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, July 31, 2014

Articles And Information About Spaceworks- Collected Links

The first comprehensive article about Spaceworks and how taking over library space to privatize it and shrink libraries was in Noticing New York.  That article that goes into thorough detail about Spaceworks, including its origin story and purpose:

•    Noticing New York: Spaceworks And Its Privatizing Space Grab Of The Libraries, by Michael D. D. White, July 3, 2014.

The Brooklyn Paper picked up the story here in an article about the proposed Spaceworks shrinkage of the Red Hook that includes worthwhile comments:

•    The Brooklyn Paper: Book binding! Activists say Hook library art-space deal squeezes the public, by Noah Hurowitz, July 16, 2014.   
    A plan to rent out a big chunk of the Red Hook library branch that would close the prose depot for at least eight months is an unnecessary privatization of public reading space, say bookworms who plan to pack public hearings next week and voice their opposition.

    * * * *

    Representatives of the library dismissed criticism of the studio plan, saying the new digs for dancers and actors will take the place of under-used space. . .
The Red Hook community reacted immediately and won the initial battle regarding the Red Hook Library.  At the moment, the BPL is not going forward with a sell-off and shrinkage of the public space.  See the articles below.

The community and the Land Use Committee of the community board, after listening to presentations by the BPL and Spaceworks and seeing the community did not buy that this shrinkage of the library would be good for them, rejected the idea of selling part of their library to a privatizing group.
From the BPL's recent Strategic Plan Revisions
 It's worth noting that at the Red Hook Library meeting when we asked Spaceworks Executive Director Paul Parkhill about what other libraries besides Williamsburg and Red Hook were in line to be next as a product of the "partnerships" with the BPL and NYPL that Spaceworks promotional materials feature, a partnership also featured in graphics for the recent BPL strategic plan revisions, Mr. Parkhill said that there were no other BPL libraries besides Williamsburg and Red Hook and absolutely no NYPL libraries at all!  Really?  Does this mean that their activities uncovered, they are now on the run?

•    Daily News: Dance off! Brooklyn Public Library holds off plan to convert part of the Red Hook branch into two dance studios following protests from book lovers- Officials want to rent out part of the 7,500-square-foot branch for $650,000 to Spaceworks NYC, a politically connected nonprofit dedicated to expanding cultural space across the five boroughs. By Reuven Blau, August 5, 2014.
    The Brooklyn Public Library has temporarily shelved a controversial plan at its Red Hook branch following an uproar from neighborhood bibliophiles.

    "We heard the community's concerns and are going to have a robust dialogue with Red Hook residents, community leaders and elected officials before moving forward with any project," said library spokeswoman Emma Woods....

    * * *

    Officials wanted to rent out a large section of the 7,500-square-foot branch for $650,000 to Spaceworks NYC, a politically connected nonprofit dedicated to expanding cultural space across the five boroughs.

    * * *

    "We see it as a part of an overall effort to sell off library space," said Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael White. "Using a private corporation to shrink a public asset is a harebrained scheme."
•    The Brooklyn Paper: Red Hook- Red Hook library privatization plan panned Spaceworks, by Noah Hurowitz, July 25, 2014.
    A scheme to rent out a big chunk of the Red Hook library branch to an arts group is a sweetheart deal that sells out everyday bookworms, residents argued at a packed community board meeting inside the branch on Thursday.

    Dozens turned out to the evening meeting of Community Board 6's land use committee concerning the fate of the library, most to condemn the privatization plan.

    "Taking away the library would be killing parents who need it for their kids," said Lydia Bellahcene, a Sunset Park resident who said she lived her entire life in Red Hook before Hurricane Sandy displaced her.

    The committee ultimately decided to postpone voting on the issue till August, saying it did not have enough information to go on.

    * * *

    “Seven thousand five hundred square feet cut in half is not a big library,” said board member Jerry Armer, referring to the building’s total floor area. “This presentation is lacking and you want us to make a decision tonight? That’s crazy.”

