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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PHOTO & VIDEO GALLERY: September 16, 2014 Rally Outside BPL Trustees Meeting- BPL Trustees Vote To Hand Off Brooklyn Heights Library To Hudson Co. As Developer

From NY1 coverage of the Citizens Defending Libraries press conference and subsequent BPL vote picking a developer to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014, Citizens Defending Libraries held a press conference and rally outside the Grand Army Plaza library as the Brooklyn Public Library trustees were about to hold their broad meeting inside. 
Press Conference
At the press conference, Citizens Defending Libraries announced its commencement of a Citizens Audit and Investigation of library sell-offs and shrinkages in Brooklyn.  To launch its audit and investigation Citizens Defending Libraries, the day before issued Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the Brooklyn Public Library which it is issuing together with similar requests to a number of government agencies and entities.   See: Monday, September 15, 2014, Press Release: Citizens Audit and Investigation of Brooklyn Public Library- FOIL Requests.

Here is video of the Citizens Defending Libraries press conference (click through to watch on Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube channel for best viewing)-

Citizens Launch Probe of BPL's Secret Libary Selloff Strategy

Not many minutes after the press conference, the BPL board of trustees voted to hand off the Brooklyn Heights Library to developer Hudson Co. to build a 30-story luxury condo tower for a price the is quite likely to wind up being a net loss to the public:  The library would be sold for a gross price of just $52 million (about half the development rights were handed off to Forest City Ratner in 1986).  Various costs to the public must be netted out of that figure and those costs add up.  The BPL has estimated that a greatly shrunken  21,000 sq. ft. “replacement” library would costs $10 million, but this figure is low-balled and suspect.  At the Donnell p/s/f replacement figures it will come to $15 million. Additionally, replacing the 28,000 sq. ft. Business and Career Library (BPL’s figure) would be another $20 million. That $35 million total leaves just $17 million to be eaten up in transaction and consultant costs. . .  Among other things that’s not considering the public currently actually owns much more space, 63,000 square feet, at this central destination library, not just the 49,000 square feet that $35 million or more might be able to one day replace.. .

. . .  In addition, there will be significant disruption and the neighborhood will be without a proper library during the entire period of construction.  The BPL has stated that construction is assured to take no longer than three and one half years.  During that time the BPL will rent (at developer expense) a small amount of interim space from the Lady of Lebanon Church, just 8,000 square feet. At the very least, not counting all the rest of the spacethe public will be losing, for the entire time of construction we, the public, is losing the rental value of 21,000-8,000= 13,000 square feet in Brooklyn Heights.
BPL trustees get ready to vote to sell and shrink Brooklyn Heights Library
The BPL has publicized that one of the theoretical benefits of selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library at a likely significant loss the public is that Saint Ann's School, a private Brooklyn Heights school with a building on the same block as the library, will get a new gymnasium.  But, it is misleading to say that Saint Ann's School is getting a new gymnasium from the library sale: Saint Ann's, a private school is selling development rights it owns, then essentially spending what it gets on the gym, and it should not be the mission of the library to sell and it shrink public assets, at will assuredly be a loss to the public, to create deals for the benefit of private parties, developers, or even a private school like Saint Ann's.

Another supposed theoretical benefit of selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library is that there will be 114 "affordable housing" units provided at site away from the luxury condos and the library that has historically served patrons from all over the borough of all incomes.  The other publicly paid for subsidies going into those "affordable" units has not yet been calculated and those subsidies could probably be better used than as an inducement fro a libraries dismantling.

Grin and Bear It?

This could constitute comic relief if the subject were not so serious. . .  The BPL apparently worried that its board meeting might be flooded with angry protesters because of its announcement of its selection of a developer for the Brooklyn Heights Library site.  The day of the meeting the press had already been notified of the developer selection with the BPL press release: Brooklyn Public Library Announces Development Partner for New Brooklyn Heights Library.  While the press and certain insider parties were notified in advance of the trustees meeting, Citizens Defending Libraries was not.
Trustees- From NY1 report on BPL board vote
In fear of such a public onslaught, the BPL had two heavy police barricades transported up and placed outside the room where the trustees meeting was being held.  In addition, New York police officers were asked to guard the door.

