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, June 17, 2015

Where Is The Transparency?- Handout to Community Board 2 Land Use Committee the day of its June 17, 2015 Hearing About Whether To Sell and Shrinks The Brooklyn Heights Library

This was handed out by Citizens Defending Libraries at the Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee meeting and public hearing about whether to sell and shrink a major publicly owned asset, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in downtown Brooklyn.  It was the first ever public hearing about whether to sell and shrink an important New York City library.
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Where Is The Transparency?
Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 is being asked to vote and irrevocably shrink a (recently enlarged) major New York City library blindfolded.  It’s been furnished with misinformation and misrepresentations. . . .  AND here are just some of things that are unknown because the BPL is deeply non-transparent about this hand-off of a juicy real estate deal to a connected developer:
    1.    The true and complete costs to the public of selling and shrinking this library as proposed.  The building would cost at least $60 Million to build from scratch and together with the land and right to expand the public uses on the site is assuredly worth more than $100 million, but the BPL may net virtually nothing or even wind up in a financial hole selling it.

    2.    The “strategic real estate plan” formulated going back to 2007 (likewise the “Revson Study”) that would tell the public what libraries will returned into real estate hand-out next.

    3.    Communications between the BPL and the Department of Design and Construction that contradict what the BPL is now saying about there being a highly inflated cost to repair the air conditioning at the library.

    4.    Whether, as seems to be the case, Saint Ann's, a private school, is pocketing more money from this transaction than the BPL will net. The school is now taking all cask rather than getting a 20,000 square foot school theater (worth maybe $42 million?).   Does CB2 know?

    5.    Information about the historic nature of the building including BPL communications with Landmarks.

    6.    How much the BPL is spending on high-priced lobbyist and PR firms to push for the sale of libraries.

    7.    Information about book counts: what they have been, what they are now and what they are intended to be in the future.  For instance, the BPL and the architect representing it, and the developer in this regard have not been able to state what the book shelf capacity of the entire Brooklyn Heights Library is or what it will be reduced to in the future.
And as Mr. de Balsio said when he was running for mayor (July 12, 2013):

“It’s public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties”

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It’s Marvelous To Have Books!- Indeed, But Architect Jonathan Marvel Designs a Library Seemingly Oblivious To The Tradition of Finding Books In The Library

Did you catch this?
An Architect Works With a Source of Inspiration: His Father, by Matt A.V. Chaban, June 15, 2015.
It’s a puff piece about architect Jonathan Marvel that appeared in the New York Times, perfectly timed to blunt some bad news about projects Mr. Marvel is the designer of.
And in the background for the big photograph accompanying the piece (did you notice?) like so many of these puff pieces: Books, books, books!  Because books are reassuring.  Books make you trust people.  Books are read by thoughtful people, cultured people, people who know things and have studied things.  Yes, how marvelous to have books, and how marvelous when you want to present people as trustworthy, to present them as book people. . .  present them as people who love and want to live around books. . .  People who, when they want to let the world know who they are think its best to be photographed in front of books!

We’ll get back to the subject of books here shortly, because appearances can be deceiving or at least highly ironic.

The two projects about which Marvel urgently needed criticism muffled or distracted from don’t lie very far from each other.  Each can also be cited as an example of overbuilding.
Marvel's two projects: Blocking the view of the Brooklyn Bridge and squashing out a library
Here’s the bad news with respect to each:
    •    On June 12, 2015 (reported by the Times June 14, 2015- the day before the puff piece) a judge of the Sate Supreme Court, Justice Lawrence S. Knipel ruled that construction of Marvel’s  Pierhouse, a hotel and condominium complex could continue even though it obscures historic views of the Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.  The building is at least 30 feet in height over what the public was expecting based on negotiated understandings of how development in the park was to be restricted to preserve and respect those views.  We’ve been to public meetings where representatives of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) explained how this extra development disrespecting the understood limits occurred.  The explanation involves an intricate dance where with a pro-development bias the BBPC and those working with it for the developer two-stepped, figuring that the BBPC was exempt from city zoning laws when it was helpful, and referred to following zoning laws when it was helpful.  It is difficult to believe that the architect was not knowingly complicit in this dance that came out with the extra development a developer would want while breaching the understanding that the community expected to followed about protecting the historic views.    

