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, 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

Citizens Defending Libraries' Carolyn McIntyre testifying about a BPL representative informing people that shelves in the Brooklyn heights Library Children's section were "fully stocked and overflowing" while the photo she held up in  poster form (see also below) showed that was clearly NOT the case.
More about this photo (click to enlarge) and misrepresentations that these children's sections shelves are "fully stocked and overflowing"  available on this  Citizens Defending Libraries web page: "Fully stocked and overflowing shelves of children books"?- The Brooklyn Heights Library According to BPL's Taina Evans. Really?
This page will be updated.

About 85% of the hearing consisted of statements, often very eloquent expressed, that we at Citizens Defending Libraries is perfectly in agreement with about how libraries should be properly funded.  Unfortunately, we are afraid the budget dance continues and never really abated, meaning that libraries are likely to remain funded at inexcusably low levels with those low levels cited as an excuse for selling and shrinking them and doing development deals. . .

. . .   Within that big picture, the question is what is actually being done.  In that regard Linda Johnson was pushing and promoting the Brooklyn Heights sale and the Williamsburg Spaceworks shrinkage in the same sentence, and also pushing hard on the Sunset Park library development plan.

Familiar "Budget Dance" Still Haunts Library Funding Discussions

Although there was been some lip service given, in this hearing, and particularly in recent past hearings that the "budget dance" abated with the arrival of the de Blasio administration, at this hearing none other than the NYPL’s President Anthony Marx asserted that to be false.  The de Blasio administration has increased library funding from the very lowest levels at the tail end Bloomberg administration, funding has never been restored to pre-Bloomberg administration cut levels and have not been restored to funding levels before funding was cut in anticipation of selling of and shrinking libraries.

Marx also said, and we agree, that having to come to testify that the libraries deserved more funding we were all being forced to advocate for things we should not have to be forced to advocate for.  It was noted during the hearing (with gasps of amazement from the audience) that the the city funds libraries at a lower level and at a funding amount drastically less than seven other funding categories, including funding for cultural affairs, even though:  "More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined."
Paul Ness, center in grey sweater, testifying against selling SIBL
It's Up to Public to Raise Objections to Proposed SIBL Sales Other Proposed Library Sales

Throughout the entire hearing there was no mention of the NYPL's proposed sale of the Science, Industry and Business library or the folly of selling it until the concluding public testimony segment when Paul Ness and Veronika Conant both made strong statements opposing the sale.
Proposed for sale: The Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison.  We are told that we have to make our libraries the subjects of real estate sales and redevelopment because they don't have enough electrical outlets and aren't modern enough, but this very modern library is well equipped with electric outlets, computer and everything the public needs and wants   
Maria Roca from Sunset Park also spoke against the redevelopment currently proposed and promoted at the hearing for Sunset Park Library by BPL President Linda Johnson (it `needs new air conditioning')and hearing Chair Jimmy Van Bramer.  Carolyn McIntryre and Michael D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries also testified against the sale and shrinkage of libraries.  (We hope to have pertinent video up in a while.  Video of the entire hearing is already available for the City Council.)
Library heads testifying
BPL President Linda Johnson's Strange Formulation About "Leveraging" Real Estate to Be Worthy of Private Partnership Dollars

At one point there was discussion where both NYPL president Tony Marx and BPL president Linda Johnson concurred that when the city is subtracting out money from the system with low funding for libraries it discourages private donors who worry that whatever they donate may be subtracted out again with reduced city funding.  Ms. Johnson came up with a strange formulation about how assurances could be provided to private donors through the BPL's real estate deals to sell and shrink libraries.  Asked by a city council member what Ms. Johnson though she could do to send a message to private donors about how it can partner with the government for the library to procure funds Ms. Johnson said (emphasis supplied):
One of the biggest challenges of raising money for the public library is the notion that for every dollar, for every private dollar of philanthropy, that goes into the library is a dollar less that the city- um- needs to give to support the library.  We all know that's not the case, but it's the argument we need to overcome.  And I think that- um- the current environment- um- that we are trying to create shows that- ah- we are being really innovative, that we're looking at ways we can leverage our assets to take care of them and that we are, in fact, deserving of the private dollars that- um- some of private donors can afford to donate.
When asked by the city council member to elaborate Ms. Johnson had been speaking of the BPL doing its "own part" in order help raise these private partnering dollars.  Whether expressed well or not, what Ms. Johnson said about collecting private dollars in connection with "leveraging" the BPL's assets (from the beginning "leveraging" has been the BPL's standard catchphrase for its real estate deals) sounds highly reminiscent of of the description of things given by Stephen A. Schwarzman, head of the Blackstone Group, when he said he transferred $100 million to the NYPL understanding that it would be for the Central Library Plan's sale and shrinkage of libraries.   (Blackstone is, among other associated businesses, the world's largest real estate investment firm.)

NYPL's Central Library Plan

Many are worried about how aspects of the now-derailed Central Library Plan still ominously survive.  Vera Conant testified (see the chart below for elucidation) about how $14.252 million of the Bloomberg era $151 million for the CLP has been spent (squandered). Fourteen Million Dollars! (This money came from these sources: $125 million from the Mayor, $25 million from the City Council, $ 1m from BP Stringer). The sums shown in the FY2015 column are what is left. These funds are generally rolled into the next year if they are not spent. You can see that Mayor de Blasio has added no new funds for the Central Library Master Plan - Mid Manhattan Campus, but that the City Council has added $ 5m (over the next two years).

Ms. Conant asked for an accounting of these $14.252 million dollars in taxpayer funds and asked why an additional $5 million was being budgeted for a project that has not been publicly presented or even described.

