mayor of New York, Citizens Defending Libraries formed immediately issuing our Save New York City Libraries From Bloomberg Developer Destruction petition.

We formed Citizens Defending Libraries and issued our petition  to oppose Bloomberg’s program of deliberately defunding New York City 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.  He launched an unjust and shortsighted plan that was particularly unfair in a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity.

With Michael Bloomberg now running for president, it looks like it’s time to resurrect and republish our petition.  Actually, it can still be signed. We are still working to oppose the sale and defunding of libraries, the elimination of books and librarians.  We are still sending out periodic emails to the signers of our petition to keep people up to date about defending libraries and the threats they face.  And there is so much for people to know. . .

The plans Bloomberg launched to sell New York City go back until at least 2004 or 2005. In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.  That included the shrink-and-sink sale of the beloved central destination Donnell Library in midtown Manhattan, which was sold in what was essentially a no-bid  deal that shortchanged the public and provided a windfall that enriched Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner with a $30 million windfall.

The first library sold, the 97,000-square foot, five-story central destination Donnell Library on what was documented to be the most valuable block in Manhattan at the time, was sold to net the NYPL less than $25,000 million.  The penthouse in the luxury tower that replaced it in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.  Another single lower-level condo unit in the luxury building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investors made that hotel,“the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.” . .

. .  In the luxury restaurants in the luxury hotel in the tower that now claims to the once publicly owned site, you can get $1,500 Ice Cream Sundaes and $500 Cocktails while you luxuriate on coyote pelts.

Bloomberg who was to leave office January 31, 2013, made the very expensive consolidating shrinkage Central Library Plan, which involved the sale of the Manhattan libraries, a stated priority to achieve by his term's end.  Similarly, it was his goal to achieve the shrink-and-sink sale of Brooklyn's second biggest library, the Business, Career, Education and federal depository library in downtown Brooklyn on the edge of Brooklyn Heights by the end of his term.  He didn't meet these time frames and his plans were somewhat derailed through work of Citizens Defending Libraries and other activist we teamed up with.  When other, better uses were proposed for the funds to be plowed into vastly expensive Manhattan library sale plans, those plans were unacceptable to Bloomberg.  Scott Sherman says in his book (“Patience and Fortitude- Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library”) on the subject, "It seems that for Bloomberg, it was all or nothing."

It's important to pay attention to who, along with Bloomberg, is selling off NYC libraries.  Bloomberg cared enough about implementing these plans to have many of his administration high-ups on the city's three library boards.  His counsel became the chair of the Brooklyn Public Library board of trustees. Bloomberg's official representative on the New York Public Library board was his very own sister,  Marjorie Tiven.  At the press March 11, 2008 press conference announcing launch of the plans for the consolidating shrinkage of the Manhattan libraries Bloomberg praised his "friend" Stephen A. Schwarzman, one of the main people pushing NYPL libraries in sales out the door to benefit people like Jared Kushner.   Schwarzman is one of Trumps top economic advisors. He's a remarkable piece of work involved in arranging for the wholesale sale and privatization of American Public assets, proud to describe himself as a good friend of  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (“MBS”-  You know the dismemberment killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Yemen war). . . . Not surprisingly, Bloomberg also hobnobs with MBS.

People should remember what Bloomberg did when was entrusted with New York City's libraries as Bloomberg now asks to be entrusted with the U.S. presidency. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Exile of Another Journalist From Corporate Mainstream Media, David Wright Suspended By ABC– This Time It’s Not For Being Anti-war, It’s Just For Being Honest About How Corporate Media News Doesn’t Serve The Public

Here’s a striking news story. ABC has suspended veteran journalist David Wright because of secretly recorded remarks in which we described with frankness his opinion that mainstream corporate media, doesn’t properly serve the public. . .  It means we’ll have to add another journalist to our list of journalists exiled from corporate mainstream media.  (See: List of Journalists Fired or Self-exiled From Mainstream Media Outlets Because They Expressed or Wanted to Express Views (Like Being Critical of U.S. Wars) Unacceptable to the Outlets They Were Working For.)

We’ll also have to note how Wright’s suspension breaks the typical pattern of so many other exiled journalists on our list: Wright was not fired for expressing any antiwar sentiments, only for expressing his misgivings about the overall corporate media news system. And maybe for saying he personally favors a national health insurance, or thinks that there are too many billionaires?

What’s wrong overall with the corporate media news system may explain why the corporate media so often encourages us to go to war, but Wright’s secretly recorded remarks didn’t connect any of those dots.

ABC suspended its veteran correspondent despite David Wright’s history and credentials:
•    Emmy Award-winning ABC News correspondent. 
•    Joined the network nearly 20 years ago.
•    He has covered the White House and was "Nightline's" lead political reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign.
It’s remarkable that Wright was suspended for the remarks he privately shared given what he said.  His remarks, which actually seem wise and perceptive, were:
I feel terrible about it.  I feel that the truth suffers, the voters are poorly informed…

    And so, it's like there's no upside in — or our bosses don't see an upside in — doing the job we're supposed to do, which is to speak truth to power and hold people to account.

