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, February 27, 2017

Brooklyn Heights Association 2017 Annual Meeting- "What To Do In The Age of Trump"

BHA 2017 Annual Meeting- Well attended, but public participation "in the age of Trump" was not invited
This post will be updated.

The Brooklyn Heights Association 2017 Annual Meeting was held Monday, February 27, 20017 at the Saint Francis College auditorium on Remsen Street.

The BHA gave its neighborhood report.  That report contained no mention of the destruction of the Brooklyn Heights Library, the BHA's continuing support of its shrink-and-sink sale or the ongoing abuses such as the felling just days before of five neighborhood trees, at the library's Truth Park excused by the false representation that the developer had already acquired the property from the city.

Things were tightly controlled this year with no invitation for public questioning or input, except that, as part of panel discussion of de Blasio's proposed (and at this meeting largely ridiculed) BQX riverfront trolley proposal, the public could hand in suggestions questions written on index cards.  Virtually no time was devoted to those questions and essentially none of them asked.
An example of one of the many questions from attendees that were submitted, but never asked.
Not surprisingly, the BHA proclaimed with great solemnity how important it was to consider what its role should be "in the age of Trump."   Its answer was that locals should get more involved supporting the BHA and working for better schools. . . . We had a flyer prepared and distributed it to nearly everyone at the very well attended meeting that we think addresses in much more telling and pertinent terms what the BHA's responsibilities should be "in the age of Trump."   

Below, in both text and as a jpg is the flyer we distributed.
ALLOWING SALES THAT LOOT OUR LIBRARIES, (pushing our libraries out the door to plundering plutocrats, handing them over to developers) HAS CONSEQUENCES

It has been noted that if Steve Mnuchin had been vigorously prosecuted at the local level for his business’s mortgage fraud, misrepresentations, backdating and falsification of documents to rev up the pace of his OneWest foreclosure mill, he wouldn’t be Treasury Secretary, appointed by Donald Trump today- Similarly, had NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigated the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library plunder with Blackstone’s Stephen A. Schwarzman involved on the selling side and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner as principal financial beneficiary, those two Trump henchmen might not be in significant positions of power today.  The whole political landscape at the national level could be different, not to mention having healthier local politics.

When our local officials and organizations allow the corrupt plundering of valuable public assets, like the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library deal modeled on the sale of Donnell with some of the same people in the background, it feeds the beasts who go on to prey on us in so many other ways.

It doesn’t serve us that Stephen A. Schwarzman, spearheading Trump’s economic policy, is also one of Senator Schumer’s biggest donors, just as Schumer’s wife’s connections with selling libraries and privatizing public assets also do not.  City Councilman Steve Levin misleadingly assured that he would do his job and insist on transparency respecting the library sales but, betraying his constituents, never has. Thus the lack of transparency in Brooklyn Heights helps Donnell sink unchallenged into the sunset (even as Preet Bhrara investigates the mayor’s play-to-play).

Meanwhile, five trees were felled at the Heights library by a developer who doesn’t not yet own it, while the Brooklyn Heights Association lets such library-trashing abuses multiply despite having sworn to protect the public. (The library was promised to stay open until it was acquired, and should be open even now.)

We can commend Irene Janner, receiving an award today, for her first CB2 vote against selling the library, but can’t let go unobserved the awkwardness, as the library stills hangs in the balance, of those two subsequent votes involving flip-flops where the BHA forced the library sale through,  overriding the original hearing.  WE DESERVE BETTER!
Sign our petition on the web: Citizens Defending Libraries

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Showing Permit To Cut Down ONE Tree, Developer’s Men Cut Down FIVE At Brooklyn Heights Library Truth Park. Story Given Police Is That Property Is Privately Owned, Not City Owned. Police Buy It. Not Us.

This page will be updated.

Developer David Kramer of the Hudson has been busy at the Brooklyn Heights Library, which we understand he still does not own, yesterday, today and possibly tomorrow, cutting down trees in Truth Park and another in front of the library: In all five trees, although 3/4th of one Honey Locust in Truth Park still stands and another is a trunk that could regrow if allowed to.

We hope that the library and Truth Park remain city-owned and that the pay-to-play investigations by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will finally bring to a close the plan to plunder this public asset.