All of this became more obvious when the trustees asked the public in attendance (largely representatives of Citizens Defending Libraries) to leave the room so that the board could discuss the Brooklyn Heights Library in executive session.  (For conflict of interest reasons former Bloomberg spokesperson Jordan Barowitiz, now with the Durst real estate organization and Kyle Kimbell of the NYC Economic Development Corporation were also asked to leave during this executive session discussion and then during the ensuing publicly held vote- making it interesting that never during any the preceding foundational decisions culminating in this vote was any similar recusal required.)
Police barricades brought to the third floor to protect the trustees as they voted . .  to enrage the public?
Those gathering outside the trustees meeting awaiting to return after the executive session were told that we couldn't be there by a man who identified himself as in charge of building security.  He said our presence at our usual spot waiting to return was a fire code violation and that we were blocking a public hallway.  We pointed out that neither of these things was true and remained.  When he bullied and threatened to have us arrested the two police officers present looked reluctant to participate in his silliness and nothing subsequently happened as we remained in place.

After we returned to the room to hear the dismaying vote to sell and shrink the library, we listened to a presentation the board that board appeared to feel proud about, although some of us found it more stomach-turning: It was about instituting a new virtual reference librarian program where, with emails responded to in a week's time, the BPL would, from another location identify the "appeal factors" of the reading patrons like to do in order to recommend with their electronic response in a way "as personable as possible" what the patrons might like to read more of.  . . 

. . . As we sat listening a door slammed and we heard someone yelling out what sounded like. "FIRE, FIRE!" outside the room.  We wondered what it was.
BPL President Linda Johnson flinching on camera as she hears herself called a "liar" in the middle of a NY1 interview
The answer was revealed watching the NY1 report on the library sale later that evening.  As NY1 was interviewing BPL president Linda Johnson she was interrupted, startled by the load cries, which could have been "FIRE, FIRE!" or "LIAR, LIAR!". . . in retrospect, probably the latter.  (See: NY1: Brooklyn Public Library Votes to Sell Brooklyn Heights Branch to Private Developer, by: Michael Herzenberg,  09/17/2014.)
The cries were from library sale opponent Marsha Rimler who was subsequently interviewed by NY1 after Ms. Johnson, making the eloquent and succinct case that the Business and Career Library should not be exiled from the Brooklyn Height Library in order to drastically shrink the library down.

With all the talk about it being a violation of the fire code to stand in the hallway outside of the trustees meeting it might have been appropriate to call attention to such absurdity by shouting "FIRE"- And it could have been appropriate to call attention to how our sale of public assets is a virtual "fire sale" at absurdly low prices.  . . .

. . .  Where was BPL president Linda Johnson standing with NY1's tripod, camera, camera person and interviewer with microphone set up for the interview?  Right where we had all been told nobody could stand because it would be a fire code violation.  And that was the spot where Marsh Rimmler was interviewed in a similar fashion moment latter.

Is Ms. Johnson a "liar"?  The BPL's minutes document that Ms. Johnson instructed the trustees that they follow a strategy of withholding information from the public and others, but some make subtle, careful distinctions about these matters.

New Center For An Urban Future Report
Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future on NY1 segment of its new library report
The day before the BPL board voted to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library a new Center for an Urban Future report (Re-envisioning New York's Libraries) was released with great fanfare at at gala event attended by all the libraries and invited "community leaders."

The mantra being repeated when talking about this new report is that is "from an independent party" and therefore somehow more credible about its subject, which as Ms. Johnson told the BPL board, was "largely about the crumbling infrastructure of the city's libraries" and said that the "very exciting and momentous" sale of and shrinkage the Brooklyn Heights Library is "exactly the type of initiative that the CUF report recommends."  ("CUF" being short for Center for an Urban Future.)

