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, 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)

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