The developer's tree removers showed up with a permit to cut down one tree, but were going after five (at least five so far).  Today their target was the two most magnificent Honey Locusts in Truth Park.  Apparently, without showing any paperwork to back it up the developer's guys talked the police department into assuming that the property is now privately owned, not city owned, which is our understanding and which nobody is actually truly contradicting us on.

A checks of property records via ACRIS (see below) shows that the property remains city-owned, unacquired by the developer,

Public records in ACRIS show that the teveloper took down trees before (and is trashing the property, laying waste to it, in other ways) without acquiring the property.  Remember that because the developer has never bought the property the library, according to the promises as part of the ULURP process, should still be open and serving the public in all its original glory. 
At the behest of Eric Adams Borough President's Office the Parks Department sent out a representative who, although he was quickly in transit, did not show up with alacrity, and when he arrived, announced (after checking) that he was the wrong person to have been summoned because the Park Department did not have jurisdiction for this kind of city-owned property.

The Borough President's Office is looking into what to do next.  (Many of us called and/or visited the Borough President's Office.  Feel free (assuming de Blasio is a lost cause in this pay-to-play environment) to also call Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Tish James.

One of the police officers first on the scene who mistakenly thought that "the library" was being put back, didn't know it was being shrunk substantially, pushed more underground, apparently had misgivings about what he heard when seeing the library destroyed and apparently, at the station house, attempted to better inform himself about the situation, or was lectured to by somebody who gave him misinformation.  Returning to the scene he was talking about understanding that the new library would be smaller because it was a "library of the future" and that it was all happening because it was a generational thing with digitally oriented younger people not wanting big libraries with books libraries of the sorts that were revered by prior generations.

So he was fed the pish-tosh PR the library hands out to justify pay-to-play, crony capitalism real estate boondoggle real estate deal hand-outs, and our law enforcement officer happily swallowed it hook, line and sinker (although we do thank him for at least trying to do some due diligence).

His due diligence apparently feel far short of looking at any of the following:
Physical Books vs. Digital Books
Articles About Library Privacy and Surveillance In Libraries

Articles About Libraries and Net Neutrality
We have video.  Lots of photos.  We even have a time-lapse video of today's destruction.  We will be putting up more.

Here is the YouTube video of the Truth Park tree destruction on February 22nd with  the men working for the developer telling the police that property is now privately owned, not owned bythe city, even though the developer has never yet acquired the property from the city.  (Click through to YouTube for best viewing- fast forward if the experience is too painful and you want to shorten it.)

Destruction of Truth Park Trees Feb 22, 2017

Coming:  We have video of the final destruction of the last tree on February 23rd, which, ultimately, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President did not stop. . .  which we are sorry to say was not stopped.

Here is a time lapse video (click through to YouTube for best viewing). 

Time Lapse Truth Park Tree Removal

Here is coverage from the Architects Newspaper who was there, johnny-on-the-spot, to get the story out in service to the public:
•    The Architects Newspaper: Tree removal at Brooklyn Heights library begins, paving way for 36-story tower, by Audrey Wachs and Zach Edelson, February 23, 2017.
Here are some pictures.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Articles About Libraries and Net Neutrality

The press, like the New York Times and Democracy Now above, are writing about how net neutrality is under imminent threat from the arrival of the Trump administration. . . This is just as the NYPL is selling its central destination Science, Industry and Business, Library (SIBL)- lower right hand corner- eliminating the science library entirely while ceasing to collect science books because `science is on the internet.'
This page will be updated.

This page, as its title suggests, is about libraries and net neutrality.

The NYPL is selling its central destination Science, Industry and Business, Library (SIBL), eliminating the science library entirely while ceasing to collect science books because `science is on the internet.'   We don't agree with this reasoning.  It's offered at the very same time that there is consternation that the incoming Trump administration may purge archives of federal agency science data, e.g “temperature of the planet from weather stations, from satellites, from ocean buoys” and other information, especially if there is not a robust “environment that supports libraries.”  Further, there should be concern about how there is at our libraries a dangerous destruction of information we likely need to know about climate change in order to survive.