Linda Johnson being treated as a credible interviewee by Errol Louis in NY1 "Inside City Hall" segment
However, the Center for an Urban Future Report does not exactly reflect the work of a more credible independent party.  The very next day at the NYPL trustees meeting Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future told the NYPL that the report's assessments of the physical condition of the libraries was entirely based on information that the libraries had themselves supplied.  That explained, this summing up of the report's value offered by Ms. Johnson toward the end of the trustees meeting, listened to carefully, may sound somewhat different than she intended:
It's nothing that 's extremely new, but it's everything that we have been saying and it couldn't be better from an independent third party sort of endorsing what we've been saying about our capital needs. 
In essence, if all the Center for an Urban Future was doing was sending around in a circle BPL furnished information, then its report was based on the information the BPL originally commissioned former Forest City Ratner Vice President Karen Backus and her company to do and that was after she made adjustments to it when they asked her to work on it further to make it a more convincing argument for the planned real estate transactions like selling off the Brooklyn Heights Library.

And yet, with BPL Board chair Nicholas Gravante ("this is a very, very well-done presentation") was one of the trustees said during the meeting "it's actually very interesting reading, it talks about" all the money needed by the system as if this information were new, and mentioning that information about the report had appeared in the Wall Street Journal the day before:  New York City Public Library Branches Need $1.1 Billion in Repairs: Report- The City Has a "Broken Funding System" in Which Libraries Rely too Much on Discretionary Funds From City Council Members, by Jennifer Maloney, September, 15, 2014

Indeed, the report was been part of publicity onslaught that whereby the public is likely to be convinced that the physical condition of libraries is even worse than they actually are and that libraries, as currently designed, don't meet the needs required.  The day it was released a Brian Lehrer show segment covered it with a title about the dire physical condition of libraries:  The Brian Lehrer Show: Are NYC's Public Libraries Falling Down? Monday, September 15, 2014.  (Click below to listen or go to the show segment page to comment.)

The day after the BPL board meeting vote to sell the Brooklyn Heights Library, Linda Johnson appeared with David Bowles and the interim head of the Queens Library on NY1 with to reiterate (emphasis supplied) that the report's assessment of the capital needs was "all the more powerful" because it comes from "and independent party":   
So we need a comprehensive plan and I think that’s what’s so wonderful about the Center for and Urban Future Report, is that it calls for something that we’ve been aching to do for quite some time and its from an independent party which makes it all the more powerful.  We need a systematic way to look at the problem.  We’ve identified across the three systems over a $1 billion in capital needs.             
At no time did Errol Louis interviewing Ms. Johnson about these capital needs assessments or the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library seem to realize that Ms. Johnson might be a less than credible interviewee who withholds information.  Nor, did Errol Louis seem to fathom that the root source of the information being provided about the BPL system would be former Forest City Ratner Vice President Karen Backus. (Video available at NY1:  Experts Weigh In on Issues Facing City's Library Systems, NY1 News, 09/17/2014.)
The new report stumbles, creating some contradictions.  It was funded by the Revson Foundation which has been getting involved in these library real estate issues for a while now, apparently recommending with a study sometime before the beginning of 2009 that certain libraries, including Sunset Park, be sold for redevelopment into mixed use real estate opportunities.  At the NYPL trustees meeting the day after the BPL board vote Jonathan Bowles bemoaned how there were so many very small libraries in the system, smaller than 10,000 square feet, that need to be enlarged.  The Wall Street Journal, writing about the report said, “Queens has 41 library buildings smaller than 10,000 square feet, compared with 26 in Brooklyn and six in Manhattan.”  . . .

. . . But the Revson Foundation has been supporting the mission of Spaceworks to shrink libraries like Red Hook's 7,500 square foot library to even smaller sizes, in that case taking the library down to just 5,500 square feet.

This is not the first Center for an Urban Future report about the libraries.  The first report, "Branches of Opportunity," came out in January 2013 just before Citizens Defending Libraries was formed and may have stumbled in that it provided a wealth of information to support the case that Citizens Defending Libraries was making that libraries were being intentionally underfunded by the Bloomberg administration with the goal of turning library buildings into real estate deals, rather than support what the Revson Foundation was doing behind the scenes in relation to creating those real estate deals.

This second, new report may be clumsily at odds with the first in that the first report documented that library use in New York City is way up, "a 40 percent spike in the number of people attending programs and a 59 percent increase in circulation over the past decade.”  While both these respective forms of library use were way up, traditional use, books and circulation were up the most, and by far almost all of that circulation increase is physical books as circulation of digital books at that libraries is still a very small fraction even as the libraries try to force patrons to go in that direction.  Nevertheless, the new report is advocating that the libraries need to be physically restructured to shift them over to devote more space for programmatic use.  (The answer is simply that all libraries should be enlarged and not shrunk, and that tearing down libraries rather than adding on to them is inefficient, a two steps-backward-one-step-forward approach.)

