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.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . .  fund 'em, don't plunder 'em 

SIGN OUR PETITION TO SUPPORT LIBRARIES:  Sign our new updated petition here:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
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When We Started and Why

Citizens Defending Libraries was founded in February of 2013 in response to then breaking headlines about how, across the city, our public libraries were proposed to be sold and shrunk at great public loss, with libraries being intentionally underfunded, their books and librarians eliminated.  Citizens Defending Libraries was first to point out how the the real estate industry's interest in turning libraries into real estate deals was driving such sales and the reduction of funding and library resources.

Achievements

Citizens Defending Libraries has had a number of significant successes fending off and preventing library sale and shrinkages and there has been some progress towards restoration of the funding of libraries to a proper pre-library-sales plan level of proper funding.  These successes include: 
    •    The sale of Mid-Manhattan, the most used circulating library in Manhattan, was prevented with the help of two lawsuits in which Citizens Defending Libraries was first in the list of named plaintiffs.  That sale was prevented as Citizens Defending Libraries joined with others to successfully derail the New York Public Library’s ill-conceived consolidating shrinkage of major Manhattan libraries known as the Central Library Plan.  Citizens Defending Libraries accurately predicted this sell-off and shrinkage of libraries was likely to cost over $500 million, far more than the $300 advertised by the NYPL as it promoted its real estate deals.  Unfortunately, work remains to be done as aspects of the Central Library Plan still ominously survive:
    •        The NYPL still plans to sell and close the largest science library in New York City, SIBL, the Science Industry and Business Library, eliminating its collection of science books just when they are needed most,
    •        Millions of additional books are still missing from and need to be brought back to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library at Fifth Avenue (yes that's the building with the lions, Patience and Fortitude).
    •        The NYPL still plans to subject the Mid-Manhattan Library to a consolidating shrinkage with a concomitantly vast reduction in available books.
    •    The sale and closing of another beloved central destination in Manhattan, the 5-story Donnell Library is now widely understood to have been a mistake. Library administration officials now apologize acknowledging it was a significant mistake, but that is only so long as we keep reminding the public what was lost and how the library was sold for a pittance, while real estate industry insiders like Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner benefitted from this first “shrink-and-sink” deal by replacing it with luxury tower, a tiny underground and largely bookless library in its base.
    •    Working with others in the community, we have so far prevented the sale the Pacific Branch Library, the first Carnegie in Brooklyn, next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (now aka “Pacific Park”), which in 2013 the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) announced was one of its two highest priorities to sell as it launched a program of real estate deal sell-offs.
    •    For almost four years, from 2013 to 2017, we delayed and fended off the sale and destruction of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library, which included the central Business Career and Education Library and a now shuttered Federal Depository Library making federal documents, records, and history available to the public.  This was another “shrink-and-sink” sale of property, also next to (and involving) Forest City Ratner property was the BPL’s other first announced highest priority.  Again, a luxury tower will stand where an important central destination library once stood.  Garnering over 2,000 testimonies from the community we surprised everybody by causing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to come out against the project after it was launched.  It was also reportedly the subject of a “play-to-play” investigation with respect to the development team that was an inferior bidder channeling funds to Mayor de Blasio.  That investigation appears to have been dropped immediately after Donald Trump stunned the public by firing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
    •    We alerted the public and Red Hook community about “Spaceworks,” a real estate company formed Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to shrink libraries viewing library space as being under utilized we helped to prevent the already woefully small 7,500 square foot Red Hook library from being shrunk down to just 5,500 square feet.  Brooklyn Community Board 6 helped kill the shrinkage.  (While we also worked to get the word out to the Williamsburg community about a proposed shrinkage there with Spaceworks being handed the second floor of the Williamsburg Library, we were not able to act fast enough and Councilman Steve Levin and Brooklyn Community Board 1 were supporting the scheme.)
     •    We alerted the Sunset Park community about long-secret plans to sell the Sunset Park Library and redevelop it into a mixed used project.  We believe that because we were on the scene to shine this spotlight, and also because the BPL wanted to overcome our opposition to the Brooklyn Heights Library sale, Sunset park is the first time the BPL actually proposed to enlarge one of the the libraries it was targeting for sale.  That will be a sort of victory if there is no subsequent bait-and-switch.  Unfortunately, it is not a perfect victory.  Our sense is that for good and valid reasons the informed Sunset Park community was still largely, perhaps 90%, opposed to the library replacement plan they were not involved in developing and from which they will suffer while the library is closed for many years before it is replaced.  Unfortunately, those who were in place to fight for the Sunset Park community’s interests did not ultimately defend them.  That includes Brooklyn Community Board 7 and City Councilman Carlos Menchaca.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries was also on the scene to shine a spotlight and help put things quickly in perspective for the Inwood Community when the NYPL announced it wanted to turn the Inwood Library into a real estate deal, likely also as a part of an effort to help push through a upzoning of the area.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries similarly sounded the alarm before word was out publicly about a proposal for a consolidating shrinkage of the Brower Park Library with the Prospect Heights Children’s Museum (reversing a previous expansion).
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries has been engaged in an education and publicity campaign.  It included:
     •        Forums, including a mayor forum during the 2013 election with most of the candidates endorsing our proposals that libraries be properly funded, not sold and shrunk.  Mayor de Blasio, whose position we changed during the campaign, joined with us in July to proclaim that our libraries should not be sold saying: “It's public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”  Unfortunately, by October he was taking money from developers behind the curtain.
        •    As a result of our activism there have been hearings about the sale and shrinkage of libraries starting with a very important June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing that embarrassed city library administration officials. 
       •    A letter of support signed by multiple community organizations, electeds and candidates running for office.
        •   In May of 2016 Citizens Dfending Libraries was honored to be a recipient of the Historic Districts Council's Grassroots Preservation Award.
Despite our battles won, our NYC libraries are still besieged by a major war and the threat of such plans.