And this notion that we should be able to rely so exclusively on the internet to obtain knowledge about science comes at a time when something called "net neutrality," open and equal access to the internet, is under dire threat.

We therefore thought it was time for Citizens Defending to start a new page of links to articles about libraries and net neutrality.  People sometimes wrongly think of the internet as a substitute for libraries just as they sometimes wrongly think of electronic books as a substitute destined to replace the physical books that people more often prefer.  We have already posted a page (Physical Books vs. Digital Books) about why physical books are in many ways preferable to electronic books notwithstanding that digital books have their own set of merits to recommend them.   We have also posted a page (Articles About Library Privacy and Surveillance In Libraries) about an escalating concern in the digital age, surveillance in libraries (a concern escalating with internet use as well as digital books).

Rather than substituting for libraries, the internet supplements them and also very importantly integrates with libraries.   Libraries provide internet service and some services (access to some data and data bases) that are hard for average citizens to make use of except when they are available (perhaps only) through the internet connections that libraries have.

The attacks on the internet to eliminate "net neutrality," and those who would conduct them, have much in common with those forces eager to diminish what is essentially the same public commons represented by our libraries.  The realms for the pursuit of truth, facts and information should be a public commons democratically available to all.  Without robust and healthy libraries and without "net neutrality" and a healthy internet, the monied, corporate conglomerate, mainstream, commercial media will dominate the messages and information that get through to us.  Those inflected messages and that information getting through is unlikely to be neutral in content.  The choke hold it represents would be asphyxiating for democracy and for much more that makes life vital.

Not surprisingly, librarians see it as their jobs to help protect "net neutrality."

Here are articles about libraries and "net neutrality."

•    Democracy Now: FCC Under Trump: Net Neutrality & Internet Freedom Face New Attack, February 14, 2017.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to look at President Donald Trump’s newly appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, who has begun to attack net neutrality rules and other consumer protections. In a series of actions earlier this month, Pai blocked nine companies from providing affordable high-speed internet to low-income families. He withdrew the FCC’s support from an effort to curb the exorbitant cost of phone calls from prison. And he also said he disagrees with the 2015 decision to regulate the internet like a public utility.. .

. . . Ajit Pai is Trump's new FCC chairman, and it should come as a surprise to no one that he poses a significant threat, not only to net neutrality, but also to the digital divide. In his first weeks-his first week in office, he talked a good game about bridging the digital divide. But actions speak louder than words. And if you look at his actions, there's a very, very troubling history of voting against reforms to both bring affordable access to poor Americans, to low-income Americans, to people of color, who disproportionately lack home internet access, but there's also a troubling history of voting against net neutrality. He voted against the Lifeline order, to modernize Lifeline and bring affordable broadband to low-income families. He voted against the E-rate order, to help bring high-speed internet to schools and libraries in poor neighborhoods. And he voted against net neutrality, to keep the internet open so that people who don't usually get a spot in mainstream media can tell their own stories, can organize for justice and can make a living. And so, we're very concerned. We have a close eye on him. And we can't trust what he says. And actions speak louder than words.

JESSICA GONZALEZ (deputy director, senior counsel at Free Press. González was formerly on the FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee and Diversity Committee. She’s also the former executive vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.): . . .  we're in an administration that is trying to shut down speech. We have a president and his surrogates telling the media to shut up. They're trying to silence dissent. And the internet is the one clear way where we know that people, movements can control the narrative and can organize. Four million Americans wrote to the FCC in 2015 and told them, "We want an open internet. We understand that the internet companies have monopoly-like status, that they are blocking-you know, that they have the power and the incentive to block access and to cut special deals behind our backs. And we don't want that. We want to be able-once we pay the hefty prices we do to get on the internet, we want to be able to go where we want, see what we want, and access the content we want, without getting shoved over into a slow lane if you don't have the money."
•    The Washington Post: Why the death of net neutrality would be a disaster for libraries, by Andrea Peterson, May 16, 2014.
. . .another group who cares deeply about this issue is the library community. The Switch spoke to Lynne Bradley, the director of government relations at the American Library Association's Washington office, about how net neutrality affects libraries, the people who rely on them and public institutions at large. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Where do libraries stand on net neutrality?