Councilman Brad Lander Tweets, Entreats and Leaves

City Council Member Brad Lander who, starting very early on, has pushed energetically for library real estate deals like the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library arrived at the hearing with BPL president Linda Johnson and the other library heads.  During the his stay at hearing he tweeted the following image-containing Tweets.
Proud to be part @NYCCouncil that consistently champions libraries. Thx @JimmyVanBramer @Costa4NY @JulissaFerreras



The capital needs of @BKLYNlibrary @nypl @QueensLibrary are nearly $1.3 billion. It's (past) time we stepped up.

Council Member Lander left after staying about 23 minutes and left moments after appearing to ask that his presence be formally noted with an announcement (which it was).

Councilman Levin Asks About a "Fairly Aggressive and Unorthodox" project  

At the beginning of the hearing, before the library heads testified, Councilman Steve Levin asked First Deputy Director Larian Angelo from the Mayor Office of Management and Budget about selling libraries and the plans in that respect for the Brooklyn Heights Library in his district.

LEVIN:  . .  there's a plan underway to do a development scenario where the Brooklyn Heights Library currently stands, and allow for development and then plop a new library branch in the base of that building.  The scenarios has been awarded in an RFP [a Bloomberg era RFP] through BPL and wil go through ULURP process, giving opportunist for public input at the Community Board level, the Borough President level, the City Council level. . so I don't want to put the cart before the horse. . .  But I want to ask:  This is a fairly aggressive or unorthodox way of looking at out infrastructure, talking about our aging infrastructure.  This is where we are essentially monetizing the development rights on a particular parcel.  Can you opine on, you know, where that's appropriate, where that's not appropriate?  How does OMB look at this issue?  We have a lot of city-owned land, a lot of city-owned buildings in New York City, a lot of them are are aging, a lot of them have development rights on top of them.  Right?  I mean, you could look at. . . there are probably development rights on top of City Hall.

ANGELO:  Would you want to sell them?

LEVIN:  Sorry?

ANGELO:  Would you want to sell them?  [Levin did a prolonged double-take, apparently surprised he was asked that question and wondering whether it deserved a response.  The audience twittered with laughter.]

LEVIN:  No.  I think that's the question I have.  Is it a question of whether it is landmarked, whether it's not landmarked, whether there is adjacent property where you can sell the air rights, or whether you build on top of it?  This is one where the Brooklyn Public Library has decided that that they want to proceed on this, and I've heard a lot of people against it, I've heard some people in favor of it, but I am just wondering: As the city looks at this, as the adminstartion looks at this where's the line here and why should this be incorporated, but, you know, any number of city-owned buildings throughout the city might not be?

ANGELO:  This is the Brooklyn Heights redevelopment project?

LEVIN:  Correct.

ANGELO:  The Hudson Companies is the developer? [Levin confirms.]  I think that where- I don't want to speak for the entire administration on this, because this is obviously something way beyond something that the director of OMB should -  . But you understand that the use of public-private partnerships in many ways helps get the job done without putting an additional burden on the capital budget.  Then again, from the beginning, the aging infrastructure helps. .  Sometimes they work out very well, and sometimes they work out less well. . .  Private developers are private developers and they, generally, are not doing a project because they are motivated by good will. . ..

LEVIN:   Some, probably never.

ANGELO:  So they're usually getting something out of it and on a project-by-project basis it depends on how the private developer is getting as opposed to how much the library or government institution is getting and then how the community views it.

So I certainly don't have any overarching position on this and I am not sure that the administration does either, but I think that's how you look at it. . . . on a project-by-project basis.
The next two City Council hearings on the library budget will be on March 4th and March 20th.

Below is written testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries prepared for submission at the February 24, 2015 New York City Council Oversight hearing on Supporting Public Libraries in the City's Ten-Year Capital Plan.

* * * *

February 24, 2015

James G. Van Bramer, Chair
Committee on Cultural Affairs,
   Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
Council Chambers
City Hall
New York, NY 10017

Re:    Oversight – Supporting Public Libraries in the City's Ten-Year Capital Plan.

Dear Committee:       

Since March 2013 we at Citizens Defending Libraries have been testifying at City Council hearings raising issues about proposed library sales and shrinkages, the elimination of books and librarians and the underfunding of libraries as an excuse for plans that benefit the private real estate industry, but not the public.

We have raised many still unanswered and important questions.

We have, I think, in multiple ways, proven ourselves ultimately to be right as facts were disclosed.  The Donnell sale and the fact that the Central Library Plan was finally estimated to cost more than a half billion dollars, more than $200 million beyond what the NYPL had previously publicized are just two examples.  I don’t think that any facts show us to ever have been far off the mark.

In connection with the June 3rd-June 9th hearings of this committee on these subjects we furnished City Council members and made publicly available (now on the web) many specific questions that need to be asked about these matters.  Yet, aside from a few questions asked by the Public Advocate, whose time was restricted, most of those questions were and now remain unasked.  (We incorporate into our testimony here the record of our submission and testimony at that June 3rd-June 9th and those previous hearings.)

There is serious lack of transparency on the part of library administration officials and the city real estate officials who are directing themselves to selling off libraries.  We have requested, by FOIL, documents to which we are entitled, but have been stonewalled and furnished with nothing but meager and obfuscating information. Where is the BPL’s Strategic Real Estate Plan hailing back to 2007, or the Revson Study calling for turning libraries into real estate development?  Where are the facts and book census information about how many books are disappearing from our libraries?

Since June a “study” by the Center for an Urban Future and the Architectural League of New York about “Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries” has been promoted, but whatever good ideas were mixed into it, we could not help but hear during the presentations how libraries were to be considered tools for development with the public “placatingly” told that they would be able have better libraries if consent was given to increased density, development, and upzonings otherwise likely to be rejected. . .

. . . . Study architects also spoke of plans to reduce books according to the advice of two librarians, one of whom expressed favor for removing books from the libraries, saying that eight-year-old children should be scolded if they came into the library to research Black History Month or women’s history, looking for related biographies without first calling to say they desired such books to be at the library.  That librarian, who said that professional researchers should be treated the same way, doesn’t seem to understand how research is really done.  These kinds of “studies” are in no way a substitute for the investigation it is incumbent upon the City Council to pursue.

