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 29, 2013

Response of Mayoral Candidate Sal Albanese 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 mayoral candidate Randy Credico.

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 Sal Albanese

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?
Sal Albanese: As an immigrant kid growing up in Brooklyn, I spent my summers at the 9th Street library. In fact, it was the public libraries, schools, parks, and CUNY system that helped elevate my family from the working to the middle class. Libraries are essential community institutions, just like hospitals and schools. Great neighborhoods need great libraries, and we risk losing them if we don't fully fund them. Restoring funding is a necessity..
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.
Sal Albanese:  I strongly oppose the sale of libraries. That is why I'm proud to be the only candidate for Mayor who is not accepting contributions from developers, especially those trying to replace our libraries with luxury condos. I've rallied with Citizens Defending Libraries in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and will fight alongside them and regular New Yorkers in every borough to keep neighborhood libraries open..
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
    b.    SIBIL, the Science, Industry and Business Library, (its sale is considered to be part of the NYPL’s “CLP,” Central Library Plan)
    c.    Mid-Manhattan (its sale is also considered to be part of the CLP)
    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).
    e.    The NYPL’s “Central Library Plan” (involving the consolidating shrinkage of the libraries noted above)
    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)
    g.    The Pacific Branch Library at 4th Avenue and Pacific in Brooklyn
    h.    The Clinton Hill Library in Brooklyn
    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
    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.
    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.
Sal Albanese:  Library usage is up and the services that they provide are in higher demand than ever for seniors, job seekers, immigrant families, and students. When I talk to citizens in Clinton Hill or Brooklyn Heights or Harlem or Midtown, few know that their libraries are at risk. But when they learn about the plans, they're outraged. Like them and anyone using basic common sense, I oppose the CPL and its proposed sale, shrinkage, and destruction of libraries. To be specific, I oppose A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J!.
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’?
Sal Albanese:  Library space isn't adequate as it is, so I oppose the sale and shrinkage of any library, regardless of the price.
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. 
Sal Albanese:  As a general rule, I oppose any act that would shrink, destroy, or relocate our libraries away from the people who depend on them most. Instead, I want to see their services expanded. In certain instances, it may be reasonable to sell a library if an equal- or greater-sized and equally-accessible location in the same neighborhood is identified. However, I've seen no such example proposed in any of the five boroughs..
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.
Sal Albanese:   We need to eliminate, not simply bridge, the digital divide. As Mayor, I'll lead the city to invest in an unprecedented expansion of our broadband network to every home and business in every borough. Doing anything less would deny people access to what has become a basic utility. But until that long-range goal can be accomplished, we need to create digital hubs in every neighborhood so that every New Yorker, regardless of income, has high-quality access to the Internet. Whether it's digital curriculum for school, digital job training or college courses, or ebooks, our local libraries should play that role. But digital materials should enhance, not completely displace, the services that libraries offer. They should supplement printed books and services. To make that happen, our libraries need more space, not less. I don't want to live in a city whose libraries don't have books on the shelves!.
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?
Sal Albanese:  To accomplish any of the goals I've laid out for our libraries, we need to increase professional staffing and invest in even better training for librarians. Like teachers, nurses, or city workers, they are public servants that deserve respect, fair pay, and support.
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?
Sal Albanese:  Absolutely not. Nothing contributes more to corruption and poor management than when a professional feels threatened or scared to express concerns and report problems to the appropriate authorities. In fact, that kind of courage and responsibility has exposed some of the worst examples of corruption, patronage, and waste in city agencies and contractors.
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.
Sal Albanese:  Absolutely. From my fifteen years on the City Council to today, I have been an outspoken critic of elected officials who pass the buck and look the other way. The City Council, Comptroller, and other elected officials are charged with overseeing all city agencies and services. 
* * * *
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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