    * * *

    Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) attended the meeting, but told this paper he is waiting to hear from more residents before taking a position on the plan.

•    Brooklyn Downtown Star: Red Hook residents angered over proposed sale of library, by Jess Berry, July 30, 2014.
    Yet another branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is up for renovation and repurposing, as BPL administrators hosted a meeting with the Community Board 6 (CB6) Land Use Committee to present plans for selling off part of the Red Hook branch to create a dance studio.

    SpaceWorks is a non-profit that uses “under-utilized” space to create affordable studios for artists around the city and would be in charge of the new studio.

    * * * *
    [BPL spokesperson] David Woloch explained . . “We have to start thinking creatively.”

    The creative solution, as it relates to the Red Hook branch, is to sell off one-third of the 7,500-square-foot library to SpaceWorks, which will then convert that space into two dance studio rehearsal spaces.

    * * * *

    Michael White, founder of Citizens Defending Libraries (CDL), pointed out that Red Hook is not the first branch to experience the "selling and shrinking" of library space.

    Numerous libraries have been put on the chopping block or are being looked at, he said, including the Pacific Branch Library, Brooklyn Heights Library and branches in Williamsburg, Sunset Park, Clinton Hill and Midwood.

    "[BPL administrators] don't want to tell you about specific libraries until they are ready to move on them, so basically everything is potentially fair game," White said.

    State Senator Velmanette Montgomery attended the hearing at the Red Hook branch and expressed her concern over the future of all of the libraries in Brooklyn.

    "I am very concerned about what is happening to the libraries in our city, especially in our borough," Montgomery said. "These libraries are part of communities in a very special way, because whether you know it or not, libraries have served as very important after-school safe havens for young people in our city, especially in neighborhoods like this in Red Hook.

    "We do not need to be losing libraries because the city claims it doesn't have money," she added. "We make choices as to where our resources are invested, and so the fact that we are saying that we don't have resources for libraries troubles me greatly."

    She also said that the library system "has an obligation to be transparent, to be more responsive and to be more accountable to the citizens in our city," which many residents agreed with, furious over the fact that BPL said it had been working with SpaceWorks for two years on the proposed project.

    "If this was discussed for two years, where was the discussion with the community?" one resident asked. "How could this have gone on for two years without community dialogue?"
This is an astute and biting editorial about Red Hook and Spaceworks

•    Red Hook Star Review- Editorial: The Red Hook Library and colonialism, July 26, 2014.
    The dictionary definition of colonialism is: the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

    In thinking about the pros and cons of the library/Spaceworks partnership that was presented before us at the Red Hook library this week, we have come to the conclusion that colonialism is an apt description of this plan.

    One one side is an economically disadvantaged neighborhood surrounded by economically advantaged neighbors. Red Hook has a history of being underserved by city government, and has had to fight to obtain relief from waste transfer stations, poor schools, bad policing and general indifference from the rest of the city. One remnant of those days is a library starved of books and operating hours.

    On the other side is a public library system starved of funds, possibly mismanaged, attempting to maintain a boroughwide infrastructure of buildings housing books.

    There is now a third side - a private, non-profit entity, composed of people who believe themselves to be do-gooders, looking to impose its vision of good without a full knowledge of the community it believes they are helping.

    * * * *

    Spaceworks was set up with the mission of converting what they decide to be underutilized space in city properties into affordable practice space for artists. They are basically a real estate company which uses a mix of public and private funds to manage public spaces.
Another graphic from the BPL's recent Strategic Plan Revisions featuring Spaceworks

•    The Brooklyn Paper: Library, arts group on Red Hook branch privatization plan: We're all ears, by Noah Hurowitz, August 7, 2014.
    An opponent of the plan hesitated to declare victory on Wednesday, calling the additional opportunities for input a “sorta-victory.”

    “This is a good example of what can happen when the public finds out what is going and they don’t like it,” said Michael White, a library advocate who has opposed the privatization plan. “If a program like this is appropriate for the library, it should be done by the library.”