It is exceedingly troubling that we have not yet restored library funding to pre-Bloomberg, pre-library sell-off plan levels.  By contrast, Austin, Texas, one of the nation’s preeminent tech-based cities, is doing what its voters want: They are properly funding libraries which means enlarging them and increasing the number of books.  It is a shame that we in New York are not similarly doing what the voters want and deserve.

Sincerely,

Michael D. D. White
Co-founder,
Citizens Defending Libraries

Public Assets Under Attack- Prepared For Handout at February 24, 2015 Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting

Public Assets Under Attack
Our public assets, our public properties are under attack.  We are talking about the public realm, the public commons.  Lurking behind the curtain we see developer greed buttressed by the corrupting imbalance that money brings to politics and ultimately to municipal government itself.

Right here in Brooklyn Heights we see it with our hospital and library sold off to benefit real estate interests and the compulsion of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation to build and overdevelop at Pier 6 and at Pierhouse, seemingly without compunction and no matter what.  Down the hill in DUMBO the Dock Street development was pushed through by subterfuge while across the river plans are being pushed to dismantle the South Street Seaport Historic District for more towers because, supposedly, the developer can’t otherwise own such prime Manhattan real estate without going bankrupt!

Meanwhile, we are told that sufficient basic city services and infrastructure like schools such as our local PS8 aren’t affordable by our growing city unless such withheld services are reengineered to be used as  pawns, traded as the quid pro quos for more development.

Public parks and public buildings built on city-owned land. .  schools, colleges, libraries, fire houses, playgrounds, police stations, hospitals, housing, memorials . . these public assets are part of our New York  heritage, civic architecture that belongs to everyone. Built by our forefathers  with public funds, assembled over the years, some more than a century ago, these amenities are becoming increasingly irreplaceable as the value of the underlying land escalates, and the master craftsmanship and natural materials of traditional architecture become more and more  costly and hard to obtain.  If city services are relocated, cut back or curtailed when city buildings are privatized, everyone loses, except the privileged few, purporting to be our "private partners." 

Because these losses are long-term, exceedingly difficult to recover from and often irreversible, we’d like to think that the current assault will soon abate, but until it does we must do everything we can to band together to draw a line and ensure our public assets are protected.

We cannot let a privileged few with special access show up on the steps of government with plans to sell and privatize our assets, plundering their value.

We believe that it is important to view these many attacks as being all of a whole.  These lop-sided deals should receive collective scrutiny.  The often common and repeated stratagems employed against the public should be looked at on an integrated basis, which includes noting that there is a high frequency of overlap among the players and political operatives that present them to us.

Is the Brooklyn Heights Association doing what it needs to in this regard?  We find ourselves somewhat disappointed, and especially so in certain cases.

We need to roundly and soundly agree that this era of putting the public’s property on the auction block is an era whose time has passed.  Whenever deals like these present themselves we must recognize them for the swindles that they are, greet them as dead on arrival and pack them off with the funerals they deserve.

* * * *
Citizens Defending Libraries also handed out in physical form copies of the following:
    •    Friday, February 6, 2015, Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library Trustee Peter Aschkenasy Re Commitment to Provide Information About Library Sale

    •    Support and Sign-On Letter: Full and Adequate Library Funding, A Growing System, Transparency, Books and Librarians

    •    The following flyer (in very small 4.24 x 5.5 inch size- is it possible that some things shouldn't be shrunk down too small?)

Press Coverage of the Meeting

One of many excellent photos of the event in the Brooklyn Eagle article: Micahel D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries asking a crucial question
Here is excellent coverage of the BHA meeting in the Brooklyn Eagle.  Comments are possible.
Theme of Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting: Change vs Preservation, by Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 25, 2015.
Respecting libraries from that article:
[BHA President] Bowie welcomed "friends and collaborators" from several advocacy groups, including People for Green Space Foundation (PFGSF) board member Henry "Ren" Richmond. PFGSF is working to block the construction of two residential towers at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

* * *
Bowie also welcomed to the meeting members of the group Citizens Defending Libraries, who hope to block the sale and redevelopment of the Brooklyn Heights branch. No one from this group spoke officially, however.

"We share a common view of Brooklyn Heights as a quiet, leafy neighborhood, home to a magnificent waterfront park that contributes sorely-needed greenspace to our neighborhood, to the borough of Brooklyn and to the entire city of New York. Sometimes we disagree with you about the best way to achieve our ends. Of course we welcome discussion," she said.

* * *

Michael D. D. White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, questioned what he called BHA’s “highly suspicious” and rapid support of the decision to redevelop the Brooklyn Heights Library branch.

“What will it take for you to reconsider your support to sell and shrink the library?” he asked.

“I will take that up with our library committee, which is how we operate, and if the library committee feels that it wants to revisit the question, then I will take it to the full board,” Bowie said.

In response to a related question, Bowie said that BHA supported the library plan as long as three conditions were met: that the proceeds go back to Brooklyn Public Library; that interim service was provided; and that the new library be of “adequate” size.*
(* See comments to the article to read how none of those conditions are actually being met.)

Here’s Brooklyn Heights Blog coverage.  Comments are possible.
5 Key Points Made at the Brooklyn Heights Association's 2015 Annual Meeting, by Homer Fink on February 26, 2015
From the article:
4. Say What You Will About Michael D.D. White and Citizens Defending Libraries, but Brother Has a Point

    Michael D. D. White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, questioned what he called BHA's "highly suspicious" and rapid support of the decision to redevelop the Brooklyn Heights Library branch.

    "What will it take for you to reconsider your support to sell and shrink the library?" he asked.

    "I will take that up with our library committee, which is how we operate, and if the library committee feels that it wants to revisit the question, then I will take it to the full board," Bowie said. (Brooklyn Eagle)
To see a handout and a report on last year’s annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting see: Thursday, February 27, 2014, February 27, 2014 Open Letter from Carolyn McIntyre To Brooklyn Heights Association Delivered At It's Annual Meeting That Day.

