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.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Representative Nydia M. Velazquez Writes Brooklyn Public Library Seeking To Prevent Closure of The Federal Depository Library At The BPL’s Central Destination Business Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library

Congresswoman Representative Nydia M. Velazquez wrote to the Brooklyn Public Library on April 4, 2016 asking that the Federal Depository Library functions of the Brooklyn Heights Library in Brooklyn’s Central Downtown business district not be shuttered as the BPL proposes.

The Brooklyn Heights Library is just one of the BPL libraries in Representative Velazquez’s that have been at the head of the list to be threatened in various ways by the BPL’s real estate plans.  More on this after the exchange of letters between the BPL and Representative Velazquez presented below.

BPL President Linda Johnson started at the BPL in July 2010 describing at her first meeting with the BPL board of trustees how the BPL's real estate plans were her priority.  First up for sale, the library proposed for sale and drastic shrinkage that was the highest priority as part of those plans was then and continues to be the BPL’s second largest library, the recently expanded and fully upgraded central destination Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library in Downtown Brooklyn.

Plans to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library go back to at least 2007.  In October 2011, Ms. Johnson reminded the BPL board of the goal of locking the next mayor into the real estate plans that were secretly underway.

March 9, 2015 Linda Johnson presided over a “Community Advisory Committee” meeting set up by the BPL concerning the Brooklyn Heights Library sale.  At that meeting Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White asked that the question of the library’s function and status serving as a Federal Depository Library be addressed.  BPL president Johnson responded: I am not even sure exactly what you mean by a Federal Depository.”  She went on to say, “Nothing about this project changes our responsibilities or our operations in that regard.”

That evening Ms. Johnson stood by the BPL’s continuing refusal to provide information about the cost of moving Brooklyn Heights Library functions to the Grand Army Plaza Library where alterations and construction were acknowledged to be necessary to accommodate them but no additional space is to be created to support those functions.

When asked by Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Carolyn McIntyre, Ms. Johnson could not give information about the number of book previously at the library vs, how many were still remaining.  Ms. McIntyre suggested that this was because library administration officials were focused on real estate deals, not on the management of the public's tax-payer paid for assets.. . .

. . .  To date, the BPL has steadfastly neglected to furnish any information about the currently existing book capacity of the Heights Library vs. what it will be reduced to in the future.  Another indication that the BPL is not focusing on library functions or need as it goes forward: The BPL also committed itself to its plans to sell and shrink the library without designing a library to replace it afterward.  The recently expanded and fully upgraded library is being sold to net a minuscule fraction of the $120 million it would cost to replace it.  It is being sold to an inferior bidder, one of the low bidders and the bids were only for what the value of the property as a vacant lot, which it definitely isn’t.

At the March 9th meeting Ms. Johnson was told the Brooklyn Heights Library  "is packed with people all the time."  She responded only with a strange expression.
BPL president Linda Johnson reacted with a strange expression when told by Toba Potosky, president of the board of directors of nearby Cadman Towers on Clinton Street, that "The library is packed with people all the time."
Letter from BPL to Representative Velazquez

Brooklyn Public Library

The Honorable Nydia Velazquez
266 Broadway, Suite 201
Brooklyn, NY 11211

March 15, 2016

Representative Velazquez:

Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is writing to advise you that its Business & Career Library, located at 280 Cadman Plaza West, is relinquishing its Selective Depository Library status through the Government Publication Office's (GPO) Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).

Most government publications are available electronically through government websites. The GPO also sends print versions of select documents to FDLP libraries, which in turn make those documents free and accessible to the public. Even though BPL will no longer offer these documents at the Business & Career Library, it remains committed to connecting its patrons with information by and about the federal government through reference assistance and broadband access.

This relinquishment is due to BPL's sale of the 280 Cadman Plaza library site. The Business & Career Library is merging its FDLP collection and services into the depository at BPL's Central Library, located at 10 Grand Army Plaza, which remains affiliated as an FDLP Selective Depository Library. By uniting the two depositories into a single, more comprehensive collection at the Central Library (which offers the largest collections, longest hours of services and receives the most visits) we believe that the government documents they contain will be more accessible and convenient.

We are grateful for your continuing support of Brooklyn Public Library and ask you to please contact me should you require further information.

Sincerely yours,

Lisa G. Rosenblum, Chief Librarian

Brooklyn Public Library
10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238-561.9
Click to enlarge or print

Letter back from Representative Velazquez to BPL

April 4,2016

Lisa G. Rosenblum
Chief Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library
10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238-5619

Dear Ms. Rosenblum:

I am writing to express my concern regarding the future of the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Heights Branch and Business & Career Library located at 280 Cadman Plaza. I have reviewed your letter, dated March 15th, and respectfully request that the Brooklyn Public Library maintain its status as a Selective Depository Library in the Government Publication Office's Federal Depository Library Program.

While it is true that most federal government publications are available in electronic form online, the current state of internet inequality across Brooklyn requires maintaining a hardcopy of government documents in a location that is accessible to the public. The Brooklyn Heights branch, at Cadman Plaza, is in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, and at the center of the borough's transportation and civic hub. The branch is in close proximity to a plethora of subway lines and bus routes. Maintaining the Selective Depository in Downtown Brooklyn would continue to offer those individuals without reliable internet service a location to review select government publications.