What libraries are affected?
Library officials said early on that they wanted to sell the most valuable NYC libraries first.  And indeed, that is exactly what the NYPL did when its first move was to sell the central destination Donnell Library, a library that was documented to be on most valuable block in Manhattan at the time.  Similarly, the concurrently launched Central Library Plan with its proposed sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library focused on the choicest real estate.  The BPL did the same thing prioritizing two prime site libraries adjacent to Forest City Ratner property for probable luxury towers, the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch library.  Unfortunately, the libraries that are most valuable to real estate developers are also the most valuable to the public for very similar reasons, including central accessible locations.

The most valuable libraries may be at the top of this list, but all libraries in the New York City system are currently under siege.  All libraries are under siege because of the deliberate, unprecedented and absolutely unnecessary underfunding of NYC libraries that is being presented as an excuse to sell libraries affects all libraries in all our city's boroughs.

All libraries in the New York City system should also be considered currently under siege because each and every library sale becomes precedent and a model for the next.  The shrink-and-sink sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library replicates the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library (in fact it was conceived at the same time with the same people in the background).  Moreover, BPL president Linda Johnson told the City Council when it was approving the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library sale that it would be a model for future library deals by all three city library systems, the BPL, which she heads, the NYPL and the Queens Library.  Johnson has referred to herself as head of the Brooklyn Library system as having "over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate" at her disposal.

While Library officials are attracted to seizing for conversion the most valuable libraries first, they are also usually tactically coy about their plans. At this point they openly acknowledge going after only a few libraries at a time.  They go after the very valuable ones they want and they also go after the libraries where they believe they have ascertained that they can overcome community opposition and expect that they can, at the same time, perhaps achieve another objective that attracts them, like laying the groundwork for an upzoning in Inwood or establish and entrench a principle of reduction as with Spaceworks in Red Hook and Williamsburg.

For more details about affected libraries click here:  What Libraries Are Affected By City Strategy Of Defunding, Shrinking, Selling Off Libraries?

Are The Libraries Being Shrunk, Pushed Underground, Books and Librarians Eliminated Because the World Is "Going Digital"?

Although the people promoting library sales and elimination of books would like to use as an excuse that the world is going digital, that is not the case.  New York City libraries are more used than ever.  Although use was up 40% programmatically, most of the recent increased use is in terms of circulation, 59%, and almost all of that circulation is physical books.  That is despite an effort by NYC library administration officials to steer people into the use of digital books (which, maybe surprisingly, are actually more expensive for the libraries) and away from what they derisively refer to as "old-fashioned analogue books."