* * *
I don’t think we are terribly interested in the voters

* * *

The fake news abounds.  There are problems with the truth these days. 

* * *
The commercial imperative is incompatible with news. …

 It became a profit center, a promotion center. Like now, you can't watch "Good Morning America" without there being a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing. It's all self-promotion. And promotion of the company and also promotion of individuals within the company. As opposed to, kind of, the dedication to the story and a commitment to stories that we need to tell but that are maybe hard to tell.
* * *

I think some of that, at least in the places where I work and the  places like it, is that with Trump, we're interested in three things. We're interested in the outrage of the day, the investigation, and the palace intrigue of who's stabbing who. Beyond that, we don't really cover the guy. …   

We don't hold him to account. We also don't give him credit for what things he does do. …

And we're in this awkward moment where  — and created by this awkward moment — where we have this f**king president. And we can't figure out how to challenge him.

* * *

I'd consider myself a socialist. Like I think there should be national health insurance. I'm totally fine with reining in corporations. I think there are too many billionaires, and I think that there's a wealth gap. That's a problem.

* * *

So you know, real people talk about practical issues, when they’re thinking about a a candidate, “I want to get back n the workforce,” or “I need medical care for whatever.” Those things aren’t TV friendly things.  You know, we want to focus on impeachment, we want to focus on the big sh*t going on, but the things that help people make up their mind are little shit. 

* * *

I think that we don’t have the bandwidth to give everybody a fair shot .  And we should.


We are all guilty of the same thing.  I think all these big news organizations- I’m speaking about broadcast television.  That’s all Im speaking about: ABC, CBS, NBC.  And we recognize that we are dinosaurs and we’re in danger of dying.
In the secret recording Wright also exchanges views with his colleague Andy Feis that the media is screwing up in presidential campaign coverage by covering just the "horse race" aspect of things, not giving candidates their due, just wanting to do "flavor of the month, flavor of the week," wanting to emphasize conflict and keep moving on.

The incongruity that Wright was suspended for these remarks constituting news and insight about corporate media news that's probably more important and valuable than much of ABC News' own standard fare, is what is and what should be the main story here, although the story comes with a footnote important to pass along: The secrete recording was made by Project Veritas, typically described as a "far-right activist" group that often unreliably edits what it publishes after setting up entrapments.  It's unclear what Veritas thought it was proving about bias in the media when it recorded Wright and published what he said.  As you can read above, Wright's criticisms include that media doesn't, in his opinion give Trump credit when credit is due; his views are considered, not one-sided.

Here is the Project Veritas video:
‘Socialist’ ABC Reporter Admits Bosses Spike News Important to Voters, 'Don’t Give Trump Credit', February 26, 2020
The story was covered as a headline by Democracy Now, "ABC Suspends David Wright over Remarks Secretly Recorded by Far-Right Group," February 27, 2020, and the Salon coverage with worthwhile, "ABC's David Wright told the truth about network news and Trump — and paid the price," Dan Froomkin, February 27, 2020.
"ABC Suspends David Wright over Remarks Secretly Recorded by Far-Right Group,"

"ABC's David Wright told the truth about network news and Trump — and paid the price,"

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Privatization of History: Scary Information About What Is Happening At Our National Archives and Records Administration

"Erasing" history or "privatizing" it?  Churchill, a man whose flaws you may be unfamiliar with said: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”-- And he did.
This one hits home for us at Citizens Defending Libraries.  At Citizens Defending Libraries we have paid much attention to how the shutting down, selling and deliberate underfunding of libraries relates to information control, information elimination, and censorship.

On February 6th, Democracy Now had a story about how millions of documents are being expunged from the National Archives.  This was right after the National Archives delivered an altered version of history concerning the 2017 Women’s March by doctoring a photograph of the March that the Archives used as a main feature for a new exhibit, The doctoring removed criticisms of President Trump.  See:  Erasing History: The National Archives Is Destroying Records About Victims of Trump’s ICE Policies.

Our National Archives is a form library intended to be a repository for the protection of our country’s history, as well as a form of watchdog for its protection.  Let’s note again: It’s a form of library.  Matthew Connelly, professor of history at Columbia University and principal investigator at History Lab, interviewed for the Democracy Now story about the expungements said that:
a lot of what’s happening at the National Archives is happening because they are being starved of resources.  They have a smaller budget now than they had back in 2008. That budget has been cut every year for the last three years.
That sounds exactly like our New York City libraries.  And we will remind you that there is no excuse for starving our New York City libraries of resources the way we are being starved, because libraries are an almost infinitesimal portion of our city budget, especially in terms of the benefits they deliver.

Mr. Connelly was on Democracy Now, having written a recent piece for The New York Times on the Archive expungements headlined “Why You May Never Learn the Truth About ICE.”

