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, September 5, 2013

Citizens Defending Libraries First Election Recommendation: NO to Christine Quinn, Who Favors Selling & Shrinking Libraries

This is the Citizens Defending Libraries very first election recommendation: Do NOT vote for Christine Quinn, who favors selling and shrinking New York City libraries and is tolerant of the current astoundingly low level of library funding at a time of increasing use.

Citizens Defending Libraries will be issuing other recommendations and guidance with respect to the candidates Democrat, Republican and Other running for New York City office, including the Public Advocate and Comptroller, both for the primaries (Primary Day is Tuesday, September 10th- We urge you to vote) and the general election, but feels it urgent to immediately issue this recommendation as our Part 1 recommendation for the primary.   Nothing is as black and white as this case.  (We are also allowing a fraction more time for some of the other candidates to supply Citizens Defending Libraries with information and commitments about their position on the libraries before we issue our additional guidance pro and con with respect to candidates.)

Christine Quinn, Speaker of the City Council is running for the Democratic nomination for mayor. It is shocking that a candidate running for that office is in favor of selling off New York City libraries, drastically shrinking library space in the system and is tolerating the current the jaw-dropping extent to which the funding of New York City libraries has been reduced during Ms. Quinn’s tenure as speaker while system usage has been rocketing up.

Ms Quinn actually treats that current low level of funding as a victory, misinforming the public that they can be assured no libraries will be closed even as plans proceed like the NYPL’s Central Library Plan (endorsed by Ms. Quinn!) involving the sell-off of the Mid-Manhattan Library and SIBL (the Science, Industry and Business Library), plus the destruction of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library’s famed research stacks, and in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Public Library officials move forward to sell the Brooklyn Heights, Pacific Branch and other libraries.

Citizens Defending Libraries does not make its emphatic recommendation here lightly.  We have delayed making this recommendation in the hope that, based on information and discussion, we could swing Ms. Quinn over to a different position on these sell-offs and shrinkages as we have influenced other candidates.  We also hoped that as the number of our petition signers grew we would have been able to bring Ms. Quinn to a stark understanding of the importance of this issue. . . . .   Our petition signatures have indeed swelled, but we have not succeeded in swaying Ms. Quinn.

The Citizens Defending Libraries recommendation is based on our dealings with Christine Quinn as City Council member and speaker (we’ve met discussing the issues with her staff, supplying enough information to assure that Quinn is thoroughly informed on the issues), our interactions with her campaign, her response to Citizens Defending Libraries candidates questionnaire, and our mayoral forum which Ms. Quinn declined to attend.   (Information about the mayoral forum and the other candidates' positions is here: Mayoral Forum on Libraries Held August 30, 2013.)

Ms. Quinn’s clearest and worst offense is her support for the NYPL’s Central Library plan, a proposal to take well over 380,000 square feet of library space and reduce it to just 80,000 square feet of largely bookless space.  Some people have described the `replacement' space as looking like a party room for the wealthy (and indeed it is in a building where the wealthy are now holding weddings in other library space converted for the purpose).  This new smaller space, replacing big libraries, would be accessed through one small door deep the back quarters of the 42nd Street and Fifth library building behind the lions, Patience and Fortitude.  Part of this shrinkage would be the sell-off of Mid-Manhattan and SIBL.  Not long ago it was proposed to nearly double the size of Mid-Manhattan, not shrink it.  SIBL was created (sharing space with CUNY at 34th Street) in 1996 at a public cost of $100 million.  Now, a few years later, 87% of SIBL is being old for $60.8 million!

This shrinkage plan comes at other cost too: at least $350 million in public money of which $151 million is taxpayer money coming from the city, a huge expenditure not targeted for hearings or review by the Quinn-led City Council.