After the Brooklyn Heights Association annual meeting last year the Brooklyn Heights Blog put up a poll (above)- `Whom do you support, Citizens Defending Libraries or the BHA?' You can still get to that poll to VOTE through the link to the Brooklyn Heights Blog story at the end of the Noticing New York article about the annual meeting.
PS:  (Added June 2015) For a more evolved statement of these sorts of ideas see: Our Public Assets Under Attack- A Calamity of the Commons Unfolding That We Must Act Collectively Against- How best To Express It?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

PHOTO & VIDEO GALLERY: February 14, 2015 Library Lovers Gather on Valentine's Day to Speak and Sing of Aching Hearts

This announcement of this event is available here:  Friday, February 13, 2015, MEDIA ADVISORY (& Press Release): Library Lovers Gather on Valentine's Day to Speak and Sing of Aching Hearts.

This page is being updated.
One of the images at CSNYPL's report of the event.
The Committee to Save the New York Public Library reports on this event here: Library Lovers Converge On 42nd St. for Valentine's Day, 15 Feb, 2015.

"The Man in The White Suit"?  When it comes to NYPL and the library which one should we be paying attention to?  More about the NYPL and Tom Wolfe available here: Tuesday, December 31, 2013, Gifts We Are NOT Getting- For New York City's Libraries.

Video is in the works
As indicated by watermark the seven photos above are by photographer Miriam Berkley

One of Ray Brizzi's Facebook photos of the event
Photographer Ray Brizzi has wonderful photos of the event on Facebook.



Above two photos from those Erik McGregor has up of the event on Flicker.
Photographer Erik McGregor has fabulous photos of the event on Flicker.

Here is the Video (if belatedly posted- Click through to YouTube for best viewing)



Valentine's Day- Open The Rose

“Fully stocked and overflowing shelves of children books”?- The Brooklyn Heights Library According to BPL's Taina Evans. Really?

“Fully stocked and overflowing shelves of children books,” according to BPL's
Taina Evans. 
“Fully stocked and overflowing shelves of children books”?  Really?

This is a picture taken 2/9/2015 of shelves in the Brooklyn Heights Library children’s section that Taina Evans, the BPL’s Clinton Hill Library Information Supervisor weighed in on 2/14/2015 to describe in the following way:
“Brooklyn Heights children room has and continue to have fully stocked and overflowing shelves of children books and related materials.”
Ms Evans was reacting, she said, to correct what she said was “false” information in a Citizens Defending Library Media Advisory about a rally to protect city libraries, see:  MEDIA ADVISORY (& Press Release): Library Lovers Gather on Valentine's Day to Speak and Sing of Aching Hearts.  

One way you can tell that these perfectly empty, not “fully stocked and overflowing shelves” are in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Heights Library are by the colorful children’s stickers adorning the shelves.
Ms. Evans sent her email accusation that Citizens Defending Libraries was misinforming the public to the  New York Black Librarians Caucus - NYBLC Google Group Listserv (nyblc@googlegroups.com).  (And, yes, the underfunding of libraries has a racial issue component to it, see: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded.)

But does Ms. Evens really want to quibble about whether these books are gone from the library NOW, when it is undisputed that the BPL plans to sell and drastically shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library SOON, in which case there will then be no room for the books?  Books take up real estate and what we have seen is that library administration officials have preceded their plans to sell and shrink libraries by emptying the shelves of the libraries targeted for shrinkage.  See: 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.

Ms. Evans assured those she emailed that the Williamsburg Library is not to be worried about, but at the same time the top floor of that library (used for Children’s programs) is being handed off to the private Spaceworks firm in a space-shrinking move its shelves are empty.  Pictures are available:  Monday, January 26, 2015,  The Library of the Future Envisioned- "The 21st Century Library". . . And Beyond- Questions Floating In Science Fiction's Crystal Ball.
Here in the Williamsburg Library these perfectly empty shelves are not in the second floor given away to Spaceworks (no books there anymore), but in the mezzanine, i.e. more missing books.
Similarly, Ms. Evans assures that there should be no concerns about the future disposition of the Clinton Hill Library where she now works.  It is true that in divide and conquer fashion, as is the strategy of the Brooklyn Public Library and library administration officials the BPL has said that it has backed off from plans to redevelop the Clinton Hill Library.   Yet, plans to redevelop that library into a multi-use real estate development were previously in the real estate press.  The reason now given why the BPL has backed off on redeveloping the Clinton Hill Library is that the current zoning will not support a large enough new development.  That notwithstanding, there have been recent forums promoted by library administration officials with open discussion and presentations about telling the public (in a “placating” manner) that they will be allowed to have better libraries if the public will first agree to upzonings and development the public does not otherwise want.

Ms. Evans says that she appreciates the passion of Citizens Defending Libraries, a deference it is now standard for library administration officials to offer, but suggests that Citizens Defending Libraries is misguided and “responsible for causing confusion and mass hysteria.”

Ms. Evans has worked as a “Digital Information Specialist” and as “Dynamic Advocacy Liaison for BPL.”  In her email she speaks of her “recent promotion” by the BPL to “assistant branch manager at Clinton Hill.”  We know many librarians working at the BPL disagree with Ms. Evans about the direction that libraries are taking.  Librarians whose thoughts about what is happening with the contraction of our library system differ from Ms. Evans and who disagree with the BPL may not be similarly subject to promotion.

Friday, February 13, 2015

MEDIA ADVISORY (& Press Release): Library Lovers Gather on Valentine's Day to Speak and Sing of Aching Hearts

WHAT: Citizens Defending Libraries, the Committee to Save the New York Public Library and Reverend Billy and his Choir cry out in concert about the ache in our hearts for our library losses
WHEN: Saturday, February 14, 2015, 12:00 Noon.
WHERE: Front steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, Fifth Avenue Between 42nd and 40th Streets, New York, NY, 10018This Valentine's Day we, as library lovers and defenders, will gather to speak and sing of an ache in our hearts.
This Valentine's Day at noon we will gather on the steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library to tell NYPL and library administration officials that there is a hole in our hearts and that we miss the things we love and want them back, now. . .

