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.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mayoral Forum on Libraries Held August 30, 2013

On August 30, 2013, Citizens Defending Libraries and the Committee to Save the New York Public Library are co-sponsoring a Mayoral Forum on New York City Libraries to ask candidates to detail their positions on one of the most under-reported issues of the campaign.  All the city's libraries all across the city are being funded at unprecedentedly low levels, but usage is up 40% problematically, 59% in terms of circulation and the city is growing- The underfunding is being used as an excuse to do something else: Sell libraries and in the process substantially shrink their space and the resources in the library system.

The podcast of the event may be listened to here: Mayoral Forum on Libraries Held August 30, 2013.
(Link: http:/bobrowen.com/podcasts/Mayoral Forum Libraries 130830.mp3)

(In addition you may be interested in: Public Advocates and Comptroller Candidates Forum on Libraries Held September 4, 2013.)

In addition to the questions asked and answered by the candidates at this event, candidates for New York City office have been asked and are responding to Citizens Defending Libraries' questionnaire, both available here: Citizens Defending Libraries Questions For Candidates For New York City Offices.

Positions of candidates not attending the forum were also reviewed.  Here is a preview.
Above, (from Brooklyn Eagle) Christine Quinn coordinating in event with BPL President Linda Johnson (they both favor shrinking libraries) and City Councilman Vincent Gentile from Council's library committee.  Quinn's Campaign promoted here?: City's smaller libraries would also make good "mini" city halls.
The Central Library Plan involves the drastic reduction of more than 380,000 square feet of space down to only 80,000 square feet with the sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library and SIBL (the Science Industry and Business Library) and the destruction of the research stacks of the 42nd Street Central Rerfenec Library.  Here is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's press release statement of what she thinks of that plan:
"This visionary project by the New York Public Library, embodied in this beautiful building by Norman Foster, is central to this great institution’s evolution as a vital part of our city, as it has been for over a century.  I applaud NYPL for listening and heeding the concerns of the stakeholders, and for crafting a project that sensitively addresses its dual mission as a great center of scholarship—and as the people’s library for all New Yorkers—for the next century."
For more on this see: Response of Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn to Citizens Defending Libraries Questions For Candidates For New York City Offices.

Bill de Blasio with Citizens Defending Libraries calling for a halt to Central Library Plan and sell-offs of libraries
Here is some of what New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has said about the Central Libary Plan:
"I am writing to express my deep concern over the proposed changes to the City’s library systems in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I am calling on the City to halt the New York Public Library’s plans at the Central Library, and for a thorough, independent cost audit and review of the proposed project. In addition, I am calling for a reconsideration of the Brooklyn Public Library’s plans for the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific branches until a similar review can be completed.

The City’s three public library systems are critical public cultural institutions and have served our City well – supporting scholars and independent researchers, providing resources and services for immigrants and job-seekers, and serving as an intellectual home and refuge for life-long learners and avid readers. Over the past 12 years, these institutions have faced budget cuts and public divestment, struggled to meet operating costs, forced to reduce hours and services, and suffered from hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance on aging air conditioners, boilers, computers and roofs. But these fiscal challenges are not a rationale to engage in drastic measures – if anything, they underscore the need for prudence, frugality and caution."
For more on this see: PHOTOS & VIDEO & MORE- First half of July 2013: Two lawsuits against the Central Library Plan, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio Comes Out Against CLP.

Not seen in the photos or videos below are John Catsimatidis and Anthony Weiner, who did not show up for their reserved time slots.  Joe Lhota has asked to meet with Citizens Defending Libraries at another time before the primaries. (For better viewing of the videos click on the links to to to Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.)
Randy Credico, by Mike Delia
Randy Credico: 
"This is as fundamental to the health of this city as health care; the library system. That’s how I feel.

* * *  
I don’t trust this guy Marx at all [Anthony Marx, the President of the NYPL].  I’d trust Groucho Marx more than this guy Marx.

* * * 
They want to sell them [Libraries] off the same way they want to sell the schools off, to the biggest bidder.  Real estate controls this city."

Randy Credico Speaks At Mayoral Forum on NYC Libraries

Anthony Gronowicz, Randy Credico, by Mike DeliaAnthony Gronowicz:  
Anthony Gronowicz:
“If you look at the Fiscal Policy Institute, the city has never had such a great disparity between wealth and poverty since slave days.  I am not kidding: I did a book called `Race And Class Politics In New York City Before The Civil War.’ 

* * *  

Obviously, I would not cut library hours: I would expend library hours.  I would go after the money that’s in New York.  In 1978 the top 1% owned 9% of the assets in this City.   As of 2011, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, it is 45%, which pushed it into the 19th Century.  Alright?  So this is so obvious to me, that they don’t want people who are literate.”