Net neutrality is really important for libraries because we are, first of all, in the information business. Our business now is not just increasingly, but dramatically, online, using digital information and providing services in this digital environment. That means that we need to have solid and ubiquitous Internet services.

* * *

. .  As public institutions, we're being threatened with limited resources and are trying to provide the best possible service we can given the access we currently have. Being slowed down hurts the American public because our institutions will not be able to compete, if you will, and the American public will not have comparable or equal access to the resources that are provided by libraries or other public institutions.

* * *

. .   what we as librarians and as educators in our communities see is that subtle differences in these speeds can make a great difference in how a user receives and uses the information. Even slight slowdowns will have an impact and can potentially limit public access to public schools, to public libraries, to public education.

In a way, not having a truly open Internet is like privatizing all of the Internet. Our nation was built on the concept of public schools, and public libraries are part of that, even the universal service fund at the FCC. These are part of our nation's public policies that say as all educated, as all can have public libraries, as all can have public phone service, it's best for the country as a whole.

And now we're segmenting that and giving those who are able to pay more different access than the general public can have. I think we haven't explored the impact this is going to have on public institutions and the real way this will deny access.

We see users every day, both virtual users and in-library users, and we can see how these subtle changes are going to impact the public's access to information and the right to know.
•    Counterspin: Jessica Gonzalez on FCC Chair Ajit Pai, by CounterSpin, February 17, 2017.
"T-Mobile Very Pleased with Direction of Change under Trump Administration, CEO Says." That headline tells you . . .  the phone company exec is pleased, he says, because Pai's appointment signals "an air of less regulation."

The idea that the media industry hates regulation is fiction, given that it’s government that grants licenses to companies to use the public airwaves and monopoly franchises to cable companies. In so doing, as media scholar Bob McChesney has said, government isn’t so much setting the terms of competition as picking the winners. What’s objected to, of course, are public interest regulations—including the net neutrality rules that allow for a democratic and diverse internet.

. . .
[According to Jessica Gonzalez, deputy director and senior counsel at the group Free Press. Ajit Pai appointed FCC Chair by Trump] is talking a really good game on digital divide, but when you look at his history and also his plans for the future. . .he voted against E-rate modernization to help bring faster internet speeds and internet connections to schools and libraries in poor neighborhoods. .
•    International Federation of Library Associations:  From the Annual Conference-Don't Get Stuck in the Slow Lane - Libraries Call for Action on Net Neutrality, 15 August 2016.
 Growth both in internet access and available content has revolutionised access to information and opportunities to express and share ideas. However, digital technologies bring with them the possibility to manage what people view. The World Library and Information Congress will dedicate a session on 15 August at 13:45 to the question of Net Neutrality, and launch IFLA’s new statement on the subject.

The internet is built to be egalitarian, allowing everyone to access information from across the web without unfair interference.

However, this is not the case when Internet service providers (ISPs) can give preference to particular websites, confining others to the slow-lane. This is what happens when the principle of net neutrality is compromised.

* * * *

. .  the implications of allowing discrimination between services are also significant. Users of websites which are unable to pay or negotiate with ISPs may see declining performance.

Library sites, which aim to act as a key portal for those looking for knowledge and culture, could be among the first victims. More broadly, library users will find their choices in accessing information shaped by site performance, rather than the quality of the content offered.

The statement also tackles the practice of zero-rating - allowing people to use particular services without this counting towards any limitations on data use. The idea of free access, especially for the least well off, is attractive at first glance. However, it would lead to a situation where the poor have access to only a small part of the internet, while richer users enjoy much freer access to information. This is, once again, incompatible with the mission of libraries.

Defending net neutrality will therefore be a key element of libraries' work in the digital age.