We will gather with Revered Billy and his fabulous choir who have two soulful songs about our library losses to send up to the heavens as we pray for the preservation and return of what we love: "You Don't Update a Masterpiece," and "Library Blues."

. . . We will bring ROSES, a rose apiece, to say that we miss our beloved ROSE Reading Room, closed since flowers bloomed last May when the Rose Reading Room was suddenly shut down.. .

. . .  We miss, and ache for the return of ALL our books, ALL the books that library administration officials have been removing from the libraries.  That includes all the books that were spirited away during the Bloomberg administration, emptying all the millions of research books from the stacks under the Rose Reading Room, stacks intended to hold three million books and designed to support the Rose Reading Room literally and literarily, both structurally and as a matter of its core function and raison d'ĂȘtre.  We miss all the books that have been spirited away and not returned to other libraries, including the books of additional NYPL libraries and those of Brooklyn.  And if the libraries had not been intentionally starved of funds in recent years as real estate deals to sell them were conceived there would be more books in Queens as well.

Where are the books that once filled our demolished Donnell?

The books of the sold-off 42nd Street Annex?

The more than one million books once found at SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library are mostly gone now and the few books that remain leave its public shelves so very empty.

Our hearts ache for the empty shelves in the children's section of the Brooklyn Heights Library as the BPL tries to drive patrons away from another grand library that, like SIBL, library administration officials are thirsting to sell.  What of the empty shelves and the books and bookshelves removed from Mid-Manhattan?  We hope that we have truly fended off the plans to sell it, and the BPL's Pacific Branch.   So many other libraries that are in jeopardy: Red Hook, Williamsburg, Sunset Park, Clinton Hill . . .   This list goes on and we must inevitably worry.

When next Valentine's Day comes we don't want to find our hearts aching more for the loss of more libraries like SIBL and Brooklyn Heights. . .

Here is some background about the closing of the Rose Reading Room and the elimination of its books: In a startling development in the saga of the NYPL's plans for its libraries, the Rose Reading Room was closed last May when a chunk of its ceiling (previously restored as part of a 1998 renovation) reportedly fell down in the middle of the night. Coincidentally, this happened in the window of time between when the NYPL was forced to abandon its plans for the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan (two weeks after) and its announcement (just four days later) that the Central Library plan would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the NYPL had previously publicized.

Prior to this incident three million research books had been removed from the stacks beneath the Rose Reading Room.  Upon closure even more books, all the books lining the walls of the Rose Reading Room, were removed as well.  The NYPL has said that it likes and will keep permanently in place the new more tortuous arrangements by which readers and researchers visiting the library must now obtain books, often with substantial delays as they are brought in from remote storage in New Jersey, if those books are successfully furnished at all.

What's worse: The NYPL has said that it eventually plans to return to the library only a fraction of the books it has removed!

Heavens to Murgatroyd!: Just consider that it took the NYPL over eight months to erect scaffolding to start the inspection of the Rose Reading Room ceiling. In the meantime, readers are crowded into small, poorly lit and ill ventilated rooms with ad hoc provision for computers. Last month a piece of the Gottesman Exhibition Hall's intricately carved Maurice Grieve ceiling collapsed, and it was then closed too.-  We cannot help but worry: What do our library officials really care about?  Think of all the books that might be lost or damaged in the shuffle, making them forever unavailable to readers who rely on the library?

So we invite all library lovers and defenders to join us, Citizens Defending Libraries and the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, as we gather with Reverend Billy and his choir to raise our voices in protest and song that declare our love for libraries and books. . .

Bring a rose to the event and we will leave a spray of roses of the steps of the 42nd Street Library signifying the hole on our hearts for the Rose Reading Room, the libraries and the books that we miss and want back now!!!

Facebook event: Our Hearts Aching On Valentine's Day, We Want Our Books & Rose Reading Room Back

https://www.facebook.com/events/409530632554499/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular

CONTACT:
Carolyn E. McIntyre, Michael D. D. White
Michael White, 718-(area code) 834-6184, mddwhite [at] aol.com
Carolyn McIntyre, 917-(area code) 757-6542 cemac62 [at] aol.com

Follow us on Twitter: @defendinglibraries

For photos and videos of prior Citizens Defending Libraries rallies opposing the sale, shrinkage, underfunding of New York City libraries, and elimination of books since its founding two years ago, see:

PHOTO GALLERIES- PAST EVENTS

http://citizensdefendinglibraries.blogspot.com/2014/01/photo-galleries-past-events.html

For a description of Citizens Defending Libraries successes see:  Partial List of Successes of Citizens Defending Libraries (founded early 2013)

http://citizensdefendinglibraries.blogspot.com/2015/01/partial-list-of-successes-of-citizens.html

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library Trustee Peter Aschkenasy Re Commitment to Provide Information About Library Sale

BPL Trustee and Board Treasurer Peter  Aschkenasy in foreground.  BPL Spokesperson David Woloch in background

Below is what we have written in follow-up to BPL Trustee and Board Treasurer Peter Aschkenasy about information he indicated he would provide concerning the sale and shrinkage of libraries.

* * * *

February 6, 2015

Re: Information you indicated you would provide concerning the sale and shrinkage of libraries

Dear Mr. Aschkenasy,

I am writing on behalf of Citizens Defending Libraries to follow up more formally with respect to the Thursday, January 22, 2015 Independent Neighborhood Democrats forum about the Brooklyn public libraries that gave special focus to the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  You represented the Brooklyn Public Library at the forum as a trustee and the BPL Board Treasurer.  When I made a request for your commitment to provide certain information you told me and the forum attendees that you expected it could be provided, and I am, accordingly, following up now to ask that the information be provided promptly.