While digital books sometimes have some advantages the general population tends to prefer physical books.  Further, there are advantages with physical books related to the way people learn and think and there are problems and concerns about digital books that need to be considered.  See:  Physical Books vs. Digital Books.

At the same time, libraries do need to address digital needs and provide access to the internet; they need to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who don't.  For that reason libraries should actually be growing to address these expanded needs rather than shrinking.  In this regard it is, indefensible and inexplicable that two top-notch libraries with some of the most advanced and robust support of computer and internet libraries, SIBL the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library and the downtown Brooklyn Heights Library with its Business, Career and Education Library, were both targeted for simultaneous elimination.

Are Libraries Just Too Expensive a Luxury to Pay For?

In the overall scheme of things, New York City libraries cost virtually nothing.  When it comes to libraries, no matter how you slice and dice it, we are dealing with total funding figures that come to fractions of a percentage point, this despite the fact that, economically, libraries more than pay for themselves, and: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.”

Notwithstanding, subsidies to sports venues like the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena dwarf what we spend on libraries. In 8 years when we spent at least $620 million on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" included) that amount was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.

The underfunding of libraries is notwithstanding that libraries are one of the public's top priorities. The city’s 59 community boards ranked library services as their“third highest budget concern” and“Brooklyn’s community boards ranked libraries their top priority.”  In 2013 when the NYC Comptroller polled the public about its priorities for "The People's Budget" libraries were again one of the very top priorities.

Valuable in so many ways in their own right, libraries must also be considered an essential adjunct to schools and ensuring proper education and literacy of the population.  One thing that a recurring trope in science fiction scripts gets right is that there is a high correspondence, if not quite one-to-one correlation, between the demise of great libraries and the collapse of once great civilizations.

NYC Libraries Are Being Sold For Huge Losses And For Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

People ask whether the public is at least getting good deals or "value" when we sell our libraries.  We absolutely are not.  We are selling our libraries for far less than their worth and far less than we have invested in them.  The losses are actually profoundly embarrassing notwithstanding the proclivity of library officials to deceptively characterize proceeds from sales as "profits," and as "hefty" rather than "paltry."  That's been true since the beginning. . .

. . .  The first library sold, the Donnell Library, the central destination, 97,000-square foot, five-story central destination library on what was documented to be the most valuable block in Manhattan at the time, was sold to net the NYPL less than $25,000 million.  The penthouse in the luxury tower that replaced it in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.  Another single lower-level condo unit in the luxury building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower.  according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investors made that hotel,“the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.”

. . . The central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, expanded and fully upgraded in 1993, one of the most modern and up-to-date libraries in the system would cost more than $120 million to replace.  The city sold it for less than its tear-down value, for less than its value as a vacant lot, and because it was sold to a developer who's inferior bid was not the highest bid, it's sale became the subject of one of the pay-to-play investigations of the de Blasio administration.  When costs are finally calculated it is likely the city and library administration officials will have netted less than $25 million from this library's ruination.

. . . In two suspicious real estate deals the NYPL has sold the 34th Street SIBL library, the city's biggest science library (in the former Altman's Department Store between Madison and Fifth Avenues) for an aggregate amount that, in adjusted for inflation terms, is just barely equal to the $100 million the public paid for that library in 1996.  That is despite the library's prime location and fact that since that time the New York real estate market has been surging by multiples that far outstrip inflation.  The above-ground portion of the technologically state-of-the-art library was sold to one of the world's wealthiest men, renowned, like a character in a James Bond novel for a owning a fleet of the world's largest yachts, a force of vintage war planes and for building the world's biggest plane.  Maybe this technologist magnate acquired the science library because his father worked in a library and he remembered tagging along with him, overwhelmed by the information and daydreaming of "'the sci-fi theme of a dying or threatened civilization that saves itself by finding a trove of knowledge.'" . . . This low gross amount that the NYPL receives for selling SIBL is not what the NYPL will net from the sale, because the sale, part of a consolidating shrinkage affecting also the Mid-Manhattan Library, will be costly.  That  overall plan now known as the “Midtown plan” is referred to on the NYPL's website as costing “$300 million.”

