Provided here in image form, is a March 25, 2014 letter copies of which Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has apparently sent this letter (on April 3rd) to nearly everyone who has contacted her recently about the libraries. (There are many of us who have.) The letter is to NYPL President Anthony W. Marx and addresses conversations Ms. Brewer has had with him about the NYPL’s Proposed Central Library Plan, a proposed consolidating shrinkage of library space that plans for a sell off the Mid-Manhattan Library and Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and also get rid of books and librarians while destroying the research stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library. Those research stacks are designed to hold three million books for quick delivery to the reading room directly above them which the stack also physically support with 1,300 separate points of structural support.
The best news is that Ms. Brewer is opposing the sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library. The pretty much kills the Central Library Plan as a practical matter, eliminating the reason for it and its financial viability unless a lot more (many tens or hundreds of millions more) new taxpayer money is infused.
Just as Borough President Brewer is opposing the sale of Mid-Manhattan, Citizens Defending Libraries believes that Borough President Brewer should also be explicitly opposing selling SIBL. Further, there should have been some hearkening back by MBP Brewer to state the unacceptability of the sale-for-shrinkage of the Donnell Library as well. Similarly we think Ms. Brewer should be looking askance at the lack of a public process when part of SIBL was already sold. SIBL, recently completed, was paid for with taxpayer dollars. Although a substantial portion of SIBL was just recently sold for suspiciously little, there was virtually no public information, review or involvement concerning that sale before it was quietly effected.
More good news is that Ms. Brewer is restating for the record representations that Mr. Marx and the NYPL have made to her in these discussions. We believe that the NYPL makes misrepresentations, like the way the NYPL refers to its consolidating shrinkage of library space as an “expansion,” so this documenting by Ms. Brewer will help us correct the record working with others such as the Committee to Save The New York Public Library. We will be doing this soon and updating this page accordingly.
We can also identify additional information Ms. Brewer should be demanding.
We'll try to provide a list of all the things people will want to get back to Ms. Brewer about. You should also feel free to contact her more than once. Our current list of points important to raise with Ms. Brewer appears in bullet form following the text of her letter and email below.
March 25, 2014
Dr. Anthony Marx
President and CEO
New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018
Dear Dr. Marx:
Thank you so much for the informative meeting recently in your office. I am especially pleased that your team continues to take the time to get this project right, both in terms of making the best substantive decision, as well as having extensive community dialogue and an exploration of all viable alternatives. As I stated in our meeting, every alternative must be considered prior to any decision to sell library assets or reduce services.
In recognition of the many challenges and issues we discussed, I wanted to re-cap our conversation to make sure I have an accurate summary of your plans that I can relay to my constituents:
- Eighty-eight NYPL branches are currently operating, including the newly renovated branch in Washington Heights. This is a new high watermark for the number of branches in the NYPL system.MID-MANHATTAN BRANCH
- approximately 20,000 young people are currently using branches every day after school.
- 15 afterschool programs are now up and running, with 8 of them in Manhattan. The programming includes homework help, literacy (done in collaboration with TASC - high school students tutoring elementary school students), innovative zones (robotics and other science initiatives), and a new program for 8th graders to begin doing college prep early (at 5 locations). Goal is for 20,000 youth to participate in afterschool programming.
- ESOL programming has tripled but your goal is to expanded 10-fold.
- Computer training has doubled but your goal is to expanded 4-fold.
- Space is potentially available in some branches during school hours for the new Pre-K initiative.
- The branch is currently physically failing and in need of extensive renovation. I am pleased that you are considering a number of alternatives to the sale of the Mid-Manhattan branch. I again reiterate my belief that the sale of that branch would be an unacceptable solution.ISSUES/STRATEGIES
- The three million books that were stored in the central stacks at 42nd Street, underneath the Rose Main Reading Room were at risk because the storage environment lacked adequate of temperature and humidity controls. My understanding is that you raised private funds in order to prepare space under Bryant Park for a vast majority of these books and you are exploring how all of the books from the central stacks can be stored underneath Bryant Park. I also understand that all books currently on site are available at 42nd Street with an approximate wait time of 30 minutes for book retrieval. While some citizens are opposed to the destruction of the stacks at the 42nd Street Library, I understand that the solution you have proposed will create more staff, space, and books for research purposes, at significantly less cost them restoration of the stacks. Furthermore, I understand the book and other retrieval services for researchers will improve under this plan.I hope this accurately reflects our discussion and your plans. As you know, there are some community members firmly opposed to the renovation of the 42nd Street Library and the potential sale of the Mid-Manhattan branch. It is important that all members of the community who rely on the libraries be heard as you plan for the future of one of our greatest civic assets. I trust that prior to any final decisions, you will join and/or sponsor public discussion to provide in full detail your plans for the branches as well as the 42nd Street Library.
- Underutilization at 42nd Street: I understand that you have moved many staff members off-site to increase space for public use. What most stuck out were two sets of statistics you shared. That today only 30 percent of the building is open to the public and you aim to raise this to roughly 70 percent. Second that visitorship to this “people's palace” is today half what it was In the prior decades when the building have a circulating library on site. Other ideas you mentioned: bring the photography and picture collections together, bring business and research library materials back together, create an education corridor for youth, display the many major artifacts in your collection in one central location, create a Treasures Exhibition and promote as destination for school field trips.
Please keep me informed as you continue to address these issues and plan for the future of this great institution.
Gale A. Brewer
* * * *
Here is the text of the email Borough President Brewer sent people who had contacted her opposing the consolidating shrinkage of the NYPL Central Library Plan:
Sent: Thursday, April 3, 2014 12:16 PM
Subject: New York Public Library Message from Borough President Gale A. Brewer
Thank you for contacting me regarding the New York Public Library's planned renovation of the 42nd Street Library and the potential sale of the Mid-Manhattan branch.