Specifically:
    •    I asked for your commitment to provide a complete floor plan of the Brooklyn Heights Library with crosshatching worked out to indicate specifically everything that the Brooklyn Public Library is writing off as being not of value to the public AND with regard to all those areas the reasons the Brooklyn Public Library is respectively indicating various areas to be not of value.

    •    I also asked if you would like to volunteer to provide us with:
    •        The Karen Backus “real estate strategy”
    •        The Revson Study
    •        The response we have requested from BPL President Linda Johnson for a calculation of the losses to the public of selling the Brooklyn Heights Library and what the public is giving up.
You stated that you had no objection to my request in principle and that you thought it could be agreed to.  I had also offered you the opportunity to comment on the subject of transparency and you said that you do not think there is any reason for the BPL to be hiding facts concerning its decisions.  David Woloch, a BPL spokesperson on staff who was the second person on the panel representing the BPL, supplemented your statement saying, “There is certainly more information we can give you,” and acknowledged a “lack of clarity” concerning facts the BPL needs to articulate.

You said that you were not sure of all the details concerning everything I was requesting- That’s presumably in relation to items in the second set of bullets above, not the first.

Let me provide some relevant background.

Prior to the forum I asked at the Brooklyn Heights Library for a copy of the floor plan for the building.  Librarians there told me that an available floor plan exists, but that it could not be released to the public without clearance from the BPL central administration office at Grand Army Plaza.  (There are, by contrast, other libraries where copies of floor plans are readily available.)  My request was passed up to the central administration office from which I have never heard anything.

The Karen Backus-authored “real estate strategy” and the Revson Study are two of items that should be readily available (and which have been referred to by BPL trustees like you in their decision making) that we have requested of the Brooklyn Public Library via the Freedom of Information Law.  Although these items are readily available and are items that we believe we are clearly entitled to, we have not been provided with them after what is now a very considerable period of time.  We believe that the documents we have requested under the law are highly relevant to discussions about whether to sell and shrink libraries, and there are many more documents than these that have similarly not been provided by the BPL pursuant to requests.

The response we have requested from BPL President Linda Johnson concerning the unrecognized cost to the public of selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library has been carefully articulated in our open letter to Ms. Johnson sent to her, available on our web pages, and distributed to the trustees at their board meeting:  Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson.

Please confirm that you expect to provide the requested information as you indicated January 22, 2015, and by what date we should be able to expect it.

Your consideration in this matter is appreciated.

Sincerely,


Michael D. D. White
Co-founder,
Citizens Defending Libraries

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At the January forum: Independent Neighborhood Democrats President Lawrence Gulotta standing, panelists Peter Aschkenasy and David Woloch from the BPL far left and Doreen Gallo and Marsha Rimler, critics of the BPL's sale and shrinkage plans on right    

This video of the interaction at the forum is available at Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel (click through for best viewing): BPL Reps Promise More Disclosure On Heights Library Deal.

   

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of March 9, 2015 the BPL, finally partially responded to Citizens Defending Libraries' long-standing requests with the release of floor plans for the Brooklyn Heights Library available here:  Floor Plans of the Brooklyn Heights Library Considered In Light of the Library's Proposed Sale and Shrinkage.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Resolution Respecting the Brooklyn Heights Library Adopted by the Independent Neighborhood Democrats Executive Board

The following resolution was adopted by the Executive Board of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats February 5, 2015.
Resolution on the future of the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library
Whereas, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND) recognizes the critical and expanding role that Brooklyn's public library system, especially the branch libraries, play in the lives of the city's residents, providing them with books, information, technology, meeting space and other resources and activities they rely upon to improve and enhance their intellectual, social and economic well being, and

Whereas, the increase in the number of people who live, go to school and work in the areas that serve the Brooklyn Heights branch, including the Business and Career Center, adds to the importance of having a modern, multi-use facility, designed with input from those who will use it, and

Whereas, despite increased usage by a diverse community of patrons, the Brooklyn Public Library has not put forth a responsible plan for guaranteeing necessary improvements such as infrastructure repairs, additional space, new services, enhanced technology and partnerships with other community resources at the Brooklyn Heights branch, and

Whereas, the directors of the Brooklyn Public Library, in lieu of a plan that upgrades the facility and re-envisions the ways in which the branch can serve the growing and varied community that uses it, agreed to a plan that calls for: selling the space that currently houses the Brooklyn Heights branch to private real estate developers; moving the Business and Career Center; demolishing the Brooklyn Heights branch building; and installing a smaller facility on the ground floor of a proposed luxury apartment house complex with a significant loss of floor area, therefore be it

Resolved, that the Independent Neighborhood Democrats opposes the proposed sale of an important public asset to private developers with little oversight and transparency, and

Resolved that the Independent Neighborhood opposes diminution of public areas or services in the Brooklyn Heights branch, including relocation of the Business and Career Center, and be it further

Resolved, that the Independent Neighborhood Democrats calls upon all our elected officials to reject the plan put forth by the Brooklyn Public Library for the Brooklyn Heights Branch and be it further

Resolved, that the Independent Neighborhood Democrats will work with elected officials, other organizations and campaigns to prevent the destruction of the branch while exploring flexible, responsible, transparent and fiscally sound ways to renovate, upgrade and enhance the existing facility over the coming years, and be it finally

Resolved that the Independent Neighborhood Democrats will work with others to fight for increased funding for the borough's public libraries so that they can continue to meet the many needs of their growing number of patrons and remain a valuable resource to this city.

