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, March 10, 2015

Floor Plans of the Brooklyn Heights Library Considered In Light of the Library’s Proposed Sale and Shrinkage

This is NOT a graph- Just a visual to catch you attention with the information that we have some interesting calculations for you below!
59%, approximately 37,703 square feet, of the Brooklyn Heights Library is above ground, and,. . . .   according to the BPL’s own calculations, 21,571 square feet (at least) of the above-ground space should be allocated to the existing “branch” functions. . .. . . PLUS added to that there should also a lot of additional underground space!- . .

. . . But shouldn’t ALL, or MOST of, the tax-payer-owned-and-paid-for space including the space the BPL deems "Business and Career Library" function space, be kept for public use, not sold off and shrunk way down to benefit the private developer of a luxury condominium tower and Saint Ann’s a private school which now may be getting 18,000 to 20,000 square feet for a new school theater, pretty much the same amount of space as proposed for a shrunken replacement library (proposed to have only 15,000 square feet above ground)?

How big is the current Brooklyn Heights Library?
The current library is 63,000 square feet.  We are going with this particular stated size, because this is the stated size that has been used the longest and was used by the architects that the Brooklyn Heights Library hired to calculate an inflated estimate of repairing the library’s air conditioning.  The BPL’s previous statements of the libraries size have usually stated the size of the library to be very close to this number and over 62,000 square feet.  On Monday, March 9, 2015, the library announced for the first time that it was hiring Marvel, the real estate developer’s architect, and simultaneously released for the first time floor plans in response to one Citizens Defending Libraries long-standing requests.  At that time the developer’s architect presented for the first time a somewhat  reduced statement of the library’s current size stating it to be 59,146 square feet.  In order to avoid any aggregation of rounding errors and what is know in the trade as “net to gross” calculation shifts and in order to facilitate a continuity of dialogue we will continue to use the 63,000 square feet that has been used for the last couple of years.  That is 1.06516x the smaller revised statement of size recently adopted by the developer's architect.
How big is it proposed that a smaller library to replace the existing library would be?
The developer was appointed as developer, awarded the RFP (Request For Proposals), based on its representation that it would build:
    •    a 21,000 square foot library,
    •    of which just 15,000 square feet would be above ground.
On Monday, March 9, 2015, the developer’s architect for the first time referred to the developer’s still incomplete plans (no current design existing) as providing a library with a few additional square feet, “21,500 square feet."  We think that statement of a slightly increased size is a reaction to the fact that the new Sunset Park Library is currently proposed to be 20,600 square feet, almost the same size as the it is proposed to shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library down to.  Also, on that March 9, 2015 evening the developer disclosed that Saint Ann’s, a neighboring private school is likely to get an 18,000 to 20,000 square foot auditorium because of the redevelopment.   There is friction in the neighborhood because it is understood that the benefits that Saint Ann’s school is getting is helping drive the deal to sell and shrink the taxpayer-paid-for library.  We are not now restating the size of the proposed replacement library to include an extra 500 square feet because there is no known obligation on the part of the developer to provide it and we do not see evidence that the BPL is trying to negotiate any improvement of this very bad deal for the public. 
How much of the Existing Brooklyn Heights Library is above ground?

Above, showing in bar graph form the amount of space in the existing Brooklyn Heights Library (left) both above and underground and (right) in the proposed replacement library that would go at the bottom of  tower built for luxury condominiums
Based on the figures and floor plans (below- click to enlarge) the BPL just released the current library has approximately 37,703 square feet of above ground space.  The library consists of four floors and 59% of its space is in the two most important floors that are above ground.  There is more space in another two stories below ground, where currently 17,527 square feet or (28% of the total 63,000 square feet) is used for books and materials (similar to the research stacks of the NYPL's 42nd Street Central Reference Library that make books readily accessible upon request).

Is anything else being given up in addition to the space inside the library? 

Yes, a great deal.  There is all the space outside the library, including a park and landscaped areasThere is all the light and air that the neighborhood will sacrifice.  There is an extra burden of infrastructure like public schools. . . even as this move diminishes that supporting infrastructure.  There is an enormous amount of cost and disruption that needs to be taken into account and hasn't been yet.  There is the fact that for years yet to be determined, the neighborhood will only have a very small temporary library, a mere 7,000 square feet.  That's not only a poor, make-shift substitute while children are growing up, one also needs to remember that as BPL president Linda Johnson told her trustees at the last BPL trustees meeting, when you take library resources away there is an extended period after you bring those resources back before patrons return to their habits of using them again returning to previous levels of patronage. 

The Existing Brooklyn Heights Library integrates both "branch" and the "Business and Career Library" functions serving Downtown Brooklyn: What amount of space is proportionally devoted to each?

Between the Branch Library and the Business and Career Library functions, the library assigned 57% of the space to the Branch Library functions (blue) and 43% to the Business and Career Library functions (green).