    •    On June 15, 2015, (the day after the puff piece) there was an information dump on the public showing Marvel’s new designed for the 38-story luxury condominium tower that would replace, stomping down to one-third its previous size, the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton.  The information dump was two days before the start of the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), a first hearing about whether the city should sell and shrink this valuable public library property getting virtually nothing in return.  The proposal is to sell and shrink the library (which can never be enlarged ever again, like it was in 1993), without even designing a new library first to figure out just how cramped the result might be.  But Marvel, the architect working for the developer who wants the site and the library shrunk did lead some Charrettes (Charades) for the BPL about how to shrink the library down design-wise.  More on the blindness with which the pro-development Marvel was willing to blithely proceed on this shortly.
Both of these Marvel projects above are the subject of petitions opposing the senseless excess and plunder of the public commons involved.  They are respectively:
    •    The petition of Save the View Now challenging the illegal over-building is here: Return the construction of the Pierhouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park to be consistent with the plans approved in 2005.

    •    The petition against these deals selling and shrinking NYC libraries is here: Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction.
It turns out that Marvel’s architects completely ignored the entire question of book capacity when it came to conducted three public charrettes/charades about how best to shrink the library down to one-third size and it proposed tentative designs for the replacement library without knwing how many books the current library holds or how many it might be good for the new library to hold.

This is despite the fact that the Marvel architects acknowledge that at these charrette/charades the public clearly expressed that what it wanted in the new library was “Books, Books. Books.”   

The following email to Marvel documents that fact in self explanatory fashion.

Email from Citizens Defending Library Co-Founder Michael D. D. White to architect Jonathan Marvel respecting how many books the current central destination library in downtown Brooklyn is designed to hold vs. how many books the drastically shrunken library he is designing would hold.
    Mon, May 25, 2015 4:15 pm


    At the design charrette run by Marvel last Monday (the 18th) the Marvel representatives seemed largely unfamiliar about certain things and, for instance, in particular, how many linear feet of book shelf space capacity the current entirety of the 63,000 square foot library including the two half floors underground has vs. how many linear feet of book shelf space capacity the proposed editions of the Marvel design fielded that night were conceptualized to accommodate.

    I thought all the Marvel representatives, each and every one of them, were all going to tell me they didn't know the answer, until Guido at the last table said that he knew the answer and he said that the existing 63,000 foot library on all four floors had 4,500 linear feet of book shelf space and that the designs presented furnished 6,000 linear feet of book shelf space.  I told him that this seemed implausible to me, especially that the entire 63,000 of buildings space including the basement storage areas has only 4,500 linear feet of book shelf space.  I emphasized that the question was linear feet of book shelf space shelf capacity, not the number of number of linear feet of actual books, reduced now that the BPL has been getting rid of books.

    Further, since we were clear that we were talking about the all of the entire 63,000 feet of existing library space, there should be no doubt that we were not asking Guido to play games and supply the result of a weird or self-serving allocation of shelf space to only a portion of the library such as to the so-called "branch" functions vs. business and career functions.  We also are aware and made clear that not all the book shelf space is in the public areas, so we were asking about ALL the shelf space wherever it was, underground, in staff or conference areas.

    I will withhold comment on whether we think the number of linear feet provided for in the new designs were envisioned feasibly or workably or how many feet there actually appear to be.  Among other things, readable scales were not provided that night, and things appeared cramped.

    As none of the other tables or Marvel representatives that night had the information about the amount of relative shelf space, as things got underway, I conveyed Guido's information to them all together with my misgivings about its plausibility.  Interestingly, at my table the head librarian argued for the rest of our table to believe the information furnished by Marvel via Guido.

    Frankly, we find Guido's information about shelf space suspect and inconsistent with what we know about the 63,000 square foot library at the corner of Tillary Clinton.  Nevertheless, I am writing this email to ask that you confirm (or correct) the information Guido furnished at the design event hoping that you will appreciate the opportunity to do so.
Marvel didn’t respond to the email, but later, at a May 27, 2015 Brooklyn Community Board 2 Youth and Education Committee meeting where the BPL and Marvel were making a presentation to the committee pitching for a sell and shrinkage of the library the architects were asked again to state the book capacity of the current library vs. the proposed shrunken library and this time flatly admitted that they didn’t know what that was.  Instead, they offered that it was information that they could sometime obtain and make available.  They haven’t yet. . . 

They haven’t furnished the information which means that Community Board 2 is being asked to approve the library sale and shrinkage without this basic information about the library’s core function.