Adopted February 5, 2015 by Executive Board

Open Letter to Brooklyn Community Board 2 Regarding Libraries

February 4, 2015

Shirley A. McRae, Chair
& Brooklyn Community Board 2
350 Jay Street, 8th Floor
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Subject: Brooklyn Community Board 2, Libraries, Citizens Defending Libraries

Dear Chair McRae, Community Board 2 and Committees:

Citizens Defending Libraries looks forward to working with and providing resources to Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 for the sake of libraries and the benefit of the public they serve.  We also acknowledge that, as CB2 Chair Shirley McRae reminded us the other day, much of the real work of the community board is done at the level of its committees.

We expect that (and have discussed this matter with District Manager Robert Perris) most of the work concerning libraries in the district will be done primarily by two committees, the Land Use Committee and the Youth Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.  Nevertheless, as libraries are significant public anchors for our communities, integrating into our communities in so very many vital ways, we don’t want to shortchange recognition of the other committees’ interests and would like, for reflection’s sake, to provide an overall review of them here.  There is ample reason for these multiple interconnections with the community: More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.

Here is a review of some of the ways that interests of the various CB2 Committees suffuse what there is to be thought about when it comes to libraries in the CB2.
    Land Use Committee

The land used by the Brooklyn Public Library to provide libraries is city land, city property (except for a very few exceptions where the property is rented).  This means that because it is always important to think about what is an appropriate use and disposition of city property, any changes in the land or property ownership have to go through ULURP (the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure).  ULURP reviews go through the Land Use Committee.  The Land Use Committee might also need to pass on any discretionary approvals associated with zoning changes or variances connected with the pieces of an overall project.

Another land use issue: some branch libraries ought to be landmarks.  The historic Pacific Branch, designed by Raymond Almirall, was the first Carnegie Library built in Brooklyn.  The Brooklyn Heights Library, built in the 1960s, is substantially older than the 30 years required for landmarking (although it was  renovated in the 1990s.) Francis Keally designed it; his Grand Army Plaza Library is a New York City Landmark, but his elegant Brooklyn Heights Branch is unprotected, standing just outside the Brooklyn Heights Historic District and the more recent Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District.

Because libraries are public assets on city land, the design for their building, redesign, or renovation must be passed up with an appropriate recommendation about approval to the Public Design Commission.  This might come from the Land Use Committee or another committee could also appropriately be involved.

    Youth Education and Cultural Affairs Committee

Libraries provide obvious ancillary support to the educational mission of schools, particularly important with respect to our overtaxed, under-capacity public schools where in-school libraries are often shut down.  Public school libraries are often shut because, under the Bloomberg administration, the city became more than 50% out of compliance with the requirement to have librarians to man the school libraries.  Libraries are a place to research, obtain books, do homework, and receive supplemental assistance and support to what is provided in schools. 

As more residential units have been added at an accelerating pace, our educational infrastructure in the district is strained and needs expansion.  Affecting PS8, approximately 3,750 new housing units have been/will be developed between 2004 and 2017 without even counting the Pier 6 development projects or the potential proposed residential development at the Brooklyn Heights Library.  This is while PS8 is significantly overcapacity (142% as of 2013).

Libraries are also an obvious support to cultural programs and affairs and often include auditorium and meeting space that the public desperately needs.

It should also be noted that one of the factors driving the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library is that selling and shrinking it will benefit Saint Ann’s, a private school. . .   But we do not think that it makes sense to sell and shrink a public library to benefit a private school.

    Economic Development and Job Creation Committee

Libraries are economic drivers.  Studies have found that  for every dollar we spend on public libraries, the public realizes about 3-5 dollars in benefits. 

In terms of opportunity, libraries have been referred to as “the great equalizer.”  They are also places where people go to find and create jobs for themselves and engage in activities that support the creation of new businesses.  The two libraries in New York City that are most important to those searching for employment are both centrally located destination libraries serving all New Yorkers, specially adapted for that purpose, that are now both targeted to be shut down as part of proposed sale and shrinkage plans: The Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue and the Brooklyn Heights Library that has integrated into it the Business and Career Library.

Somewhat astoundingly, job seekers will likely have to deal with the simultaneous elimination of the job search support resources provided by both these libraries.

The BPL says that when it eliminates the Business and Career Library functions in its proposed shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library it will “move” them to the less accessible Grand Army Plaza, where no new space is being created for them.  We believe that there is a significant likelihood that currently provided resources and services will largely lapse and disappear, indistinguishable from the rest of Grand Army Plaza activities.  To the extent that the BPL will make way for the cramming of Business and Career functions into the non-expanded space at Grand Army Plaza it will have to involve the elimination of other resources there with design, construction and other costs that we have asked the BPL to state for the public.  Although we have requested information about those costs or sacrifices, the BPL has been unwilling to provide such information.

The attack on libraries and their appropriate and adequate funding also involves class and race issues.  (This committee is responsible for oversight of advocacy for equal opportunities and affirmative action for employment and is the board's liaison with the Human Rights Commission.) All New Yorkers use public libraries, but given the access to private libraries, sometimes in-home personal libraries and other resources there are obvious issues of who depends most on the libraries and with the greatest need.

The issue of race pertains particularly to the Pacific Branch and Brooklyn Heights libraries and has been covered in depth here: Tuesday, May 14, 2013. A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded.

In the case of Pacific Street Branch, the BPL had plans to replace an historic family friendly local library with its well-known children’s room with an up-scale BAM-supporting “cultural condominium” library in a luxury tower being marketed with an arts tie-in.  The centrally located Brooklyn Heights Library draws patrons into Downtown Brooklyn from all over including heavily from the nearby projects.  Some of the dialogue involving the proposed shrinkage of the library has included unfortunately frank references to such redesign and shrinkage as a means of evicting such users from the Downtown and Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.
   
    Health, Environment and Social Services Committee

The Health, Environment and Social Services Committee is responsible, among other things, for “matters concerning social services, the disabled, the homeless and senior citizens” all of whom are users of the libraries.