Allocating the entire library’s space proportionately that would mean that approximately 21,571 square feet of the above-ground space should be allocated to the Branch Library.  Allocating the below ground space the same way would assign another 14,419 to the Branch Library for a total of 35,990 square feet.  In that case, 27,010 square feet of the Brooklyn Heights Library’s functions would wind up being moved to the Grand Army Plaza Library deemed by the BPL to be Business and Career Library functions that don’t need to stay in Downtown Brooklyn.  There will be no additional space for those functions in the Grand Army Plaza Library, but Linda Johnson and the BPL administration officials have acknowledged that there will be costs they are not disclosing to reconfigure the Grand Army Plaza Library and shrink other function there to cram in the functions transferred of of Brooklyn Heights Library and away from the Downtown area.

The BPL is arguing that the amount of space devoted to Brooklyn Heights Library functions that should be shifted, reconfigured and crammed into Grand Army Plaza for reconfiguration and replacement/shrinkage of other function there should be should be greater than the 27,010 square feet allocation above.
How much space should be retained for an adequately-sized replacement Brooklyn Heights Library if the Business and Career Library functions are moved to Grand Army Plaza?
The answer to this question must flow from the functions the public would like to see retained at the Brooklyn Heights Library. . . . and also what the public would not want to see crowded out of the Grand Army Plaza Library.  The answer should also defer to, and take appropriately into account, the fact that the Brooklyn Heights Branch and the Business and Career Library functions in the library have always operating on an integrated, synergistic basis with economies of scale flowing out of their joint operations.

Accordingly, even if the Business And Career functions are shifted out of the library, one must think twice or more about whether the Branch Library would want to give up the following:
    •    The full scale auditorium that is used for events, films, functions and gatherings, and as a place to do things like vote.  Such space that can be made readily available to the public in the Downtown area is very rare and becoming increasingly in more demand as density rapidly increases.
    •    The public conference room, for the same reason as above.  (There is also a possibility for more of these conference rooms to be created if you read on.)
    •    The electrically equipped computer room that is now technically designated by the BPL as a Business and Career Library space, but which is definitely used by many, many of the Branch Library patrons.
    •    The restrooms.  There is currently a men’s restroom, a women’s restroom (so frequently in many facilities complained about as not being large enough), a separate children’s bathroom and a ground floor bathroom next to the front entry.  The ground floor bathroom is designed to serve the handicapped, and because of the way that Downtown Brooklyn figures as a major transit hub, it regularly serves the bus drivers of a number of Boroughs’ key bus lines.
If you want the library to keep all of these spaces, which is probably a good idea, then the calculation of the percentage of what should be retained for the branch of the above-ground space becomes a 74% for the branch vs. 26% for the Business and Career library functions proposition.  In that case, one would want the library that remains to have about 27,900 square feet of space above ground (vs. the current 37,703 square feet) plus a certain amount of additional support space below ground.  If the percentage for the underground space were the same percentage (which the library would probably argue against) the additional underground space would be 18,719 square feet.

The BPL’s mantra is that all space in libraries should be the same space flexibly used for everything, an excuse to shrink libraries that creates logistic and noise problems while communicating to the public that it isn’t valued enough to deserve gracious public spaces devoted to its needs. 
Should the Brooklyn Heights Library retain all the Business and Career Library functions?
Yes.  We think the simple answer is obviously yes.  The decision to "move" it dates back to plans initiated in 2007 to sell and shrink libraries around the city and the plan to "move" it is, in our opinion, just a pretext to shrink library space in something of a shell game maneuver.

We think the Business and Career library should be kept in Downtown Brooklyn where they are most centrally and conveniently located to the residents of the borough and to other New Yorkers.
What about enlarging some of Brooklyn Heights Library’s Library functions irrespective of whether Business and Career Library functions are formally being viewed as retained at the library?
This could be a very good idea.  At other libraries like the NYPL’s 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library and The Grand Army Plaza Library the concept has been introduced to have libraries provide more spaces  for people to meet and convene and work on projects, sometimes providing patrons with such things as digital editing and production equipment.  With the reuse of the former Jehovah's Witness Buildings the neighborhood is becoming even more a tech center that the library could work hard to support.  What could be done to serve the public with facilities centrally located in the borough’s downtown gets into the realm of imagination. .  but  you don't need to challenge your imagination much to realize the building's potential extra uses.

Thoughts include:
    •    A second and/or a larger auditorium
    •    Use of any unused or perhaps less well used staff space, as conference and meeting rooms.
    •    Configuration of library uses to better align with and support educational service support school students, especially those in the overburdened public school system.  This could include rooms for use by visiting classes on study trips. 
Do the floor plans released on Monday March 9, 2015 disclose anything else of interest?
Yes.  They indicate that restoring the air conditioning system in the building to working order could easily be be a much simpler and less expensive proposition than the BPL has acknowledged.   
When one considers the possibilities, it is probably foolish not to think in terms of more wisely using this asset to benefit the public as always intended, not figuring schemes to benefit a private developer or the private Saint Ann’s School instead.

There is also the question of the importance of books (yes physical books) and having them readily accessible, more than one copy in the system, particularly in central libraries when it comes to the harder to find volumes. . .you know, the reason we created libraries to store and share our books to begin with.

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