Mr. Guido Hartray’s representation that the whole 63,000 square foot library had only 4,500 linear feet of shelf capacity amounts to a representation that the library has shelf capacity for maybe only 32,400 or 33,000 books at most.  Yet, in 1992, with a rapidly growing collection that the library was expanding by one-third to accommodate better, the library had 130,000 books plus substantial other materials so the shelf capacity then (and probably added to later as well), should have likely have exceeded at least18,000 linear feet by that year.
The well-timed puff piece tells us cheerfully that working on projects like these two in Brooklyn* Jonathan Marvel’s practice “has already doubled in size to 65 designers, with no space left to grow” to accommodate Mr. Marvel and his books!
(* Relevant to each of these projects is the fact that Marvel, along with his library development team partner of the library have been sending money to Mayor de Blasio.  See: Saturday, June 6, 2015, WNYC Reports Mayor de Blasio’s “Furiously Raising Funds”- Including From Developers “Lurking Behind The Curtain” of Library Real Estate Sales- And WNYC’s Money?)  
“No space left to grow”?  Oh my!  That means that Mr. Marvel finds himself in pretty much in the same spot as he is putting the library he is shrinking in. . .  The shrunken library, stuck at the bottom of a residential building under a stack of luxury condominiums will never be able to grow again afterwards.  As noted, the last time the library needed to grow, at appreciable public expense and inconvenient was with its expansion completed in 1993.  The library won’t be able to grow if this reverse-course shrinkage is a mistake, or because the city, borough, central baseness district or immediately surrounding neighborhood all grow at a fast rate (which they absolutely are doing).

So yes, it’s “marvelous” to have books and being pictured in front of them is a great strategy to encourage people to have good feelings about you. . . . But it doesn’t mean that the person photographed cares about and is dedicated to other people having books.  It doesn’t mean that although an architect undertakes to design a library (shrunken or not) that the architect cares on whit about that library having books.

By the way, Marvel Architects has only designed one library prior to this one.  It was hired to design that library back in the old era of libraries as we used to have them.
Click to enlarge and inspect book titles
In the photograph, most of the titles of the books in Mr. Marvel’s Library can be read.  The Brooklyn Heights downtown Brooklyn Library is a central destination library, at least the second most important in Brooklyn.  Want to guess how many of the titles in Mr. Marvel’s collection can be found in the library when you pop in to visit?  In fact, want to guess how many of these titles can be fund in the entire Brooklyn Public Library system now run by people who seem dedicated to getting rid of books?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Our Testimony and Report on City Council Hearing On Budget For NYC Libraries Held Monday, June 8, 2015 and Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This page will be updated.

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Testimony of Michael D. D. White below:

June 9, 2015

James G. Van Bramer, Chair
Committee on Cultural Affairs,
   Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
250 Broadway
New York, NY 10017

Re:    June 8th and 9th 2015, New York City Council Fiscal Year 2016 Executive Budget Hearing- Libraries, Mayor's FY '14 Preliminary Management Report and Agency Oversight Hearings

Dear Committee:           

I begin with a quote:
“It’s public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties”
That’s the mayor speaking in 2013 as a candidate for election about the tragedy of selling off and shrinking our public libraries, transforming them into real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.

“Real estate developers. .  lurking right behind the curtain . . . who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties”?: The mayor knows whereof he speaks.  In 2013 Mr. de Blasio was being sent money by those involved in library sales, including the real estate development team seeking to turn the Brooklyn Heights library, Brooklyn’s central destination library on Cadman Plaza West at the corner of Tillary and Clinton, into a luxury tower.  The proposal involves a vastly shrunken so-called “replacement” library of minimal size.

It’s a deal modeled on and closely replicating the sale of the beloved Donnell Library, conceived of at the very same time.  There are links between the people conceiving these deals.

It makes no sense for the Mayor to be underfunding the libraries in a time of plenty, defying the advice of everyone, including the city’s daily newspapers, except to create an excuse to sell libraries.  But plundering these assets is costly to the public. 

With new revelations, the still uninvestigated money-losing Donnell sale is turning out to cost more than ever suspected.  If the NYPL had restored a full-scale Donnell Library after selling its site, it would have been deep in the hole with a net loss, a situation very comparable to the now proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Tillary Clinton Library.  But, additionally, Scott Sherman’s new book, Patience and Fortitude- Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library,” discloses that the NYPL spent almost $5 million to outfit the small, cramped temporary library filling in to replace the library since 2008.

That means that selling and shrinking down to 1/3-1/4 size a 97,000 square foot library across from MoMA, the NYPL netted less than $33 million.  That paltry figure does not involve subtracting out the additional millions that have been spent for high-priced consultants to tell the NYPL that their idiotic ideas were smart ones, nor the annual rental cost for the temporary replacement library starting with $850,000 in 2008. . . .  Those are escalating costs that sadly are still being incurred in today, even as you review the library’s budget.