In the NY1 discussion of the report the buzz words used for expensively "redeveloping" our libraries in this way is to have "more functional space. . more flexible space." See this article on that concept: Thursday, April 25, 2013, Building a “Murphy Library.”

 Ms. Johnson Johnson in that NY1 segment dismissively and inaccurately refers to the libraries we used to have as "more transactional" as if all that people did in the se libraries was just picked up books they knew they wanted, which is ironically, actually a model those working sell and shrink libraries are working towards.
From the report- Featured in NY1 coverage.  There's more to read on subject of how little the city now spends on libraries.
 Not everything in the report is content that Citizens Defending Libraries disagrees with.  The report makes the point that spending for libraries is a very small fraction of the city's budget.  That percentage is small even though one of the benefits of libraries is to support education.  See the slide above that was part of the NY1 review of the report.  For more about how small a percentage of the city's spending goes to libraries see this Noticing New York article: Tuesday, April 29, 2014, What's Wrong With These Numbers?: The Baccarat Tower's $60M Penthouse and NYC's Library Budget.

Confusion: Luxury Tower to Be More Than 50% Bigger Than Reported in Press Announcements of Deal
Two incorrect reports that the new tower would be 20 stories.  On the left the New York Times correction.  On the left, the same incorrect information in a photo caption on the Brooklyn Paper

There was some confusion, likely attributable directly to the BPL, in the reports of the deal to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library with a luxury tower. . . A number of reports, the New York Times and the Brooklyn Paper included, inaccurately stated that the luxury tower would be 20 stories.  The Times had to publish a correction that the current plan is for the tower to be 150% of that, thirty stories.  Not mentioned is that none of the plans so far made public show how tall the building would be if all available development rights.  Apparently there was a rumor amongst reporters going back to the BPL that there was an "unwritten agreement" that the building would not be made taller than 20 stories (inaccurate).  Of course, an "unwritten agreement" is only worth the paper its printed on.

Here is the wording of the New York Times correction:
Correction: September 19, 2014

An earlier version of this article, using information from a spokeswoman, misstated the height of a building proposed at the site of the Brooklyn Heights library branch. It would be 30 stories, not 20. The error was repeated in a photo caption and story summary.
In another error, the Brooklyn Heights Blog reported incorrectly that the gross sales price for the library would be an overstated $60 million, not the $52 million now being cited.

Conflict of Interest?: BPL Being Represented by NYC Economic Development Corporation

During the NY1 Errol Louis interview Linda Johnson makes the following, perhaps surprising statement about the BPL in the Brooklyn Heights Library transaction: 
We’re being represented by the Economic Development Corporation of the City of New York.
What makes the statement surprising is that at the BPL meeting Kyle Kimbell of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, a trustee on the BPL's board, had to recuse himself from the board's vote for conflict of interest reasons.  Pretty much all the things that would pose a conflict of interest in terms of Mr. Kimbell as head of the EDC participating in the vote would also come into play a conflict of interest needing to be considered with the EDC representing the BPL to carry out the transaction.

Language of Resolution To Sell Brooklyn Heights Library

At the trustees meeting Linda Johnson read aloud only a small part of the resolution the trustees adopted, its most pertinent part.  Apparently the resolution was very long with lots of preamble to document that the BPL had theoretically done everything correctly to sell and shrink its assets.  What Ms. Johnson chose to read appears to have been bollixed.  This is what she read:
Staff and the board of trustees of the Brooklyn Heights Advisory Group recommend that the board vote to accept the decision of the selection committee of the Hudson companies as the developer of the property at 280 Cadman Plaza West, the property where the Brooklyn Heights branch sits.
The reference to the "Brooklyn Heights Advisory Group" and its "board of trustees" appears to be a reference to the so-called "Community Advisory Committee" because there is no "Brooklyn Heights Advisory Group" in so far as anyone knows.  But the so-called "Community Advisory Committee" has no "board of trustees" and the group never voted to recommend the selection of this developer as far as several of its members know.  Further, the "Community Advisory Committee," for most of its existence a fairly limited group, was chaired by the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library group that took the position that it could not interfere with what the BPL itself in any respect.  The second most important member of that group was the Brooklyn Heights Association that said it was following the lead of the Friends group. (See:  Saturday, April 13, 2013, Condoning The Sale and Shrinkage Of The Brooklyn Heights Library, Does The Brooklyn Heights Associations Think Of Friends Group As A Fig Leaf? It Should Think Again.) . ..