Friday, February 17, 2017

BPL Plans To Move The Brower Park Library To Children’s Museum (The First Public Presentation To Brooklyn’s Community Board 8)

BPL's David Woloch and Children's Museum's Stephanie Wilchfort present plan to move library at CB8 meeting.
The Brooklyn Public Library and the Children’s Museum jointly presented a plan last night to Brooklyn’s Community Board 8 to move the Brower Park Library into the Children’s Museum.
Brower Park Library
The presentation last night probably came when it did last night because Citizens Defending Libraries put an alert out last Sunday that Brooklyn Public Library and Children’s Museum trustees were congratulating themselves about making this deal.  (In fact, the BPL’s press release on the subject, dated Valentines’ Day, Tuesday, February 14, 2017, “Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Children's Museum Announce Innovative Partnership to Bring Family Library to Crown Heights,” came out only after we had given advance warning to some community activists and conferred with reporters about our alert earlier in the week.)  If were the cause of the presentation and press release, we are glad to have provoked the furnishing of more information to the public sooner than planned.  It is always good for the public to know what is going on as early as possible, before the cement for the fixes behind the scenes is dry.

There will be another CB8 meeting devoted to the proposed move on the library on April 4th (7:00 PM at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, 727 Classon Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11238- people are urged to bring their questions).
CB8 board members last night.
Video of the presentation is available on our YouTube Channel (click through to YouTube for best viewing): Plan To Move Brower Park Library To Children’s Museum Presented To Bklyn CB8.

[ADDENDUM (to the analysis below, added 2/19/2017): The article that appeared in Patch about the proposed move of the Brower Park Library into the Children’s Museum (Patch: Brower Park Library Relocation: New Details Released- The Brooklyn Public Library wants to move its Brower Park branch to the Brooklyn Children's Museum, by John V. Santore, February 17, 2017) included an additional representations by the BPL of the Children’s Museum, apparently obtained by reporter John Santore in interviews after the presentation.  While the analysis below is based on the dangled possibility that, with 11,000 square feet of potentially available museum space, a replacement library could be a larger, perhaps adequately sized library of 10,000 square or more, Patch writes of the replacement library as being just 6,000 square feet, even smaller than it is now.  Spending capital dollars to shrink what is already the “smallest library” in the BPL system while at the same time shrinking (recently expanded) space at the museum must be categorically rejected as indefensible.  Also, as Patch printed, and we missed focusing on, it is represented that the BPL would pay the Children’s Museum “about $230,000 per year in rent.”  In the presentation Children’s Museum president Stephanie Wilchfort said: “The Library is paying us slightly below market rent for this space, and that would be per square foot $37; it’s a total of roughly $230,000 a year.”  She appears likely to be saying the library is paying $37 p/s/f, which would mean the replacement library space is already sized and would be very tiny, just 6,216 square feet.  Or, Ms. Wilchfort could be saying, as interpreted by Patch, that $37 p/s/f is the market rate, but the library is paying below market and therefore below $37 p/s/f, in which case the library would be larger, but we don’t know by how much.  Another thing to think about: Given that the BPL would spend at least a probably underestimated $3 million upfront anyway, the $19K+ monthly payments mean, that at the low tax exempt borrowing rates available it could easily be cheaper for the library to buy suitable space to occupy. Apparently, DNAInfo was also told outside the room after the public presentation that replacement library could be a teenier shrunken down 6,000 square feet.  See: Brooklyn Library Details $3M Plan for 'Family-Centric' Museum Branch, by Rachel Holliday Smith, February 17, 2017.] 
First off, let us say that the proposal is not necessarily bad and might even constitute a thing to be desired.  But that is a significant "if." The devil is in the details and what we have found is that when the priorities of the real estate industry drive deals that might sound generally like good concepts, the public tends to wind up being shortchanged. . . . A lot depends on doing the numbers.

And, as for those devilish details and doing the math to ensure the public isn’t shortchanged, we notice that some of those important and potentially elusive details are problematically fugitive.