. . . The Sunset Park Library is being given away by the city, without bid, for nothing to an organization, the Fifth Avenue Committee, that is politically connected to Mayor de Blasio.  Incongruously, the city says that it cannot give the recently renovated Inwood Library away without bid, but it appears that the library will be similarly handed-off unfairly and without charge to another organization that has an inside track.

. . . Similarly, the hand-offs of library space in the Red Hook Library and Williamsburg Library to Spaceworks are essentially giveaways that conceptualize the library space as being somehow useless.

. . . Banishing books to expensively keep them off-site must also be regarded as another cost draining the public pocket book.

Who Is Selling Our Libraries?
The plans to sell our libraries were announced under the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and it appears that they go back to at least 2005 and probably at least 2004.  Prior to the Bloomberg administration, NYC libraries were being expanded significantly under the Giuliani administration.  During the 2013 mayoral race, candidate Bill de Blasio said that the library sales should be halted, but in short order Mr. de Blasio was taking money from real estate developers "behind the curtain  . .very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”

Once in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued with the library sales he decried as a candidate, although, to give the devil his due, de Blasio did not proceed with the full-blown NYPL Central Library Plan.  While the Mid-Manhattan library is now being subjected to a consolidating shrinkage it is no longer being sold straight out, but, under Mayor de Blasio we are still selling SIBL the city's biggest science library.  We are also still exiling research books off premises from where they were once readily and quickly retrievable at the 42nd Street Library.


There are other elected officials that are avidly taking the lead pushing these city library sales.  Foremost among them is city council member Brad Lander.  Also clearly conspicuous in his enthusiastic and unrelenting support for these plans is Jimmy Van Bramer head of the City Council Cultural Committee of which the city council's library subcommittee is a sub-component he domainates in leading.  .  .

 . .  Each particular local city council member must also be held responsible for what happens to the libraries in their districts, but revelations are that many of them, like Councilman Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg libraries), Ydanis Rodriguez (Inwood Library) and Carlos Manchacca (Sunset Park Library), were brought on board behind the scenes in advance to help push these library deals through without regard to what their community constituents want.

New Yorkers are, of course, more and more accustomed to local New York City officials selling out the public interest to favor the real estate industry, but they will still often ask, rather incredulously, whether the people running the libraries and setting policy are opposing these library sales expecting that to be their duty.  The answer is that they are not.  The sale and shrinkage of the city libraries is happening only because top library administration officials and the boards of the three library systems are supporting these sales and working to advance them.

Back in the 1970s when the real estate industry wanted to get hold of Brooklyn's Pacific Street Library the head of the Brooklyn Public Library joined the community in fighting to defeat them, but now. . .

Stephen A. Schwarzman, a trustee on the board of the NYPL and the head of the Blackstone Group, which as just one of the arms of its business is the world's largest real estate investment company (including buildings close by on Bryant Park), transferred $100 million to the NYPL based on his understanding that the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan was to proceed.  Mr. Schwarzman is now spearheading Trump administration ambitions to privatize many more of the nation's public assets in deals where it is likely private insiders will benefit the way that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner did when the Donnell Library was sold.

Similarly, the board of trustees of the Brooklyn Public Library is rife with people who crop up in connection with promoting other real estate development (including working to maximize development in Brooklyn Bridge Park), political operatives, Goldman Sachs people, a long list of people whose agenda would seem to be adverse to the patrons and users of the libraries.  You have situations such as David Offensend being in place as Chief Operating Officer at the NYPL implementing the Donnell Library sale and the Central Library Plan sales at the same time that his wife, Janet Offensend, was concocting a fate for the Brooklyn Heights Library based on replication of the Donnell deal. There is much to say about the way that boards like these that should have non-profit goals are straying from their missions.  It is expected that the recent recomposition of the Queens Library board will have that board following suit with the NYPL and BPL.