Particularly important is that, because of the transportation systems and available elevators in the subways, the Brooklyn Heights Library is much more accessible to the disabled (similarly senior citizens) than the Grand Army Plaza location to where the BPL proposes to remove resources.  An appreciable number of those showing up at the Brooklyn Heights Library to further their job search are also confronting problems respecting homelessness although one might not immediately suspect this to be the case when they are showing up at the library to access computer and information in their interview attire.

The libraries are also places where one can research public health and environmental issues.

    Parks and Recreation Committee

It may come a surprise to the Parks and Recreation Committee, but the Brooklyn Heights Library at its north end has a small park with walkways and seating suitable for gatherings that the BPL keeps locked and inaccessible.  We would like to see it opened up and perhaps used by street musicians or, occasionally,  for things like poetry readings.  Overall, there is a fair amount of green space and a fair number of trees on the city-owned land surrounding the Heights Library.  We think that, with minimal effort, it could be attended to and better landscaped, giving thought to how it supports the aesthetics and feeling of nature in the neighborhood, notwithstanding the extent to that it is already fulfilling such roles importantly.  Among other things, we would suggest using somewhat less of this mostly landscaped space for parking cars.

Reading and associated things like public poetry readings are, of course, a form of recreation.  In the city of Austin, a tech hub where they are expanding their libraries and adding to their number of books, the designs for new libraries incorporate outdoor areas for reading while taking in views of nature.

    Transportation and Public Safety Committee

With this committee the question is where to start first.  The committee has responsibility for matters with respect to police and public safety.  Author Neil Gaiman wrote in his article for The Guardian, Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming, October 15, 2013:
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons - a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth - how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read.
It is perhaps then not such an odd coincidence that one of our principal adversaries when it comes to those who are selling off and shrinking libraries is Stephen A. Schwarzman, head of the Blackstone Group, among other things the world’s largest real estate investment firm, and that among other none too savory economic activities (fracking, buying up foreclosed homes, and “fleecing” state and local government pension funds) Mr. Schwarzman and his Blackstone Group have invested in privatizing prisons.

When it comes to transportation the committee should obviously be concerned with congestion.  Congestion is avoided by transportation efficiency and avoidance of trips that are artificially longer and more complicated than necessary.  Libraries are frequently located where they are so as to be as centrally located and as accessible as possible.  This also makes library real estate a much more valuable target for real estate developers influencing library administration officials and politically nudging them to sell these public assets.

When officials from NYC Economic Development Corporation (the city’s real estate corporation serving real estate developers) and the library were flogging the benefits of a Brooklyn Heights Library sale they told developers when meeting with them:
It's accessible to numerous transit lines.  So you have the Jay Street hub, you have the Borough Hall hub, the subway lines.  You have Clark Street, Court Street, High Street, all of these different subway lines are serviced at this location. There are parts of Manhattan that are not as well serviced as this particular site and you're able to get to downtown Manhattan within minutes.
Selling and shrinking the library would mean that these assets would no longer be so accessible to the public, a factor to be considered multiplied by the number of trips made by all the many, many library users.  The end goal of transportation planning, including elimination of congestion, is, of course, to make trips as short and efficient as possible, even unnecessary if that can be arranged.  But, by converting the resources of one of Brooklyn’s most important central destination libraries into luxury housing used by a relative few, the many library patrons using the library would have to make longer trips contributing to congestion affecting others while having their own trips become long and inefficient.
All the above is mostly for background purposes only.  We are aware that, as Mr. Perris has pointed out, there is a fair amount of overlap between the membership of various CB2 committees that will create efficiencies whomever we work with.  We also understand that the Executive Committee performs coordinating functions.

We want whatever assistance we can provide in working with the board to be timely and that is why we are approaching the board now.  We don’t think that the board, without preparation, should be put in the position of having to respond to what the BPL puts before it without enough time to react or get the information it needs.  According to its own minutes, the BPL’s plans to sell and shrink libraries go back at least to 2007, perhaps as far back as 2005.  We have been requesting important information about these transactions that we think the CB2 board will also want to know the answers to orient itself and properly represent the community.  In some cases, our requests for information go back more than a year, and yet the BPL has not been forthcoming with information readily available to it.

Among other things we have not received the BPL “Real Estate Strategy” put together by former Forest City Ratner vice president, Karen Backus.  With respect to the Brooklyn Heights Library we have asked for and not gotten information about past assessments we know were done with respect to the now unrepaired air conditioning, cited as a reason to sell and shrink the library.  We have similarly not received an accounting of what the public is giving up and the other costs associated with the sale.  Much of what the BPL has failed to deliver is information we believe we are entitled to pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law.

Unless the CB2 begins as early as possible it is likely to find itself being told by the BPL that the BPL cannot or will not furnish CB2 and its committees with information requested about its plans within the time frame that it will be needed and they are likely to act, as they do with us, as if this is perfectly acceptable.

There are also appropriate actions that CB2 can consider and take now.  For instance, we have distributed our Citizens Defending Libraries letter of support at the CB2 monthly general meeting and most recently brought copies to the last Land Use Committee meeting where Mr. Perris said he would pass along the copy we gave him then to CB2's members (a committee member was even that night suggesting action to support us).

Signing on to the general principles expressed in that letter, including that NYC libraries should be funded at a level appropriate to obviate the need for any forced self-cannibalizing sales of library properties, is an action that CB2 could appropriately take now without any specific matters having to be already before it.  It would be consistent with how libraries are typically set forth as one of the top priorities of community boards; boards often generally adopt statements to that effect.  The advantage of this letter of support is that its signatures collectively help amplify that sentiment.  One last thing to keep matters in overall, big-picture perspective: Libraries costs a relatively miniscule fraction of the city's budget especially when evaluated against other things.

Although Citizens Defending Libraries has been able to inform the board that it has had significant successes we clearly face a great deal of work ahead to protect our libraries and ensure that they are adequately funded.  We look very much forward to working with you, hoping that, as we expect, CB2 will find that its concerns align with ours.

Sincerely,


Michael D. D. White
Co-founder,
Citizens Defending Libraries