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, August 22, 2013

Response of City Council Candidate Ede Fox (35th District) to Citizens Defending Libraries Questions For Candidates For New York City Offices

Citizens Defending Libraries is requesting candidates for New York City political offices to answer questions with respect libraries (posted on its we pages August 13, 2013).  Below are the responses to these questions furnished by City Council Candidate Ede Fox (35th District).
To find out what other candidates provided responses (and navigate to them) go to the Citizens Defending Libraries August 13, 2013 posting.

Questions and Responses From Ede Fox.

1.    New York City is growing (including in wealth) and public library usage is up very substantially, 40% programmatically and 59% in terms of circulation, yet libraries are currently being funded at their lowest level in years, a drastic reduction from the past.  Do you favor this low level of funding or believe that funding should be restored at least to, or above, the level that libraries were funded in the past?
Ede Fox: I strongly support fully restoring baseline funding. Moreover, libraries are constantly victim of budget dance, where they are threatened with huge cuts, and end up with only smaller cuts. This puts the lives the librarians in limbo, sometimes forcing them to resign in the face of job insecurity. Librarians should not be treated as pawns- they are valuable public servants..
2.    Are you in favor of or do you oppose the sale of libraries, public assets of the library system and the reductions of library space (including such sales and reductions as have been proposed by the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library)?  Please explain.
Ede Fox:  I strongly oppose the sale of libraries, public assets of the library system and reduction of library space. This is not only a challenge of the library system, but of parklands, NYCHA properties, public streets, and hospitals.

It is shortsighted to sell off these assets. The City might get a quick buck, but we are forever losing public assets and public space. The City has lost sight of a government for the people, by the people and of the people. The only constituents seems to be the real estate market, and the only value is trulia.com. A City is more than just a connection of plots- it is a community of residents who can interact with each other, and build a democracy.

One issue that has failed to get any attention is the loss of space within libraries. In my district, the passport office used to be in an unused corner right by the entrance of the library. BPL chose to move it to a bigger space, but it eliminated the room for the Language Center. This contradicts the mission of the library. Yes, the passport office does bring in money, but the mission of the library is to be a library.
3.    More specifically, are you opposed to, in favor of, or neutral about the following proposed library sales, shrinkages and consolidating of library assets (Please explain and amplify your stated position–Note that one of the sales and reductions has already occurred– Donnell– while others are proposed and/or in progress):
    a.    The Donnell Library at 53rd Street across from MoMA between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
Ede Fox:   Opposed
    b.    SIBIL, the Science, Industry and Business Library, (its sale is considered to be part of the NYPL’s “CLP,” Central Library Plan)
Ede Fox:   Opposed
    c.    Mid-Manhattan (its sale is also considered to be part of the CLP)
Ede Fox:   Opposed
    d.    Demolition and removal of research stacks underneath the Central Reference Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue (its sale is also considered to be part of the CLP).
Ede Fox:   I am opposed to the plan. As I understand it, NYPL wants to demolish the stacks under Bryant Park, ship all the research material offsite to a facility in New Jersey (but promise 24 hour delivery) and convert the resulting open space into a circulating library with Mid Manhattan’s collection, which they want to close/sell as well. The research stacks are an important asset to advanced researchers from all corners of New York City and beyond. Twenty-four hour delivery would unnecessarily impede researchers.
    e.    The NYPL’s “Central Library Plan” (involving the consolidating shrinkage of the libraries noted above)
Ede Fox:   Opposed. We support the improvement of the libraries, but we do not trust that the current administration will do it properly.
    f.    The Brooklyn Heights Library (the operations of which function on a combined and integrated basis with the Business and Career Library in the building)
Ede Fox:   Strongly opposed.
    g.    The Pacific Branch Library at 4th Avenue and Pacific in Brooklyn
Ede Fox:   Strongly opposed.
    h.    The Clinton Hill Library in Brooklyn
Ede Fox:   I was unaware that there was any proposed changes at the Clinton Hill Library. I know it was closed for renovation, but I thought it had opened up again. Please let me know about the current development.
    i.    All other libraries in Brooklyn that the BPL might consider similarly selling or leveraging as a stated part of the strategic plan it published.
Ede Fox:   Strongly opposed.
    j.    Other libraries NYPL might decide to similarly sell and shrink, such as libraries in Harlem, North Manhattan, Staten Island or other parts of Manhattan or the Bronx.
Ede Fox:   Leaning against, but I will have to study the issue more after the election.
    NOTE: The Central Library Plan involving Mid-Manhattan, SIBL and the Central Reference Library stack destruction involves reducing more than 380,000 square feet of library space to 80,000.  The Donnell sale for shrinkage and redevelopment reduced the 97,000 square foot library to 28,000 square feet of mostly underground, mostly bookless space that won’t be available until at least 2015, eight years after sale of the library was announced .  The planned sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library reduces about 62,000 square feet of space to 20,000 square feet (originally proposed to be only 15,000 sq ft), as much of a quarter of the reduced space being placed underground.