Here is why subjecting the Brower Park Library to a real estate move could, if the details are right, be a good thing, unlike some other situations where libraries have been converted into real estate transactions to please the real estate industry:
    •    The replacement Brower Park Library could, as it should be, be a bigger library than the existing one, bigger than the recommended minimum size for a NYC library of 10,000 square feet.  The Brower Park Library, built in 1963, is one of the system's teeniest libraries, only 6,285 gross square feet.
    •    The replacement Brower Park Library could be expandable (as it should be).  We say this because it was represented that the museum property is, itself, further expandable (we have not checked zoning restrictions or whether they would need to be overwritten).  Such future expandability of the library is not possible in the case of the new libraries proposed for Brooklyn Heights, Sunset Park or Inwood because such expansions are not possible when libraries are in the bottom of privately owned buildings, not possible in the bottom of residential buildings (vs. commercial ones), and not possible when all the development rights are conveyed away.  It was explained that the Children’s Museum building and underlying real estate is city owned.
    •    The replacement of the Brower Park Library in the museum would be close by, just a little more than one block (.2 miles) away, actually located next to the park for which it is named.  The library is currently at:  725 St Marks Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216.  The Children's Museum is at: 145 Brooklyn Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
    •    The replacement Brower Park Library could be (and should be) built and in place before the old library is closed so there is no need for the expense and extra disruption of a temporary library and little possibility of a bait-and-switch.  (Unlike Brooklyn Heights, Sunset Park, Inwood.)
    •    The existing Brower Park Library is one of the few NYC libraries that is not owned either by the city (as is typical), or by a library system (i.e. like Donnell and Mid-Manhattan).  The BPL has never acquired it through eminent domain and thus still pays rent to lease it.  Therefore, vacating the premises, is not exactly the same kind of reduction of the publicly owned realm that you see when other libraries have been transformed into real estate deals (although it does reduce the ultimate ability of the Children’s Museum to expand in the very long term and although it also does give up a building that invested city capital expenditures made suitable for its use as a library.)  The BPL’s representative said that it would cost the BPL (a low-sounding) $3 million to purchase the current Brower Park library site, so the BPL may be forgoing (or transferring) an option in the lease to buy at below-market.  Alternatively, the public realm would be expanded if the BPL bought the existing site through negotiation, eminent domain, or any possibly existing option.  The BPL represented (and when they are intent of real estate deals we don’t trust their figures- once again involving HVAC costs) that it would cost $8 million to buy and fix up the existing small library.
    •    The replacement Brower Park Library would have a separate handicapped accessible method of entrance, thus obviating any problems from the fact that the museum charges admission while the library does not, and the library is open longer hours than the museum and should be open even longer hours than it currently is.
There are likely problems with the proposal indicated by details that look like they might not necessarily add up or make sense and indicated also by the way that information and answers for the public last night were hedged:
    •    There is a question whether there is truly enough room available in the Children’s Museum to accommodate a properly sized replacement for the Brower Park Library.  We understand that museum trustees think there isn’t really enough space, but that with some tight squeezing the deal (that who wants?) can be accommodated.  The representative for the Children’s Museum, president Stephanie Wilchfort, said that it could readily give up 5,000 square feet of publicly used museum space for the library (“empty space at the back of the building”) while adding that there is another 6,000 square feet “in the front of the building” (“a little more than” “empty offices”) the museum uses for administrative space.  The implication that came across from saying this in the presentation was that if the museum vacated administrative space (to administrate from off site) there could be an 11,000 square foot (thus suitably sized) library housed in the existing space. Giving up just the 5,000 square feet of public museum space would usurp 10% of the Museum’s 2008 expansion (of about 51,000 square feet).  The entire 11,000 square feet for the library would usurp 20%+ of that 2008 expansion which cost $46 million, almost all publicly paid for at the time.  Did the Museum not actually need the amount of space it expanded to back then? Similarly, how does representing that there is now sufficient space available square with the museum representing that it is looking at, and intends to further expand, in several ways the public was told about last night: A new auditorium with money coming from the city, into the garden and building (“about 20,000 square feet”) upward?  Lastly, the public was told that museum was hoping to get back something it had before in the 60s and 70s: a planetarium.
