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.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Public Advocates and Comptroller Candidates Forum on Libraries Held September 4, 2013

Set up and ready to go
On September 4 , 2013, Public Advocates and Comptroller Candidates Forum on Libraries was held 10:00 AM to Noon at The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center at
3940 Broadway, New York City, NY 10032.
Zaed Ramadan of the Malcolm X Shabazz Center
It was sponsored by Citizens Defending Libraries; The Committee to Save The New York Public Library; The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center; The Harlem Historical Society; Lynn’s Kids International, and Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP.
Roy Paul
Roy Paul, Journalist, Commentator, and Analyst served as moderator:
Roy Paul is a highly sought after commentator specializing in the areas of education, social and economic justice, and the advancement of African Americans in modern pop culture and politics. Paul made history when he became the youngest African-American to ever be elected to a school board in New York State when he was 19 years old. He contributes political commentary on WABC 7 in New York and is a contributor to RapGenius.com. In May and August of 2013, he moderated two forums with the Democratic candidates running for mayor of New York City and he moderated a Public Advocates candidates forum on June 27th at York College.
Candidates were asked 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, including the Central Library Plan to remove stacks from the New York Public Library’s research collection and relocate books to southern New Jersey; proposals by the New York and Brooklyn public libraries to sell publicly owned library buildings for private development; and the citywide reduction in library services at a time of growing demand.
"Take on the tough fights"?: Scott Stringer did not show up although offered the choice of phoning in his 10 minutes, and has not answered the candidates questionnaire.  Unfortunately, he is apparently in favor of the Central Library Plan. 
The podcast of the event may be listened to here: Public Advocates and Comptroller Candidates Forum on Libraries Held September 4, 2013.
(Link: http://bobrowen.com/podcasts/Public Advocate Forum on Libraries 130904.mp3)

Video and pictures will soon be posted here.

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.

You can decide for yourself by listening to the podcast (video coming) which of the attending candidates came off the best.
Tish James- This and other photos (observe watermarks lower left) are taken by photographer Miriam Berkley

James Lane
James Land discussing chart on library usage (up) and funding (down)
Mark Green
Carolyn McIntyre and Lynn Rosen
Clara Edmond from the Raging Grannies
Michael Henry Adams
Listening you will probably decide that one candidate, Daniel Squadron, who did not attend but sent a representative, former Public Advocate Mark Green, did not come off well.  Mr. Green had no information about Mr. Squadron's position on libraries, their sell-off and shrinkages or underfunding and could not say whether Mr. Squadron was for or against the NYPL's Central Library Plan involving sales and shrinkage.  In addition, the candidates were invited to submit one question to be asked another candidate.  Candidate Tish James asked a question (see below) of Mr. Squadron about his unwillingness to oppose the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library for shrinkage and redevelopment and his acceptance of money from the NYPL's Chief Operating Officer David Offensend, a chief architect of plans to sell and shrink New York City libraries.  Decide for yourself, but you will probably conclude that Mr. Green was largely unable to address the question asked.
Roy Paul and former Public Advocate Mark Green representing candidate Senator Daniel Squadron

Squadron Surrogate Mark Green Grilled On Offensend Donation

The forum was attended by staff sent by library administration officials (who want to sell libraries off in real estate deals- as can be heard in the podcast, at point during the forum these attendees were invited to participate by providing information).  It was observed that these library administration attendees confabbed with the representatives sent to the forum by Senator Squadron.  They were not observed similarly confabbing with other candidates during the forum.
Below are the questions with which (except the cross-candidate question) the candidates ewe provided in advance.

     Questions For Wednesday September 4, 2013
          Public Advocate and Comptroller Forum
The following 21 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.    The City has pledged $150 million to the Central Library Plan. But there have been no public hearings on using taxpayer money to alter 42nd Street, which was paid for, built, and is still owned by the City. Will you promise to hold hearings on radical changes to one of New York's greatest landmarks?

12.    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.

13.    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 and what is the role of the Public Advocate/Comptroller respecting this?

14.    The New York Public Library plans to close two big midtown libraries and radically alter the 42nd Street Library. Yet there has not been a single NYC public hearing. (Assemblyman Micah Kellner is holding state level hearings.) If elected, will you hold hearings on the sell-off of public property?

15.    Would the City's $150 million be better used for branch libraries that are in desperate need of capital improvements? (Jacob Morris recently asked this question about Harlem's Macomb's Bridge Library in The Daily News.)

16.    The Committee to Save the New York Public Library has called for an independent agency to make public a detailed cost analysis of the CLP, including cost overruns. Is that an appropriate oversight for the Public Advocate or Comptroller?

17.    The NYPL Board of Trustees wants to close the Mid-Manhattan Library, the most used in the nation, and alter the landmark 42nd Street Library at a cost of more than $300 million. It would cost less than half that to renovate the Mid-Manhattan. Should the City save Mid-Manhattan and keep the 42nd Street library intact?

18.    NYPL plans to sell the Mid-Manhattan Library and the new Science, Industry and Business Library. But these buildings were subsidized by City and State taxpayers as well as being financed by donation intended for the public benefit. Should the City hold hearings on the sale of public assets?

19.    The CLP will demolish the historic stacks that hold 3 million books at 42nd Street. The stacks are not landmarked, but the building is. Should the City insist on the preservation of City-owned buildings?

20.    Should public/private partnerships such as those between NYC and NYPL suspend the ordinary rules requiring competitive bids, union and minority participation, and public scrutiny? How would you reform public/private partnerships?

For Comptroller Candidates:

21.    The current comptroller has stated his interest in intervening in the sell-off of NYC libraries.  What you do as comptroller in this regard?  Among other things the Comptroller has an ex-officio position on the library boards: Would you appoint someone to use this position to bring transparency to board deliberations of this public/private partnership?

Candidates attending the forum had the option of submitting supplemental questions addressed to other candidates.  The Following was submitted.
22.    Tish James (to Daniel Squadron): An important library in Downtown Brooklyn Heights, your district, is being sold to a developer and you, Mr. Squadron, are not opposing the sale or plans to significantly shrink the library merely expressing concern that the shrunken library be `adequately’ sized.  The city is growing!: Why go along with shrinking such important assets owned by the public to smaller and smaller fractions?  Why are you taking money from the NYPL Chief Operating Officer (David Offensend), the architect of such library sales and shrinkages and hand-off of public assets to developers like the Donnell Library and the so-called “Central Library Plan?”

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