I firmly believe that every alternative must be considered prior to any reduction of services or the sale of library assets. It is important that all members of our community who rely on the Libraries be heard during this process and that the issues and concerns of my constituents are addressed.
I recently met with the President and CEO of the New York Public Library, Dr. Anthony Marx, regarding the potential plans for these branches and called upon his office to provide an extensive community dialogue and public discussion to address the future of one of New York's great institutions. Please find attached a copy of a letter providing a detailed summary of the Library's plans, as well as my ongoing concerns. I am confident that the NYPL is seriously considering all alternatives to any sale of library assets, but I will continue to advocate with them that the sale of any branch is not a viable option.
I will make every attempt to keep you informed during this process and provide additional information as it becomes available. Again, I thank you for your advocacy on behalf of our public libraries.
Gale A. Brewer
Manhattan Borough President
* * * *
Here are in bullet form are points worth making to Ms. Brewer and others about Ms. Brewer's expression of her stance:
• Ms. Brewer is to be heartily thanked for appropriately opposing the sale of the Mid-Manhattan library. (As noted, it can be expected that this should, as a practical matter, pretty much kill the Central Library Plan, eliminating the reason for it and its financial viability.)
• Ms. Brewer should also oppose the sale of the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) in the former Altman building at 34th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Unfortunately, a lot of SIBL was recently secretively sold. (Can that secretive transaction be reversed?) The rest of the library, still open and functioning should not be sold as it would be if the NYPL’s envisioned Central Library Plan preceded.
• Ms. Brewer should be thanked for her emailed statement (above) to constituents and library advocates that “I will continue to advocate with them that the sale of any branch is not a viable option.” However, it should be pointed out that Ms. Brewer’s letter to Mr. Marx neglected to express this opposition. (Although it did say does say, “I trust that prior to any final decisions, you will join and/or sponsor public discussion to provide in full detail your plans for the branches as well as the 42nd Street Library.”)
• People should inform Ms. Brewer that they are aware that her email assurance that “I will continue to advocate with them that the sale of any branch is not a viable option” creates an ambiguity: While its sounds like Ms. Brewer is assuring that she will oppose the sale of SIBL (and most recipients of her email will likely interpret it this way), SIBL is viewed by some as a ‘regional library’ and not necessarily also a branch. Therefore, it is important for Ms. Brewer to be very clear she is opposed to the sale of SIBL.
• The penultimate paragraph of Ms. Brewer’s letter refers to “renovation of the 42nd Street Library.” What is proposed is NOT a “renovation.” Use of the word “renovation” is misleading NYPL public relations terminology. The shrinkage and elimination of the research stacks is a conversion of the original structure that will vastly change its use, purpose and much more.
• When Ms. Brewer’s letter documents NYPL characterization that the Mid-Manhattan branch “is currently physically failing and in need of extensive renovation” it is not documenting actual facts, only NYPL spin. Mid-Manhattan is in much the same condition it has been in since it opened, notwithstanding that the NYPL would have it look as cosmetically dowdy as possible at the moment.
• It is misleading in several ways for the NYPL to say that it has “raised private funds in order to prepare space under Bryant Park for a vast majority of these books [the three million books in the research stacks under the Rose reading room] and you are exploring how all of the books from the central stacks can be stored underneath Bryant Park.”
• According to figures release by the library in 1987 the space available and not yet in use under Bryant Park will hold only 1.4 million books and it was always intended that the space do so for the sake of adding to books to the available collection, not the shrinkage now planned.
• The space for books under Bryant Park for books was already prepared at vast public expense and inconvenience ($25 million and closing Bryant Park for an extended period twenty years ago). It is unacceptable to characterize this book available space as being paid for by “private funds” just because some private funds will be contributed for some after-the-fact finishing work by the Milstein real estate development family. (If you pay to hang curtains should you be credited with having paid to build the entire house in which they are hung?)
• The NYPL’s representation that “book and other retrieval services for researchers will improve under this plan” is misleading. Books stored under Bryant Park will be further away. They will be on rolling shelves, only a few of which can therefore be accessed at a time, a system not well designed to for multiple frequently accessed books.
Bryant Park excavated to add library shelves for more books
• The NYPL’s representation that the plan “will create more staff, space, and books for research purposes” is inaccurate and is based on deliberately obfuscating concepts the NYPL is advancing that certain library space (like library space with books and librarians) should not be deemed library space. Their arguments about space are deliberately deceptive and play with what they want to call, and not call. by their own recently artfully created term “public space.”
• The NYPL’s representation that, after more than 100 years, books in “the Rose Main Reading Room were at risk because the storage environment lacked adequate of temperature and humidity controls” is misleading. There have been improvements in the temperature and humidity controls over the years. If more improvements are desirable, it would be far less costly to upgrade and make these changes than to demolish the stacks and convert the library to other uses.
• While Ms. Brewer's letter to Mr. Marx says prospectively that “I trust that prior to any final decisions, you will join and/or sponsor public discussion to provide in full detail your plans for the branches,” it should be taken into account that this was absolutely not the case with Donnell before it was sold. The sudden, secretive sale of Donnell and the pittance for which it was sold should be thoroughly investigated and explained to the public in order that any and all future plans can be evaluated in context and the full light of day.
• The $350++ million of library money that would go to the Central Library Plan (including all the $150 million in new taxpayer appropriation money asked for this budget year) should be redirected to other New York City library branches. That $150 million should not be in the New City budget for this year given that there is no current Central Library Plan on the table that the NYPL, by its own admission, can say is worth proceeding with, let alone one that is viable are arguable sane.