    •    There is a question about whether the true cost of relocating the library is being acknowledged. The BPL’s representative aid that it would cost $3 million to build the replacement library in the museum.  $3 million seems like a depressingly inadequate amount, less than half of what you would expect to need, for properly outfitting a library that is properly sized at more than 10,000 square feet.
    •    There is a question whether the BPL truly intends to build a replacement library that would be of adequate size. That would be unfortunate if major capital improvements are going to lock in the future.  When I asked more specifically about the size of the replacement library and its cost, the BPL’s representative David Woloch seemed, ominously, to hedge and back off saying that there isn’t any minimum size a library should be, even though BPL President Linda Johnson told an audience at the Municipal Art Society on February 26, 2015 that libraries that are “7,500 square feet” are “woefully small,” and even though the Center For an Urban Future issued a report (endorsed as representing the BPL’s thinking, by Ms. Johnson) lamenting as inadequate branch libraries that are less than 10,000 square feet.  David Giles, the author of that CUF Report, has gone on to work at the BPL hired by Ms. Johnson.
    •    There is a question of for whose benefit this deal is being structured.  When I asked who was getting to walk away with the real estate of the Brower Park Library’s existing site specifically given that the BPL had previously entertained development proposals respecting the site, the BPL’s representative David Woloch said that the BPL had not such entertained any development proposals.  Going by the BPL minutes that is inaccurate.  Furnishing only the inaccurate information as his response Mr. Woloch neglected to answer the basic question: Who gets to walk away with the real estate at the site of the existing library?   The BPL minutes of September 18, 2007 say “The Landlord has proposed the following to BPL: demolish the building and build a 7-floor residential condominium; a new library would be on the ground floor; the library space would be available for purchase by the City; BPL has expressed interest in this opportunity subject to further due diligence, board approval and the availability of capital funding.”  The December 18,  2007 minutes say: “Brower Park Branch-  Developer has agreed to submit to BPL a proposal outlining an offer for a new branch library on the site in a more formal and detailed manner.”  As outlined in our previous post about this possible transaction the boards of both the BPL and the Children’s Museum have all sorts of individuals with real estate and other agenda not necessarily consonant with the best interests of library patrons.  At the presentation, the museum’s representative said that this proposal had been made to the museum “about a year ago.” That may be true, but it is interesting to note that David Offensend used to be on the board of the Children’s Museum. David Offensend, as Chief Operating Officer of the NYPL, was the master overseer initiating the NYPL library sell offs like Donnell, SIBL, Mid-Manhattan.  Meanwhile, his wife, Janet Offensend, was a key trustee placed on the board of the BPL structuring similar conversions of libraries into real estate deals like the Brooklyn Heights shrink-and-sink deal replicating the Donnell Library shrink-and-sink deal. . . . Will we ultimately finds out that this is another situation where somebody like the Fifth Avenue Committee is stirring the development pot?  We would all know more if, for instance, the BPL had provided Citizens Defending Libraries with the "Revson Study" and its "real estate strategy" requested by FOIL long ago.
    •    Question: If NYC/BPL have rights to the current site, like a below-market purchase option, how will those rights be used?   If the city/BPL has some economic control over the library’s existing site how will it be used?  Will that control be disposed of via proper bidding?  For instance, it could be wonderful if the site will be used to create housing that is truly affordable.  However, it would not be so wonderful if this is another city-controlled site that is turned over to the Fifth Avenue Committee without bidding and proper community consultation.
Clearly, while the presentation vaguely dangles as a lure an available (and likely acceptable) 11,000 square feet for a replacement library in the museum, the BPL seems to be toying with the idea of shortchanging the community with an unacceptably teeny replacement library (based on the fact that, as Woloch said, the library is currently the "smallest in the system"?-  The Crown Heights Library, over a mile away, is 11,119 square feet).