There are also other outside groups that, while they talk about how they believe in the importance of libraries, actually work to promote and support these sales and shrinkages.  For instance, the Center for an Urban Future supported the Donnell Library sale and shrinkage and the Central Library Plan, as did a group named Urban Librarians Unite, which was formed in 2008 just as the library administration and city officials were unveiling and gearing up promotion for their library real estate plans.  Both of these groups (like library-shrinking Spaceworks) get significant funding from The Revson Foundation which has been involved in promoting libraries as real estate deals from the beginning. The Revson Foundation can be connected to Bloomberg Daniel Doctoroff development people formerly on the BPL board like Sharon Greenberger and to the Robin Hood Foundation that is taking the lead in the Inwood Library sale.

Unexpected wild cards also crop up: The Brooklyn Heights Association that once fought to enlarge the central downtown Brooklyn Heights Library, later betrayed the community to instead advocate for the library's sale and shrinkage when, behind the scenes, a number of its board members were connected with Saint Ann's, a private school that was benefitting terrifically from its participation in the real estate deal.  (The Heights Association became a strange empty doughnut hole in the list of surrounding neighborhood associations signing our letter of support to opposing such library sales.-   For cover the BHA hid behind the skirts of a recently taken over and shrunken Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library.)  The Fifth Avenue Committee, a group that holds itself out as acting in the community interest and has some history of doing so has gone out of its way to vociferously support  library sales and shrinkage while its deep involvement benefitting from such development necessitated recusal of its head, Michelle de la Uz, on the City Planing Commission.

Another category of public officials who can be held responsible for the library sales are those who have not done enough to stand up to the real estate industry to oppose them.  The borough presidents have considerable power to oppose these deals.  Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who at one point showed courage opposing the destruction of the Brooklyn Heights Library, ultimately reversed, surrendering his support for that and the Sunset Park Library sale.  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has been far more complicit in supporting the destruction of SIBL, and the consolidating shrinkage of the Midtown Campus Plan plus the sale of the Inwood Library.  The borough presidents also have representatives on the City Planning Commission, which although loaded with conflicts that bias it towards dispensing favor to the real estate community, must do things like weigh in on most city library sales.

The current NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote a strong letter critical of the BPL's sale and shrinkage of its second biggest biggest library in Brooklyn with the current NYC Public Advocate Tish James following suit to write similarly, and as a candidate for office candidate James campaigned against such shrinkages . . . Nevertheless, the list of public officials who have not done enough to exercise their formidable powers must notably include those two top elected officials as well as investigators and law enforcement officials such as the New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman who, aside from investigating and prosecuting transgressions of New York State Law is also, by state law, specifically assigned the responsibility for ensuring that the charities like those running the libraries properly perform the missions.  Had Mr. Schneiderman investigated the Donnell Library sale as we asked he might have prophylactically side-lined the likes of Stephen A. Schwarzman and Jared Kushner, key players in Donald Trump's campaign for president and now in his administration.

There are also reasons to expect that state and federal officials could be doing more to fend off the library destructions, although in this regard it should be considered that Stephen Schwarzman and his Blackstone Group make major contributions to Senator Schumer (making Schumer in 2014 the #1 Blackstone-supported politician in New York State and the #4 Blackstone supported politician nationwide) and Senator Schumer's wife, Iris Weinshall, having replaced David Offensend as Chief Operating Officer at the NYPL, is now the one in charge of such things as selling SIBL, the consolidating shrinkage of the Midtown Campus Plan, and adding the Inwood Library to the list of libraries targeted for sale (after she engaged in similar work with respect to real estate assets of CUNY).

The sale of our libraries bleeds into our national politics in other ways with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Schwarzman being involved in the sale of Donnell while Hillary Clinton's national campaign headquarters were located at a building which was for real estate development purposes was at the corner of Tillary and Clinton part of the same real estate parcel as Brooklyn's second biggest library being sold, with her landlord Forest City Ratner participating in that deal offensively replicating the shrink-and-sink Donnell sale.

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?