While the hook that was used for both the Democracy Now interview and Mr. Connelly’s New York Times op-ed was the destruction of information about the recent and ongoing atrocities being committed by ICE under Trump, the violations of “immigrant rights” involved, and how ICE may be “destroying records from Trump’s first year, including the detainees’ complaints about civil rights violations and shoddy medical care,” Mr. Connally ventured further in his concerns.  He expressed his worries about our government’s “long history of destroying records related to the overthrow of democratically elected governments, mind control experiments and torture, and he noted how our country has “destroyed all of the records of the deliberations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [he didn’t get to finish his sentence].”  He noted that the “Department of the Interior and the National Archives have decided to delete files on endangered species, offshore drilling inspections and the safety of drinking water.”

The Democracy Now headline for its segment with Mr. Connelly refers to “Erasing History,” but is this characterization directly on target?  Isn’t this instead, a likely “privatization” of history?

In his New York Times op-ed Mr. Connelly mentions how now when things go into the National Archives, “Everything must be digital, or the departments and agencies must use their own resources to scan them.”

We are currently in an age when there is unprecedented private storage of data.  Everything is saved.  Data storage is insanely cheap, and keeps getting cheaper.  Much of that data storage is done by companies like Amazon, private companies that have strong ties to the CIA and the military industrial complex.

With private data collection running rampant for every conceivable purpose, is it reasonable to think that any anything that ever exists in digital form, even if that digital existence is brief, is ever truly expunged, that it truly ever vanishes?  Is it reasonable to believe that just because we starve our libraries and public national archive, that the information they made available, however briefly, especially if it was made available digitally, will not continue to exist in private hands?  Probably not.

When information exists digitally, it is easy to suck it out on into private databases a wholesale basis. . .   It is instructive to remember that, before his premature and extremely disheartening death, Aaron Swartz, the young activist  who was, among other things, a fan of libraries and an advocate for democratic empowerment through publicly available information (plus an open internet with net neutrality), was legally persecuted by our government for sucking out digital information on a wholesale basis to do exactly the opposite: He downloaded 4.8 million academic journal articles from a from a private database with the probable intent of making them more publicly accessible.  A number of years before, Swartz downloaded and made more freely available to the public 2.7 million federal court documents (essentially the law) from a federal database, documents which were technically already public, but were somehow not actually readily accessible to the public unless they paid to go through private channels, except through private channels.  Prosecuted for his download of the academic journal articles, Swartz faced a potential 90 years in prison and his father accused the government of hounding him and bringing about his death.
It is therefore important to understand that what we are talking about is the privatization of history and information, not its erasure.

The control of history and its narratives has been going on for a long time with those who are powerful thinking a lot about it.  Winston Churchill famously said, “history will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”  Our more liberal friends from the United Kingdom, who are better and more knowledgeably acquainted with Churchill, tell us they have very mixed feelings about “Winnie.”  Their feelings toward him are probably less favorable than ours, as we on this side of the pond, have likely been subjected to more unadulterated myth-making propaganda about the man.  There is much that was simply appalling about Churchill, but the fact that Churchill did, indeed, actually write a lot of the history about himself counteracts much of that.

Interviewed on On The Media, journalist Madhusree Mukerjee explained that after World War II, Churchill:
had complete access to all United Kingdom documents and an entire team of researchers and writers who helped him actually write six volumes or so of his World War II memoirs. And these volumes put Churchill at the center of the war, whereas historians have filled out some of the detail, which is that it was the Soviets who defeated the Nazis and the Americans who defeated the Japanese.
(See: Churchill's Forgotten, Ruthless Past, March 16, 2018)

Mukerjee also notes that “when his political career was in shards after the First World War, he wrote a history then, as well,” and that he wrote several histories, including “something called The History of the English-Speaking Peoples.”

Putting the resources of the British government at Churchill’s disposal to write is one way of letting history be written by those that command the reins of power. . . But pulling back on our public resources to put all of our history in the hands of private corporate monopolies that do not have the best interests of the public assuredly at heart is probably an even more serious surrender of the custodianship of truth and memory.  Global warming anyone?  How about perpetual wars?

. .  Privatizing history is probably far worse than just trying to erase it.

Our last thought on this: You may have already observed for yourself that, whether its studying to understand history or just trying to follow the news, the most vital key to comprehension is most certainly a careful focus on what the powerful don’t want you to know.

PS: (added February 29, 2020)– On February 21, On The Media caught up to run a segment, “The Vanishing National Archives," about  Matthew Connelly, his  New York Times op-ed and the expungements from the National Archives.

It mostly tracked the story above:
by the end of this year, they're [the archive is] going to be able to start destroying records from the first year of the Trump administration when it first began to crack down on undocumented immigration.

* *

[On the chopping block] . .  everything from aviation safety to the takeover of American firms by foreign nationals. All of those records are slated for destruction in the Department of Interior, records related to protection of drinking water, enforcement of laws on endangered species, the management of the mismanagement of native lands, native assets, all that stuff's gonna get deleted, too.
However, it ends using a nice quote from Churchill’s counterpart in the United States, Franklin Roosevelt:
“A nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people.” So to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.