There are other things to think and wonder about.  As owner of the Children Museum’s real estate and a significant provider of its funding, the city of New York obviously has carrots and sticks with which to influence the museum's decisions: Remember that hoped-for planetarium (a funding request is in to the federal government), the city-funded auditorium, and the hoped for museum expansions?  And the intertangle of finances can be confusing.  The museum said that it expected to charge the library a “slightly below market rent” ($37 p/s/f) because of its fiduciary responsibilities.  But libraries on city owned land don’t normally pay rent.  Shouldn’t this instead be resolved more appropriately with some abatement of obligations of the museum to the city?  Otherwise the city library budget winds up being inflated by an amount that flows through to subsidize the museum, an unusual situation and not necessarily a good precedent either.  (Stephanie Wilchfort, the museum representative said, however, about the payment of rent that it was important to do it "just exactly that way."  Really?)

There was also a question raised at the presentation about whether services that the library now importantly provides adults would suffer if, as was talked about as a goal, the new library became more `children and family' focused in its offerings. 

Library officials have been taught by recent experience to say when presenting real estate plans for libraries that “It is not a done deal.”  They now carefully say that they seek and will respond to `valued’ public input.  Is that in fact true?  Lip service doesn’t make these promises sincere.

One thing is probably true: The sooner the public finds out about these kinds of plans and the more it knows what to watch out for, the more likely it can exert influence to get a better deal.  And that mean getting a deal where the needs of library patron are appropriately paramount.

Hopefully, if this transaction goes through to fruition it will only be because it is a much better transaction for the public and for library patrons than what has happened in prior situations where NYC libraries have been turned into real estate deals that were tortured to meet the priorities of the real estate industry.

We have a petition telling Mayor de Blasio and our elected representatives to properly fund libraries and not turn then into deals catering to the real estate industry-  Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction.
(Signing the petition with you email also puts you in the loop for more information about selling off public assets and turning libraries into real estate deals.)

For more information about the Children’s Museum Trustees (and similarity to the BPL trustees) see our original post alerting the pubic about this transaction.  For more information about the trustees of the BPL (and the agenda which they might serve) see: Brooklyn Public Library Trustees- Identified + Biographical and Other Information Supplied.
The meeting was well attended
Below is contact information for the elected representatives responsible for the Brower Park Library:
Council Member (For the location of the Children's Museum and the Brower Park Library)
Robert Cornegy (D)
1360 Fulton Street
Ste. 500
Brooklyn, NY 11216
phone: 212-788-7354
fax: 212-788-8951
email: Rcornegy@council.nyc.gov
website: http://council.nyc.gov/district-36/

Brooklyn Borough President
Eric Adams
209 Joralemon St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
phone: 718-802-3700
fax: 718-802-3522
email: askeric@brooklynbp.nyc.gov
website: http://www.brooklyn-usa.org/

Brooklyn Community Board 8 (for the current location of the Children's Museum and Brower Park Library)
Chairperson- Nizjoni Granville
1291 St. Marks Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11213
phone: 718-467-5574
email: info@brooklyncb8.org
website: http://www.brooklyncb8.org/

NYC Comptroller (Investigates and audits waste fraud and abuse including NYC libraries)
Scott M. Stringer (D)
The David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building, One Centre St.
5th Floor
New York, NY 10007
phone: 212-669-3916
fax: 212-669-2707
email: action@comptroller.nyc.gov
website: http://comptroller.nyc.gov/

NYC Public Advocate (charged with looking out for the public interest)
Letitia James (D, WF)
The David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building, One Centre St.
15th Floor
New York, NY 10007
phone: 212-669-7200
fax: 212-669-4701
email: GetHelp@pubadvocate.nyc.gov
website: http://pubadvocate.nyc.gov/

Brooklyn District Attorney (for criminal investigation purposes)
Eric Gonzalez
(replaced Kenneth P. Thompson)
350 Jay St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
phone: 718-250-2001
fax: 718-250-2210
email: da@brooklynda.org
website: http://www.brooklynda.org/

NYS Attorney General (for criminal investigation purposes and oversee charities including the BPL and Children's Museum)
Eric T. Schneiderman (D, WF, I)
120 Broadway
New York, NY 10271
phone: 212-416-8000
fax: 212-416-8139
email: eric.schneiderman@ag.ny.gov
website: http://www.ag.ny.gov/

Diana C. Richardson (WF)
NYS State Assembly District 43
1216 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY 11225
phone: 718-771-3105
fax: 718-771-3276
email: district43@nyassembly.gov
website: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=043

State Senator (for the site of the Children's Museum and Brower Park Library)
NYS State Senate District 25
Velmanette Montgomery (D)
30 Third Avenue
Room 207
Brooklyn, NY 11217
phone: (718) 643-6140
fax: (718) 237-4137
email: montgome@nysenate.gov
website: http://www.nysenate.gov/senators/velmanette-montgomery

NYS Comptroller (oversees authorities and adequacy of local audits such as by the NYC Comptroller)
Thomas P. DiNapoli (D)
59 Maiden Lane
31st Floor
New York, NY 10038
phone: 212-383-1600
fax: 212-383-4468
email: contactus@osc.state.ny.us
website: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/index.htm