As noted, although plans to sell NYC libraries were not announced by the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration until much later, those plans actually to go back to at least 2005 or probably 2004David Offensend was hired by the NYPL in June of 2004 and, though he is imprecise, he says that he started working on library deals not long after his arrival there.  Janet Offensend, his wife, who helped launch BPL library sales started haunting the BPL and its board in 2005.  Other city development officials were being positioned by Mayor Bloomberg on the BPL board around that time.  (The Bloomberg administration took office January 1, 2002, shortly after 9/11.  By contrast, the Giuliani administration implemented library expansion plans that carried over into the early Bloomberg years.)

The BPL's minutes for 2005 show that in January a developer, perhaps jumping the gun based on inside knowledge, was angling to buy the 12,200 square-foot Midwood Library.  In November 2006 the New York Times ran a little noticed article about tearing down “obsolete” branch libraries to produce “new,” "better" library space in multi-use developments saying that a study had produced "an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City" to identify "candidates for redevelopment" (like the "Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park" libraries and the "Clinton Hill Library," which involves pushing through an accompanying rezoning.)  The article mentions "deferred maintenance" as a reason to redevelop the libraries.

In May of 2006 it was revealed that four Connecticut librarians had won a fight, secret because of a gag order since it began in July 2005, to resist broad federal surveillance of their library patrons.

Although the public did not know what it needed to know in order to see it happening, 2007 and 2008 were extremely eventful years in terms of furthering the plans to sell NYC libraries: 
2007 
    •    In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government) was hired to assist the NYPL trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.
    •    In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.        •    In November The Donnell Library sale was announced.
    •    The NYPL was working on selecting architects in connection with the Central Library Plan.
    •    The NYPL had plans for other consolidating shrinkage hub libraries for Northern Manhattan and Staten Island.
    •    Albany legislation reorganized the BPL board giving Mayor Bloomberg more control.
    •    The BPL started working on a "Strategic Real Estate Plan" being drafted by a former vice president of Forest City Ratner, which, will include a sale of the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library replicating the Donnell sale (with Forest City Ratner involved in the transaction) as well as “leveraging” all its “over one million square feet of real estate by launching partnerships . . .
     •    The BPL is working on a deal to turn the Brower Park Library into a redevelopment deal.
     •   The BPL was considering creating a tiny new library in DUMBO asnew library model,” (an “Out-Post”), that would have been only 1,700 square feet.
    •    Brownstoner published an article about the BPL selling the Clinton Hill Library for redevelopment and, although the public was unaware, there was a list of city libraries developers were looking at.

2008
    •    The BPL agreed, at city request (before the fiscal crisis), to start deferring capital expenditures for its libraries.
    •    The BPL hired an architect to create a Master Plan for its Central Library (eliminating books) that’s much like the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.
    •    The NYPL board was advised of the expectation that federal law might "require" the NYPL "to reengineer their Internet service facilities to enhance law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept communications."
This is right around the time (just as Bloomberg clears his third term election hurdle) that funding for the libraries drops drastically even as public use continues a steep upward trajectory. The lack of funds with these funding cuts will be cited as the principal reason to sell libraries.

Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
In 2009 a lot of librarians were being fired, shifted to different positions and NYPL librarians were being being asked to sign “nondisparagement agreements” to silence them when real estate deals get announced.  Also in 2009, the BPL adopted a late in the game "Community Needs Assessment" blessing its library sales and offering the principle that the Brooklyn Public Library should as one of is objectives be engaged in "support for economic development."

When Linda Johnson arrives to head the BPL in 2010 she speaks to the BPL board about how the strategic plan converting libraries into real estate deals is her priority.

Locking in aspects of its Central Library Plan, the NYPL proceeds in 2011 and 2012 to sell its book-storing Annex between 10th and 11th avenues and part of SIBL.  Also in 2011 Linda Johnson reminds the BPL board that their goal is to advance so far into the "real estate plan" that it will be deep in progress "when a new Mayor takes office . .  he or she will not derail it."  . .

. .  Also in 2011, Ms. Johnson tells the BPL trustees that Booz & Co. has been hired because of their "extensive experience with libraries" and would be involved with the right-sizing of the libraries.  This involves Bloomberg's First Deputy Mayor (and a meeting at Gracie mansion) overseeing the use of Booz & Co.to make coordinated changes for all three of the city library systems, BPL, NYPL and Queens. 