The Brooklyn Heights central destination library is 63,000 feet of extraordinarily serviceable (and adaptable) square feet.  That includes two half floors of underground space that, similar to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, were set up to hold books for easy on-the-spot retrieval.  To say that the building is sturdy is an understatement: When it was built, it was built with space set aside for a bomb shelter with the thought that people could go there to be protected against a nuclear attack.

The building was built in 1962 (at a cost in today’s dollars of about $20 million) and opened with a collection of 90,000 volumes.  In 1991 it was enlarged and upgraded (at a cost in today’s dollars of about $10 million).  Then, additionally, a reclamation of the space people once thought might be used as a bomb shelter added even more space for books.

All in all it is safe to say that with what the public has invested to build the building plus the value of the underlying land and potential future development and expansion rights the value of the building to the public is the neighborhood of about $85 million, perhaps closer to $100 million.  Yet this sale for shrinkage will net virtually nothing when all the costs are considered.  The Brooklyn Public library is stonewalling, refusing to reveal the costs.  The City Council lets it.

You should also pay attention to the unexpectedly high costs of removing books from libraries and storing them off-site.

The design of this Brooklyn Downtown Library and its limestone and red granite was admired with some fanfare as “handsome” when it was opened.  Because, like the Grand Army Plaza Library it is also the work of Francis Keally it is a complementary bookend to that admired library.  It is similarly eligible for landmarking. Francis Keally was once the president of the Municipal Art Society back when that was a vital organization.  He fought for preservation and good design.  In this situation he would also be fighting for common sense and against greed and corruption.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

PS: I hereby incorporate by reference Citizens Defending Library’s previous testimony before the Council about the harm to the public of underfunding libraries, eliminating books and librarians, selling and shrinking libraries for real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.  I specifically include that which you will find here:
    •    Tuesday, February 24, 2015, Report on Tuesday, February 24th City Council Hearing On Supporting Public Libraries in the City's Ten-Year Capital Plan Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries

    •     Tuesday, June 3, 2014, Report on Tuesday, June 3rd-9th City Council Hearing On Budget For NYC Libraries Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries       

    •     Wednesday, December 10, 2014, Report on Wednesday, December 10th City Council Hearing On Future of Capital Budget For NYC Libraries Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries
Additionally, I refer you (link provided below) to our web page about the upcoming June 17, 2015 hearing that will commence the process required to decide whether to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Tillary Clinton Library.  This will be the first ever hearing on such a sale because one was not required or held with respect to Donnell, or the now besieged 34th Street Science, Industry and Business library.
    •     Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee June 17, 2015: ULURP Hearing- First Hearing About Whether To Sell & Shrink Downtowns’s Brooklyn Heights Library (Tillary & Clinton)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In A Closed Library, A Tour of Much The Public Doesn’t Get To See- Don’t Let Them Close This Library, The Brooklyn Heights Library On Cadman Plaza West, Corner of Tillary & Clinton

Would you like to see a whole lot of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton?

In fact, would you like to see much of this library that the public doesn’t generally get to see?

. . . That the BPL would probably prefer the public not see?

Here are pictures of the library, including what the public never gets to see, taken on a private tour (3/26/2015) taken of the library when it was closed.  The tour occurred after Citizens Defending Libraries advocated for such a tour making the point that it was ridiculous for the public to be selling off a very valuable asset essentially sight unseen, the public wearing a metaphorical blindfold.

Library administration officials working with NYC real estate development officials to transform this library into a juicy hand-out to a connected developer try to denigrate the library, saying it is worthless, unusable space in very poor condition.  We think otherwise.

We think the library is very valuable, and that, conversely, the BPL would subjecting the public to huge losses selling it.

We think that, as the photos show, it’s a sturdy library with a history.  It was designed by Francis Keally, who designed the other central destination library in Brooklyn at Grand Army Plaza.  To wit:
The Keally library is 63,000 feet of extraordinarily serviceable (and adaptable) square feet.  That includes two half-floors of underground space that, similar to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, were set up to hold books for easy on-the-spot retrieval.  Echoing the 42nd Street library, an “automatic conveyor belt” helped deliver books more efficiently.  To say that the building is sturdy is an understatement: When it was built, it was built with space set aside for a bomb shelter with the thought that people could go there to be protected against a nuclear attack.

The air-conditioned building was built in 1962 (at a cost in today's dollars of about $20 million) and opened with a collection of 90,000 volumes.  In 1991 it was enlarged and upgraded (at a cost in today's dollars of about $10 million).  Then, additionally, a reclamation of the space people once thought might be used as a bomb shelter added even more space for books.