As the borough's transportation hub, the Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood is largely disability friendly, making the Brooklyn Heights branch accessible for those individuals with disabilities and/or are of limited mobility. The Borough Hall subway station is located three blocks away and has elevators for facilitated access. Meanwhile, the Central Library is located a mile away from the nearest subway station with an elevator. By relinquishing the Brooklyn Heights branch's status as a Selective Depository Library, and moving the government publication collection across the borough to the Central Library, you are limiting access to government publications for those individuals with disabilities and/or who are of limited mobility.

In addition to the ease of access that Downtown Brooklyn provides, the neighborhood is the legal and educational hub of Brooklyn. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York is located within blocks of the Business & Career Library and judges and lawyers frequent the Selective Depository for legal research and study. St. Francis College, Long Island University, and Brooklyn Law School are also in close proximity to the Brooklyn Heights branch and students from these institutions frequent the library and make use of its collection of government publications. Again, by relinquishing the branch's status as a Selective Depository Library, and moving the collection across the borough, you are limiting access for key constituencies who frequently make use of these materials.

I understand the Brooklyn Library's desire to consolidate the two depositories, and appreciate its commitment to offer the government publications online, but the ease of access to the Business & Career Library at the Brooklyn Heights branch and the frequent use of its government publication collection warrants maintaining the branch as a Selective Depository. Therefore, I respectfully request that the Brooklyn Public Library consider maintaining a SelectiveDepository Library in Downtown Brooklyn.


Nydia M. Velazquez
Member of Congress
Click to enlarge or print
Other Brooklyn Libraries In Representative Velazquez’s District Threatened By Real Estate Plans

As noted above, many BPL libraries in Ms. Velazquez’s district have been some of the most immediately threatened by the BPL’s efforts to turn libraries into real estate deals.

Specifically of concern in her district, in addition to the Brooklyn Heights Library:
    •    The BPL proposed to reduce the size of the already very small 7,500 square foot Red Hook Library to just 5,500 by giving 2,000 square feet away to the private Spaceworks firm
    •    The BPL gave away the second floor of the Williamsburg Library to the private Spaceworks firm.
    •    The Sunset Park Library has been subject to secrete plans to hand off its real estate on a no-bid basis (and with no prior community input) to turn into a multi-use real estate project that will, among other things, preclude its future growth to keep pace with the community’ growth.
    •    The Grand Army Plaza Library, another important central library in the BPL system and Ms. Velazquez’s district, will suffer the effects of disruption, crowding and the cramming in of functions as a result of shrinking of the Brooklyn Heights Library and any that follow it in the future.
In addition to the above, Ms. Johnson told the City Council this fall that the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library is regarded as a model for other transactions underway in all three NYC library systems (Queens and the NYPL are the other two).  The BPL’s unreleased, not publicly available Strategic Real Estate Plan calls for the leveraging of all of the BPL’s library real estate.

When the BPL trustees met in December, the trustees applauding this library sale were reminded how sale of this library was chosen as a demonstration for what was possible.  They were told that this was a "huge turning point for the library system" and "across the city in general" with Johnson `pioneering' the future of libraries. 

Other BPL libraries in Representative Velazquez’s district are:
    •    Carroll Gardens Library
    •    Washington Irving Library
    •    DeKalb Library
    •    Arlington Library
    •    Bushwick Library
Representative Velazquez’s district also extends into Manhattan where NYC public libraries are run by the New York Public Library (NYPL). The NYPL was the first system to turn a library into a real estate deal.  It was the central destination Donnell Library whose sale and shrinkage was used a model for the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.
Representative Velazquez’s district- Showing City Public Libraries
 Manhattan Libraries In Representative Velazquez’s District

The Manhattan area of Representative Velazquez’s district is a portion of lower Manhattan.  The central Brooklyn Heights Library is supposed to serve lower Manhattan as well as all of Brooklyn.

NYPL libraries in Representative Velazquez’s district are:
    •    Chatham Square Library
    •    Seward Park Library
    •    Hamilton Park Library
The NYPL’s now derailed. but not entirely defunct Central Library Plan was a plan that was going to cost more than $500 million to sell and shrink Manhattan central destination libraries.  It involved the proposed sale Mid-Manhattan Library, SIBL (the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library) and destruction of the research stacks at the 42nd Street Central Reference Library with an exile of books.  Parts of the plan persist: A planned sale of SIBL, a concomitant shrinkage of Mid-Manhattan and a persisting exile for million of the research books from 42nd Street Central Reference Library.

Threat To SIBL Another Federal Depository Library

SIBL- Another Federal Depository Library
As just noted, the NYPL currently is currently planning on selling SIBL, built at considerable public expense ($100 million including federal funds) as a state of the art modern library in 1996.  SIBL, whose functions are supposed to overlap with those of the Brooklyn Height Library  is also a Federal Depository Library.  It is in the district of Representative Carolyn Maloney whose district butts up against that of Representative Velazquez.

Shuttering two major central destination Federal Depository Libraries in close proximity of each other at the same time?

Sale of Brooklyn Heights Library Pushed Through With Last Minute Backroom Deal Raiding Education Funds

The approval of the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library was pushed through at the last minute with a backroom deal that raids Department of Education funds in still unspecified amounts.  The money for a “STEM” or for a “STAEM” facility (yet to figured out what the heck it will be) is needed to: 1.)   Lease to purchase space from the developer, 2.) outfit the space, and 3.) run the space.

The Department of Education budget depends on federal funds.

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