Many consider that the sudden, secretive sale of the five-story 97,000 square-foot Donnell Library across from MoMA that occurred on Quinn’s watch was the precursor and test run to the Central Library Plan Quinn endorses.  Indeed, the collections left homeless by the sale of Donnell will somehow have to be accommodated within the Central Library Plan’s scheme if it proceeds and the shrinkage of space associated with that Donnell sale is very similar and was planned at the same time.  The NYPL netted only $39 million for the sale of the irreplaceable Donnell (being replaced by a 50-story building where the penthouse is on the market for $60 million) and that net amount the NYPL is getting doesn’t reflect any subtraction out of the millions of dollars that were paid to high-priced consultants at the time.

Quinn has also refused to oppose the sale-for-shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library, a transaction closely modeled on the sale of Donnell and refused to oppose the sale of other Brooklyn libraries like the Pacific Branch that, like the Brooklyn Heights Library, is next to Forest City Ratner property.  The Pacific Branch library is next to Atlantic Yards, another real estate boondoggle Quinn did not oppose.
Just days ago at this year's West Indian Day Parade Ms. Quinn spied one of our Citizens Defending Libraries members wearing a “Don’t Sell Our Public Libraries!” Citizens Defending Libraries button.  Quinn volunteered that she was `against selling libraries,’ not what she has been willing to say for the public record.  If there was a Christine Quinn who was publicly opposing the sale and shrinkage of these New York City’s libraries perhaps our recommendation here would be modified, but Ms. Quinn’s parade statement is instead representative of another side of Quinn that is disconcerting in the extreme, the side of her that is willing to do the wrong thing and then issue statements that lie or distract attention from what she has actually done.  That’s a common complaint about politicians but Quinn is consummate in this regard.

Many of our Citizens Defending Libraries members have been communicating with Ms. Quinn about the importance of these library issues.  What they have been getting back are canned-response platitudes about how Ms. Quinn loves libraries and a fuzzing over of her position about base-line funding to stabilize their budgets at increased levels (base-line funding hasn’t come to a vote under her speakership).  Most ridiculously, Ms. Quinn’s campaign has distracted from the ill-conceived notions that Bloomberg and library officials have for mini-libraries to replace those libraries of stature upon which the public has always relied, with her campaign proposal that the city’s shrunken libraries become “mini-city halls.”  As if the importance of government and public input hasn’t been trivialized enough under Bloomberg/Quinn regime!

Citizens Defending Libraries’ recommendations on the candidates are based first, foremost, although not exclusively, on the candidates’ positions on the sell-off, shrinkage and underfunding of New York City libraries.  Many of our Citizens Defending Libraries members tell us they consider themselves one-issue voters.  Nevertheless, we think that where the candidates stand on these library issues is apt to be strongly indicative of where the candidates truly stand with respect a number of other things, including:
    •    Where they stand on the current fire sale of public assets under the Bloomberg administration- schools for redevelopment, public housing properties, including public housing playgrounds, hospitals (Ms. Quinn did not oppose what happened to St. Vincent’s, once a hospital and now a real estate development), public park land, etc.

    •    Where they stand with respect to the real estate industry (far and away, Ms. Quinn has taken more money from the real estate industry than any other candidate)

    •    Where they stand on growing income inequality in this city.
If we, the public, can’t stop them on the sell-off of public libraries, where will we be able to stop them?

Once again: We find it shocking that a candidate running for the office of mayor in this city is in favor of selling off New York City libraries, shrinking and underfunding them.  Just as shocking is that, when a candidate like Christine Quinn has been receiving as much press attention as she has, the press has not called her out on this issue.

For all the reasons above, the first Citizens Defending Libraries recommendation for Tuesday’s election is: Don’t vote for Christine Quinn.  Our citizens votes should flow to worthier candidates.

(Added 9/8/2013- Here are the rest of the Citizens Defending Libraries recommendations, pro and con, with respect to the rest of the candidates: Citizens Defending Libraries Recommendations On Other Candidates: Vote For Liu or de Blasio (Depending), Tish James For Public Advocate, NO to Squadron, and . . . More .)

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