4.    Many people consider it an indication of a problematic mind-set on the part of decision makers that libraries are being sold for what they believe are very inadequate prices: The 97,000 sq. ft. Donnell Library, much of it recently renovated, was sold to net the NYPL only $39 million while the penthouse in the fifty-story building replacing it is on the market for $60 million and SIBL was recently completed using substantial public funds for $100 million but 87% of it was just sold for $60.8 million.  Are you opposed to the sale and shrinkage of library assets in general or do you accept sale and shrinkage if you consider that ‘an adequate price’ is obtained for the sale?  If the latter; please describe what you believe to be an ‘adequate price’?
Ede Fox:  I am opposed to sale and shrinkage of library assets in general. The failure to get a decent price for the properties sold shows a lack of appreciation for the library assets themselves, a failure to strongly advocate for the libraries, and a general failure to manage the City under the Bloomberg administration.
5.    Are you opposed to the sale of library space and assets in general or would you accept the sale of libraries if they were not being shrunk (or were being increased in size) and you considered that ‘an adequate price’ was being obtained for the sale?  Again, if the latter please describe what you believe to be an ‘adequate price.’  Alternatively, if you believe that the presumption should always be that libraries should not be available for sale or redevelopment because of such things as the disruptions and hardship caused and the way a generation of children and other will be significantly deprived of services, please elaborate upon this point of view. 
Ede Fox:  I am generally opposed to the sale of library space. If the BPL administration proved itself to be a forceful advocate of the libraries, I would consider some sales, but it would take a few years for BPL to achieve that level of trust.
6.    There is now a demand for internet and electronic services at the library.  Although a Pew poll shows that younger readers strongly prefer physical books, ebooks now make up 20% of the book market.  In some cases libraries are the only place to access certain electronic data and services (often requiring assistance of a librarian to do so).  Most people believe that libraries should now provide computer and electronic services (“bridging the digital divide” for those needing such service), which may require even more space.  Notwithstanding, do you believe that there is an adequate justification for NYC libraries to be effecting substantial reductions in the inventories of physical books available for those visiting at libraries, even in the face of increased demand?  Please explain your position.
Ede Fox:   Circulation of physical books have been going up for years. For many people, the libraries are the best and sometimes only place to get physical books. E-books have become much more readily available, and the library is a great place for Brooklynites to access e-books. We should have both, but I oppose the expansion of e-books when it comes at the cost of reducing physical books.
7.    Do you believe the libraries should be reducing professional library staff, or increasing such staff of at least maintaining the level of such professionals available to assist the public?
Ede Fox:  Librarians are an incredible asset to the public. They have a unique training and experience and I am dismayed that BPL does not do more to give them more say in the administration of the library. I have a deep trust and respect for librarians.

BPL has had a hiring freeze since 2008, except for a few grant-funded positions. This is scandalous enough by itself. To make matters worse, BPL has hired many outside consultants, many making more than $100,000 a year. This is a waste of resources, and it send the message the BPL does not respect its own employees, who know the library better than anyone, to offer creative solutions.
8.    Some believe that professionally trained librarians are often in the best position to comment knowledgeably on the directions in which the New York City library system is being steered, but actions are being taken to silence such staff and prevent them from commenting, including directives to staff, loyalty oaths and “nondisparagement” (confidentiality) agreements the NYPL wants departing librarians to sign in return for severance.  Do you condone such silencing policies or feel they should be considered to be contrary to public policy?
Ede Fox:  I would support requiring BPL to include several librarians and clerks on the Board. They should be involved in most of the important library decision. Even without positions on the Board, the librarians and clerks should be better informed about management decisions. Sometimes they only find out about their workplace from public sources.

It is standard practice in many organizations nowadays to required nondisparagement or confidentiality agreements. I don't think those are the problem. The problem is the lack of trust between the management of the libraries and the people who work there, and that is the problem that I would try to fix.
9.    Do you believe that the currently ongoing sell-offs of libraries and shrinkage of library space should be investigated and/or audited by appropriate government authorities?  Please elaborate.
Ede Fox:  Yes, the current sell-offs should be investigated by the Public Advocate, the Comptroller and the appropriate committees in the City Council. 
* * * *
Again, to find out what other candidates provided responses (and navigate to them) go to the Citizens Defending Libraries August 13, 2013 posting.

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