The July 4th weekend of the summer of 2012 is when the air conditioning in the Brooklyn Heights Library `broke down` along with other air conditioning systems of libraries across the BPL system- This was just before library sales were to be announced.  The Heights air conditioning "break down" like other air conditioning "break downs" at other libraries will be cited six months later as a reason to sell the library.

As another parting 2012 gift, 2012 is also the year that the Bloomberg administration set up the library-shrinking Spaceworks corporation.

January 2013 is when the overall assault on the libraries becomes clear with new Brooklyn library sale plans coming to light as the Bloomberg administration hopes to ram them through or lock those sales through, together with the NYPL Central Library Plan, before leaving office at the end of the calendar 2013.  That's when Citizens Defending Libraries is formed to counter the plans.

It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries

While most New Yorkers are attuned to the power and excesses of the city real estate industry and therefore easily understand its role as a key motivator in the assault on libraries, it's unfortunately naive to believe that only the real estate industry has an agenda that is adverse to the tradition of continuing libraries as the democratic commons we have known them to be.

This gets us into some other big questions.

Control of Information

Does dumbing down the public make sense, is it truly workable if you want an effective democracy?  The availability and control of information, including in libraries as copious storehouses of information, has always long disconcerted authoritarians.  For instance, is it surprising to know that Senator Joseph McCarthy exercised his influence to ban from U.S. controlled libraries the music and scores of the "Fanfare For The Common Man" composer Aaron Copeland, because McCarthy believed this quintessentially American composer's music would be a bad influence the public's political perspectives?  Hitler and Chile's Augusto Pinochet following the totalitarian model, burned books.  Michael Moore posits that closing libraries as part of efforts to dumb down the country helped get Trump elected.

No doubt there are those for whom it would be preferable if information in libraries was tidily circumscribed so that it just slipstreams comfortably behind the limited thinking and reporting of the corporate conglomerate controlled national media.  That's a corporate media which among other things and by example underreports the climate change crisis, and which drastically reduced reporting on climate change in 2016, the year of the national election.

It is frankly unnerving that at a time when climate change is ever more clearly an existential issue respecting the human race's very survival we are shutting down the largest science library in New York City.  It is unnerving that books pertaining to climate change are vanishing from the libraries, and that we are doing this at the very same time our access to alternative sources of information about global warming and its environmental havoc is threatened.  Our concerns should mount further when there are simultaneously so many other attacks on science and on factual reality being launched at the same time.  And meanwhile, those with money look for other ways to silence voices they don't want heard.

While the tradition has been to protect and preserve the information entrusted to libraries, information on the internet can be startlingly evanescent, its continued existence subject to decisions made by whim or out of wrath about what the public should see.

Recently, sites on the internet that were heavily relied upon for years of local urban news (DNAInfo and Gothamist in NYC) disappeared when their billionaire and Trump-supporting conservative Republican owner, Joe Rickets eliminated them together with all their history and content. This was immediately after he bought one of them up and the reportorial staff voted to unionize, which he opposed.  But even before the unionization occurred, news and information on the site written about Mr. Rickets, the owner acquiring the Gothamist site, was eliminated or rewritten.  Ownership (increasingly consolidated in a few wealthy people) can mean everything: Billionaire Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson bought his hometown Las Vegas newspaper to get it to cease printing "nasty coverage" in it.  Billionaire Peter Thiel funded someone else's lawsuit to bankrupt Gawker reportedly because it published information about him he didn't like is now trying to buy gawker.com it is believed so that he can delete all the reporting on its site.

What questions are raised now about Time/Life and its ownership when the Koch brothers circle flashing their stalking cash?

Librarians assert more altruistic values.  It was a heroic librarian mobilizing a network of librarians that saved a book Michael Moore had just written from being pulped before release (turned into "Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly books") by his own suppressing publisher. That publisher thought that the advent of 9/11 meant that people should not say things critical of George W. Bush.  The rescued book, "Stupid White Men ...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!" spent weeks at the top of the best seller lists.