Anthony Gronowicz Speaks At Mayoral Forum on NYC Libraries

John Liu, by Mike Delia
 John Liu:
"One of the things I’ve been very cognizant of, is these claims we don’t have money for this or that.  We’ve got plenty of money.  This is a very wealthy city.  It’s just a case of how that wealth is being allocated or directed and I think in many ways over the past administration it has been directed into the wrong places in a way that has exacerbated the wealth gap in this city far greater than in any other part of the country.

And, when you talk about the public libraries and other public assets, this is one of the public issues that I’ve been very vociferous about: The fact that this administration wants to sell everything off.  And it seems to be accelerating its efforts on its way out.. . .

The idea that these libraries need additional funding and therefore we should sell of the public libraries to private developers who then claim to fund the construction or the reconstruction of the libraries: I think that’s an argument that’s not well-grounded in actual results over the past recent years.  Because we have seen many examples of space being taken and the communities coming into an agreement with the administration and/or the developer and the promises not being fulfilled. In the many years.  Atlantic Yards would be one GI-NORMOUS example of what’s NOT happened

* * *

There’s a huge credibility gap if you ask me.  And it’s not just the libraries.  It’s also NYCHA properties, the New York City Housing Authority playgrounds and public space, the community centers, the parking lots.

* * *

Once you give up public land you never get it back.  It’s a one-way street.

* * *  

I’ll do everything I can as comptroller to stop these deals from going forward, and as mayor I’m going to be a mayor for the public libraries.
* * *

There’s plenty of wealth in this city. It’s just a matter of how we allocate it.  It’s actually a $70.5  Billion budget this year. . . And yet we have to nickel and dime the people who go to the libraries every year because of this budget dance?

John Liu Speaks At Mayoral Forum on NYC Libraries

Sal Albanese, by Mike Delia
Sal Albanese:
“These libraries are essential to the city’s future and we are watching the erosion of it. The real estate industry is running amuck, basically, in this city.  That’s what’s happening.  I’ve drawn a very, very clear line when it comes to contributions.  I am not accepting a dime from real estate developers in this city or the lobbyists who represent them.

Look, real estate developers are business people.  They want to maximize their profits.  They see these huge building, these great buildings, these landmarked buildings like the libraries in Manhattan and Brooklyn Height and they see dollar signs, but the bottom line is that government officials should be making decisions on the merits.

They shouldn’t be working with the real esate industry behind the scenes to sell these libraries off.  We saw what happened with the Donnell Library, it was sold off in 2007.  There was no public input at all.  Where was the City Council?  It’s easy to blame Bloomberg, but we do have a City Council.  We have a Public Advocate.  We have a Comptroller.  These things don’t happen by accident.  They’re not happening in isolation.  I mean where was the public hearing on these issues that are so important to the city?  The City Council does have a library committee, I think.

* * *

The political system is really broken and has really been co-opted by big money.  The New York Times has a great editorial today about the real estate industry is now piling on to get involved in City Council races.  They’re spending millions of dollars.  Look, they’re in business.  This is what they do.  It’s legal.  But elected officials have the obligation to represent the public, not folks who are trying to maximize their profits.. . .

* * *

Here we do things in an opaque way.  It’s not transparent.

* * *

Listen carefully to what all the candidates say.  I’ve said this before: They're outraged . .  They’re furious. . . They’re shocked.  You’d think they were block association presidents.  One is the Comptroller, one is the Public Advocate, one is the Council Speaker!  I mean I can’t believe the incredible nerve of some of these people, because they should be held accountable for some of the things that have happened in this city on their watch.          

* * *

The City Council should have held major hearings.  It was a major issue and no one seems to know where $100 million in capital money or how it got to that point without any real hearing or public input.  That’s the crux of our problem.  It’s a broken political system.

* * *
It’s just wrong and it’s bad public policy.  I mean, William Rudin from the real estate industry was front and center in terms of the proposals to sell off the libraries [in the Central Library Plan], and they see tremendous opportunities for huge profits like the sale of Saint Vincent’s Hospital so I think it’s bad pubic policy. . . .”

Sal Albanese Speaks At Mayoral Forum on NYC Libraries

George McDonald, by Mike Delia
George McDonald:
"I think libraries are a very important part of the future that I believe affects all of us. . .

. . . I wasn’t from a wealthy family.  I went to the libraries. .  And that’s really why I am here today. . ..

* * *

The failure of our educational process in New York City is what I deal with every day. . . . I am a proponent of something other than arresting people.

* * *

. . We have to get underneath what the police are doing and what are we doing as a society. .

. . .Why is it a high crime area?  Because we haven’t educated the children.  We haven’t provided opportunities for them.  I believe that the schools and the libraries are community resources that should be available, basically twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

And if we have made all of this investment in the luxury of our city, I think it’s time we made the investment at the bottom.  Now I am the only one in this race who talks about helping the poor people.  You’ll hear people come and say `middle class’ 92 times in a minute and a half.  And that’s their message: `middle class,’ `middle class,’ `middle class.’  We won’t have any middle class in New York City if we continue to go on the way that we’re going.  So helping the people at the bottom is the most critical thing that we can do.  And the way to do that , first, is through education, and a critical part of education is reading and literacy in our library system.