    * * *

    Dozens of Red Hookers showed up to the July meeting, most to inveigh against the scheme, which the committee had previously approved but which the board’s executive body kicked back after deciding there had not been enough public notice. That contentious meeting was part of the reason the library decided it would have to invest more time in reaching out, a library spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, and probably more specifically with respect to the Williamsburg Library, another of the first libraries where Spaceworks is taking over and privatizing space it turns out that one of the principals of something called Urban Librarians Unite (Lauren Comito) has been investing time and effort to defend the privatizing Spaceworks library space shrinkage program on the Facebook's North Brooklyn Community Group page.  Comito was reacting to the Brooklyn Paper article.  See the link below.

•    North Brooklyn Community Group- ULU Defense of Spaceworks Program

Urban Librarians Unite's history has been to support library sell-off's and shrinkage, recently (September 30th) testifying in favor of such plans at City Council.  Here is a more about who they are from Noticing New York:
"Paperless Library- Another graphic from the BPL's recent Strategic Plan Revisions about BPL plans- No space needs to be devoted to "paperless libraries"

•    Noticing New York: Irony Of Ironies: Urban Librarians Unite, Holding A "We Will Not Be Shushed Read In June 8 & 9th! Sign Up Now!" Event, Wanted To "Shush" Citizens Defending Libraries About It, by Michael D. D. White, Saturday, June 8, 2013.

In response to points Lauren Comito makes:
        1.)  The article certainly does NOT say that these Spaceworks plans have been kept completely secret and it clearly points out what has been in the press about them.  The point is that these plans have been insufficiently transparent and that by misdirection much that has been presented about these plans has been intended to make them sound good, although when you really think about them that does not seem to be the case.  It's really part of plans for the sale and shrinkage of other library property around the city like the sale of Donnell and the Central Library Plan, Brooklyn too.  Those plans were also presented as if they made sense, but when you thought about it and looked at the facts they didn't.  Does it really make sense for us to put public money into a private company who mission is premised on the idea that the libraries are underutilized and that their space needs to be shrunk and handed off to somebody else.- Transparency?: We were told by the first press release that the first project was PRIVATELY funded, but most of the funding Spaceworks gets is PUBLIC money from the city.  We were only told about the first five projects using the first THIRD of the money sent Spacework's way.  The Brooklyn Bridge Park Spaceworks thing was something of an ambush as was the Red Hook library where they won't state numbers or costs.  BPL president Linda Johnson didn't tell Public Advocate Tish James about Spaceworks as a `real estate partner' when asked.   In fact, if Spaceworks was ever mentioned at a City Council hearing as taking over library real estate or diverting available public funds into a private company it wasn't mentioned at City Council LIBRARY budget hearings at all.

        2.)  If libraries aren't just "piles of of books" (and they are not) and should be doing things like bringing artists into their space (and starting to charge them for it?) then why don't we give libraries the funds and directives to do that, rather than routing everything through a private company whose focus is real estate oriented?

        3.)  If there is a concern about the lack of funding how does it solve things to create and route diverted funds (scarce funds) through an expensive private company with a lot of new overhead and lack of public oversight?

        4.)  Clearly, other real estate sell-offs of the libraries were NOT for the benefit of the public (like Donnell which you now say you think was stupid), and clearly, as with Donnell there were people other than the public who benefitted tremendously and that would be the case with other plans as well.  You can chose to introduce the concept of "evil" as a name to describe al of this, but clearly, such "naming" aside, these dichotomies of interest need to be examined, scrutinized, questioned and delved into.  I don't think that it is good to reflexively endorse the selling off and shrinking of our library real estate nor to presume the best motives on the part of trustees and library administrators...

    Making all of this more of a saga, when Urban Librarians Unite's Ms. Comito was pointed out to be supporting more library shrinkage and real estate sales, Christain Zabriski, the Executive Director of Urban Librarians Unite visited the Citizens Defending Libraries Facebook page to argue against opposing library sales and shrinkage (not mentioning the new Spaceworks issue).

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