The library was built intending to serve all of Brooklyn and, being the only library addressing certain business needs and functions (“the only library in the city” for such needs), was intended to draw patrons not only from all of Brooklyn but Manhattan, including lower Manhattan’s Wall Street right “across the river.”  As well as accommodating staff according to earlier, kinder standards the BPL does not now want to meet, the building has rooms used as conference rooms and more rooms that could be similarly used.  Its construction involved “special workrooms for business researchers,” including cubicles.  Wanting to give the library over to development (secretly since about 2007) the BPL has not adapted or made these spaces available for the kinds of uses the public would likely appreciate.
(SEE: Monday, June 15, 2015, Municipal Art Society, Once Venerable, Becomes Platform For Disseminating Misinformation Promoting Development, In this Case Backing Library Sales and Shrinkage.)

If you want to refer to floor plans (Citizens Defending Libraries got them released to) when reviewing these photos there are here: Floor Plans of the Brooklyn Heights Library Considered In Light of the Library's Proposed Sale and Shrinkage.

Replacing the physical building alone would cost $60 million, perhaps more, and then there is the land and development rights associated with future expansion that would have to be paid for to duplicate what the public now owns.

What’s missing in these photos are pictures of the library auditorium which is open to the public at various times for all sorts of functions.

One sadness is how the BPL has, readying for the sale it is so very keen on, been focusing on emptying the library of books.  More Photo's (pre-tour) focusing on that (also in other libraries targeted for sale) are available here: Saturday, September 14, 2013, Empty Bookshelves As Library Officials Formulate A New Vision of Libraries: A Vision Where The Real Estate Will Be Sold Off and Saturday, February 14, 2015, "Fully stocked and overflowing shelves of children books"?- The Brooklyn Heights Library According to BPL's Taina Evans. Really?

The photos provided here were taken on a private tour when the library was closed that was given for members of the “Community Advisory Committee” constituted of members who were pre-screened by library administration officials interested in having members sympathetic to a sale.  A few of them actually aren’t.  And we are pleased to have these pictures although neither Citizens Defending Libraries, nor the actual public has not been invited on such tours.

If this building is such bad shape that it needs to be sold ("dilapidated" was one headline BPL PR people fed the Daily News) then probably 85-90% of the houses of worship in Brooklyn similarly need to be sold for the same reasons.  In other words: NOT!

More pictures (but only the public areas) appeared in this article: Tuesday, October 7, 2014, The Public Loss of Selling And Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library- How Great Will the Loss Be? Let's Calculate.

Should we start with some underground space purposed to keep books for ready retrieval?  We also have these and even more photos also up on Flickr.
In no particular order.*
(*  NOTE: One person who was in the way of the camera in a number of the pictures taken, Deborah Hallen, expressed a desire not to viewable in the images.  We could have used Photoshop to leave blankness or oddly shaped blurs in certain of these pictures to accommodate that preference, but given how time consuming that would have been and the public interest imperative in making these photos sooner rather than later, we felt it was not worth obscuring this person's participation in what ought to be a very public process.)

No wonder BPL president Linda Johnson says she wants our libraries to be torn down so they can be more like Starbucks!- Just kidding because just imagine the uses and possibilities here.  Saying the space is in bad shape?: Isn't that a little bit absurd?   Surely some space in the library system is dilapidated, but tear down (privatize) the space in best shape first? 

Working when the library is closed

As Rhett said to Scarlett: "Frankly my dear. do we give a damn that BPL president President Johnson says that her priority to tear down our home holding our books is because the staircase is too big, the library's spaces too graciously generous for the public to be moving around in."

Too much staff space?  Maybe, but if so some of it could be converted to something video editing class rooms and studios- And still we see (underpaid) staff working here when the library is closed.  There is space here that could be used like space in the Grand Army Plaza "Leon Levy Information Commons,"except here it could be put to that use more easily, less expensively, without getting rid of books and more conveniently for those in Downtown or whose businesses are intended to be associated with the burgeoning DUMBO/Downtown Tech Triangle.

Imagine a library where you could come and expect they'd probably have the books you need right then and there.  That's what libraries are supposed to be.  That's what this central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn was designed to be.

This is a conference room that the BPL is supposed to be making available to the public to hold conferences.  Other similar spaces here could also be similarly used, easily adapted to do so if not "needed" for other use- Just change the sign on the door.  Those spaces could be used in conjunction with this space as additional breakout rooms or could obviate scheduling conflicts.

Give the views to the luxury condominium owners instead?