. . . . Ergo, we have yet another example of a round-robin, a complete 360 circle, where the BPL is acting on recommendations, and viewpoints, theoretically that actually emanated from the BPL as their original source and the only party taking true responsibility although attempts are being made to shunt it off on others.

It is our information that the "selection committee" referred to in the wording of the resolution consists of three individuals, BPL trustee Peter Ashkenasy (who was charged with persuading Borough President Eric Adams to buy into the theory that because funds had been withheld from the libraries the public's library assets should now be sold off) and two (hapless?) BPL staff members.

Below are some more stills from the NY1 coverage of the Citizens Defending Libraries press conference and the BPL's vote.
"I am outraged at the secrecy," says Michael D. D. White to NY1
Other News Reports

Below are other news reports of these event many of which can be commented on (as can the Brian Lehrer segment above):
Photo from the Brooklyn Paper taken just as various members of Citizens Defending Libraries had already started heading in to the BPL trustees meeting
The Brooklyn Paper- Sold! Brooklyn Heights library to developer for $52 million, by Matthew Perlman, September 17, 2014

Melville House- Brooklyn Public Library announces branch sale to developer; Citizens Defending Libraries launches investigation, by Claire Kelley, September 19, 2014.

Brooklyn Eagle- Brooklyn Public Library approves $52 million sale of Brooklyn Heights branch to developer Hudson Co., By Matthew Taub, Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief, September 16, 2014.
New York Times story in the print edition misreporting that the new luxury tower would be only 20 stories, including in caption.

New York Times- Trustees Endorse Plan to Sell Land Beneath Branch of Brooklyn Library,
by Tatania Schlossberg, September, 16, 2014.

Brooklyn Heights Blog- BREAKING: Hudson Companies / Marvel Architects Announced as Brooklyn Heights Library Developer, by Michael Randazzo, September 16, 2014

Capital New York-  Brooklyn Public Library zeroes in on developer for Heights, by Dana Rubinstein, September, 16, 2014.

DNA Info-  Brooklyn Heights Library Development Plan Includes 114 Affordable Units, by Nikhita Venugopal, September 16, 2014.
DNA Info- Bushwick Library to Get $4M to Fix Roof Where Plaster Fell During Storm, by Serena Dai, September 22, 2014 (A taste of upcoming manipulative reports.)
Brooklyn Heights Blog-New York Daily News Really Likes Plan for Brooklyn Heights Library, By brooklynheightsblog, September 24, 2014.
Daily News Editorial-  Check out this library- A development project shows great promise to revitalize dilapidated branches,  New York Daily News, September 22, 2014.
The Daily News editorial above, cheerleading for the real estate industry refers to the central Brooklyn Heights Library, a major destination library that is at least the second most important in the BPL systems as a "wreck" and an "outpost."  Little does the Daily News appreciate what the BPL thinks a true, very small "outpost" library could be, having considered recently establishing just in nearby DUMB a model future "outpost" library that would be just 1,700 square feet, far before the 10,000 square feet the Center for and Urban Future Report is too small.   The Daily News also gave credence to the BPL's manipulation that not fixing the air conditioning at the Brooklyn Heights Library works as pretext for both keeping very short library hours there plus selling and shrinking it as well.. . .  When it comes to its editorials, the Daily News should be understood to really be the voice of its owner, real estate developer Mort Zuckerman. 
The Brooklyn Heights Library is designed by Francis Keally, the same man who designed the Grand Army Plaza Library (above), a former president of the once-venerable Municipal Arts Society and a head of the New York chapter of the AIA
Brooklyn Heights Library in NY1 report on BPL board vote, designed by same esteemed architect as the Gran Army Plaza Library, described as a "wreck" and an "outpost" by the Daily News cheerleading for its demise. 

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