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, January 17, 2017

Woe To Ralph Nader and All the Rest of Us: Our Frames of Reference Shifting To The Right Undermine His Metaphors About Libraries As Dependable Bastions of Democracy

Ralph Nader’s book, “Breaking Through Power- It’s Easier Than You Think,” is so hot off the presses that, if you own a copy, you might be surprised its cover isn’t still warm.

It’s an important book to add to your reading list, but is the ground shifting under our feet so fast, are we moving so fast toward more privatization of public assets, that some of the book’s metaphors are already sadly out-of-date?

Consider how Mr. Nader seeks to get his point across instances of the following quotes (emphasis supplied) from his book.  The first two quotes below concern Mr. Nader’s arguments that since the public airwaves are a public trust and are supposed to serve the public which owns them, they should do exactly that, and without the relentless assault of advertising.
They do not demand of it what they do of their national parks, roads, and bridges, though the airwaves are theirs no less than Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon.  As we do not---- and would not-tolerate corporations taking over our libraries, so too should we not tolerate them controlling our airwaves.  [Page 57]

    * * * *  
That’s how deeply ingrained the private exploitation of our common property is these days, free of charge, by the One Percent who have succeeded in gaining near total control of national resources while operating in bald non-compliance with the mandate that the airwaves be used in the public interest.  If One Percenters could somehow make money from advertisers in the Library of Congress or in Yellowstone National Park, they would, because they have done exactly that with our great national treasures the airwaves. [Page 59]
The third quote concern’s Mr. Nader's observation that our schools ignore and don’t teach about the civic ‘heroes’“threaded throughout American History” who stand as “examples” to “teach how truth can speak and discipline power,” but instead teach the stories of more controversial figures like military heroes and business leaders whose positions are less easy (and less desirable?) for students to aspire to:
Few students can join these ranks, but they can all aspire to becoming heroic citizens since democracy, like a public library, does not have any price of admission for participation at the local, state, or national levels. [Page 123]
Sounds like Mr. Nader is offering our libraries and national parks as sacrosanct commons that we can naturally expect to be free from encroachment, usurpation and rampant depredations of private cooperate interests who would seek to make profits by advertising everywhere and charging admission even to public libraries. . . .
Tim Wu's book, “The Attention Merchants,”and his Sunday op-ed, "Mother Nature Is Brought to You By"

. . .  Well, just a few weeks ago Tim Wu (who has another new book out: The Attention Merchants was writing about that in an Op-ed in the New York Times: The burgeoning onslaught of advertising and the privatizing takeover of “spaces long thought inviolate” from the assault of commercial advertising, places such as our national parks, schools, churches, our homes and libraries.  It’s what is new book is about also.  See: Privatized National Parks as Realms For Advertising? Tim Wu, Author of "The Attention Merchants" Writes About This And The Similar Invasion of Schools and Libraries In NT Times Op-ed.

Read Mr. Wu’s new book, and his prior one, “The Master Switch,” if you want more background and overview with respect to Mr. Nader’s points about how the public owns our broadcasting airwaves and how what so many regard as the current abuses never needed to be the `model’ we adopted.

But the loss of our public spaces and commons like our libraries goes beyond just the introduction of advertising.  Libraries officials in New York now look to mangle libraries by contorting them in partnerships with the private sector that pull them astray.  New York City libraries are being converted into real estate deals where the public loses out as libraries, the bequeathed investments of prior generations, succumb to overriding priorities of real estate developers. . .

. . . And are our libraries still free?  Sometimes, like with the NYPL simply snuffing out the Science Library that is at its 34th Street and Madison central destination library location, the libraries are no longer available.  Sometimes, the journals and materials you need now will only be available if you can penetrate pay walls by being a professor or college student incurring huge debt to attend a university, something that Aaron Swartz was directing his attention to and something that many people would say, because of government reprisals, he died for. .