* * *

I wouldn’t give waivers.  I want to see more librarians.  I want to see more libraries.  I want to see the libraries become community resources.

* * *

I am opposed to it
[the Central Library Plan].  I just don’t think we should be selling off any more of our resources.  I think that we’ve done enough.  I think that we’ve certainly developed this city to get maximum tax revenue from all of these new luxury developments.  I think that we ought to put the emphasis on what I said.

* * *

I don’t want to sell any libraries
[including Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Street].  I think they’re a community resource.  Now if we have to invest in improving it, I would like to do that. Rather than sell it for real estate redevelopment, why can’t we take the other approach?

* * *
[On the subject of nondisparagement confidentiality agreements library administration officials are having librarians sign.] You know at the Doe Fund we have a thousand people now.  I mean we’re a big organization.  You see the guys in the uniforms.  They’re out there every day.  You can go up to them and talk t them without me or any public relations person from our organization saying so.   You can ask them: Hey, what’s this McDonald like or what’s this Doe Fund like or didn’t they treat you well?  And there’s no filter. And they don’t sign any agreement that they’re not going to talk about the program!  If there is something wrong they’re going to express that and I am not afraid of that.  And we’ve been doing that for twenty years.. . . You have to have input from the people who are actually doing the work to find out what needs to be improved.  So I would welcome that, not try to punish people for it."

George McDonald Speaks At Mayoral Forum on NYC Libraries Pt 1

George McDonald Speaks At Mayoral Forum on NYC Libraries Pt 2

De Blasio & Quinn Positions on NYC Libraries Read by Michael D. D. White

Questions For Friday August 30, 2013 Mayoral Forum
The following questions were submitted to the candidates beforehand

    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?

    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.

    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.

    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’?

    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.

    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.

    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?

    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?

    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.

    10.    City funding is to be used to pay for some of the library sell-offs and shrinkage (including, in June of 2012, the City Council’s release of $150 million taxpayer capitol funding for the Central Library Plan): Do you feel there should be required predicates to such city funding such as economic impact studies and/or hearings and what failures, if any, do you feel there has been in this regard?

    11.    Please speak about how you see sell-off, shrinkage and underfunding of libraries as relating to the proposed sell-off and/or privatization of other public assets such as schools (for instance, similarly, for redevelopment), public housing properties, parks and hospitals.

    12.    Officials currently estimate that more than half of the city's high schools (now under mayoral control) are in violation of NYS Department of Education regulations that require schools to employ either part-time or full-time librarians, depending on enrollment (possibly making the alternative of NYC’s public libraries a more important resource for those students).  Now, the NYC Department of Education is asking for a waiver to excuse its failure to meet this state regulatory requirement (no district in the state has ever been granted such a waiver), a move being legally opposed by the teachers union.  What is your position on this issue?

Candidates attending the forum had the option of submitting supplemental questions addressed to other candidates.  The Following was submitted.

    13.    Randy Credico (addressed to Joe Lhota):  I would like to ask Joe Lhota if he would support my wall street half percent sales tax to underwrite, among other things, the reopening of closed libraries, and to protect and expand the nypl system.

EXTRA CREDIT: The following questions delving more deeply on the subject of the NYPL”s Central Library Plan were not furnished to the candidates beforehand but may, at their option be addressed for “extra credit.”

    14.    The 42nd Street Library was paid for, built and is now owned by the City of New York. Why has the city government failed to hold public hearings on major changes being proposed by its tenant, the Trustees of the New York Public Library?

    15.    Why have there been no public hearings on the expenditure of $ 150 million in taxpayer money for major changes to one of the most celebrated city owned buildings.

    16.    The "stacks" at NYPL are not a designated interior landmark, but they are owned by the city, as is the library building of which they are an integral part. Should the city insist on nothing more than the routine working of the landmark commission, or should it more actively insist on preservation of city owned buildings?

    17.    Should public/private partnerships such as those between NYC and NYPL cause the suspension of ordinary rules requiring competitive bids, union and minority participation, and public scrutiny? What do you propose to do to as mayor to reform public/private partnerships?

    18.    After one public hearing, the NYC Landmarks Commission turned the unresolved design issues relating to the changes to the 42nd Street Library over to the staff. This made any further public input of scrutiny impossible. As mayor, will you appoint an architect to be the Landmarks Commissioner? Will you insist on the protection of city owned landmarks? How will your policy differ from that of the current administration?

    19.    Is it wasteful and unwise for the city to allow the NYPL to sell the Mid Manhattan library when the purchase and remodeling of the building was subsidized by city and state taxpayers?

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