. . .And then there are the public “library” spaces, like the top floor of the Williamsburg Library that you will now have to pay the private Spaceworks company, or the public “library” space in Coney Island, converted to a television studio production space that you now may not be able to pay enough to access. 

But have no fear, you may still be able to access these public spaces, some of them, because of the original aspirations, grand, if you want to have a high class society wedding.  You can have the "library" spaces for this, but there are fees that will be paid for those that can afford them.  (Elected officials with whom library administration officials want to curry favor for such privatizing of library space may get to use those spaces for free.)

Let’s conclude (or begin to conclude) the above meditation with a bit of segue: in October, Ralph Nader was in Berkeley promoting his new book and he had something else important to say about our libraries.  He said that whether people where left or right on the political spectrum they didn’t want libraries to be zones of surveillance under the PATRIOT Act.  We have his quote (which we incorporated into a video) here (emphasis supplied):
If you start out with 1% or less surrounding a particular issue that reflects what Abraham Lincoln called the public sentiment, that is public opinion, you're almost unstoppable. And if you connect on the left/right issues. . . . . Civil liberties, the PATRIOT Act, left/right with a vengeance. They don't want the government to search your home and not have to tell you for 72 hours or get into your medical, financial records without probable cause, or your library records without probable cause.

   . . . You want to see a legislator or a lawmaker go pale and have the knees shake?: Walk into their office with conservatives and liberals and say "We are a left/right coalition." They don't know how to game you.. . They don't know how to game a union of both.
(See: Articles About Library Privacy and Surveillance In Libraries.)

Last thing, and this really will wrap it up. . .

. . . Those public airwaves that Ralph Nader was talking about?  We are headed to some upcoming sell-offs of the airwaves. The current holders of "public" licenses of the airwaves will be paid by the federal government to surrender their licenses to “clear out” some these UHF TV broadcasting channels (like channels 33 to 51).  Those airwaves will be converted to space for more mobile data.

The for-profit owners may do very well and may even reinvest in the new shape their businesses are taking by buying up parts of the spectrum for the very sort of mobile data transmission that is replacing the former sorts of broadcast TV and radio.  But what of the public TV station license holders?  Whenever they sell we are apt to see another proportionate shrinkage, a sell-off reducing what was previously available in terms of public broadcasting with no proportionate growth of some equivalent or substitution for public broadcasting and public serving information elsewhere. . .

. . . It is somewhat analogous to the real estate deals where libraries own properties where part of the inherent value of the property is what is possible in the future, that the library can enlarge and grow as an institution, but then the property is sold off, the library frequently suffering and shrinking in the process, while some private developer scalps any potential for future growth seizing it for the generation of his own private profit.

Here is part of what Craig Aaron, president of the group Free Press had to say about this lack of consideration of the public good when the airwaves are sold an interview with Counterspin: ‘We’ve Got to Start Talking About How Are We Going to Build an Alternative’- CounterSpin interview with Craig Aaron on funding local media, by Janine Jackson, December 7, 2016.
The Federal Communications Commission is in the midst of auctioning off a big chunk of the public airwaves. And they're asking broadcasters-or they're not really asking them, they're paying them-to go off the air or move their stations to another channel, in order to create more space for mobile data. So they're going to move the TV stations out and turn around and auction off those airwaves to mobile phone companies and others.

In the middle of all this are a number of public television stations, at least 54, considering it, by our count at Free Press. And we think these are public stations using the public airwaves with public interest obligations, and yet the public hasn't been brought into this conversation about what happens when these stations are auctioned off, and what happens to all the money. And we're talking potentially about a lot of money, billions and billions of dollars, that will go to the license owners of these stations.

So when we're talking about public stations, these are state and local governments, universities, other nonprofit institutions. And we were particularly interested in the state of New Jersey, which owns four public TV stations, valued by the FCC for as much as $2.3 billion. So even if only some of the stations are sold, and the price comes down in the auction, which it will do, we could still be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars created, going into the coffers of New Jersey.

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