But another publisher did suppress and never issue, pulling from the shelves (for 26 years), an ultimately influential book about how JFK had decided to withdraw from Vietnam just before he was assassinated.  That was despite the book's being reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review Section by Kennedy special assistant and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. who also said "This commanding essay in critical history is the most authoritative account anywhere of President Kennedy's Vietnam policy and it is fascinating reading as well." Plus it was endorsed by former CIA head William Colby.  The book, confirmed and fleshed out accounts that economist and Kennedy advisor Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith had shared with his son, professor James Galbraith.  Accordingly, the book has also been championed by him.  When the NSA failed to stop the book with unsuccessful claims its information was classified, the publisher just cooperatively made the book unavailable.

Books and the fact that people still dependably read them can be a catalytic part of the media ecosystem.  The New York Times cooperated with the George W. Bush administration to suppress what was ultimately a Pulitzer Prize-winning story by reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau about the administration’s secret illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of the American public.  That story got published by the New York Times only because Risen was about to publish a book including it, but the Times, in suppressive mode until the end, published the story only after New York Times senior editors expressed anger about Risen’s book being published together with their view that Risen didn’t have the right to publish it.  It can be considered a misfortune, however, that the Times suppression of the story caused it to be run after the its publication could have been of consequence in the 2004 Bush Kerry election.

Does information representing our history disappear from physical archives, like our national archives?  And, if such losses occur, what does one hope to do about it?: Normally, one hopes to replace the information from other places it is stored.  When some of us toured the National Library of Australia, the librarian escorting us explained how Australia's libraries had been a source of materials to replace what was purged from the German libraries during the Nazi era.

While robustly maintained libraries safeguard against loss, downsizing of libraries can be the cause of it.  When a new library director rapidly, unnecessarily, and without librarian consultation, discarded thousands of books (39,000) from California's Berkley Public Library, books on social issues and activism that disappeared in the purge included Judi Bari’s “Timber Wars.”  Judi Bari was an environmental activist importantly active in that Northern California region who paid a price when Bari, apparently under federal surveillance, was severely disabled by a suspicious, unsolved car bombing that was probably inadequately investigated by the FBI.

Digital records are much more easily rewritten or quickly deleted. Extensive documentation of war atrocities in such places as Syria and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Burma, documentation that could be used to prosecute war criminals have been abruptly eliminated by the sweep of "algorithm." Other digital changes have undercut people who relied on the services of YouTube and Facebook expecting to store preserve essential information about the abuse of human rights.

The Internet And Digital as Business

As the world speeds into digital, it is important to recognize the pull and tugs of what the internet corporations would like, including reasons for wanting things to go digital.  There are reasons why, when just five or six (as of 2017) people control as much wealth as half of the rest of the world's population, that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon (and Washington Post) owner Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft's Bill Gates are three for them (with another Carlos Slim Helu incidentally, as part of his media holdings, being the largest shareholder of the New York Times.  Those reasons coincide with the reasons Apple, Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all vying (along with Exxon Mobile) for the spot as largest U.S. company.

 . . . Think where all this money comes from.  There is, of course, the ubiquitous advertising, as the pop-up ads that saturate far-flung corners of the internet will remind you, just as advertising saturates the monopolistically owned TV and radio airwaves.  There is also the data-scraping.  As the "old internet saw" was quoted when Google was wiring all of NYC's streets for wireless internet "for free": "If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product."  What the private internet companies know about you helps target you for underwear ads (and/or whatever else you were last shopping for) and  guesses with remarkable accuracy about your health and medical conditions, etc. in increasingly fine grained detail . . .

With such fine grained data about you available, being steered in your internet shopping means book recommendations from Amazon . . . And it can also mean, banishing once customary price certainty, that less budget conscious or wealthier shoppers get steered to higher priced headphones or are told the same vacation or hotel will cost them more.

Social media too and its effects are subject to being manipulated.  Google, at least effectively, became a political censor when it reconfigured its algorithm so that the World Socialist website experienced  a 70% drop in visits while Google redirected search traffic to go to major corporate news sites (the New York Times, MSNBC?) to learn about learn about Trotsky and Trotskyism.

Facebook's disturbing proclivities were witnessed when it created and offered in countries like India "Free Basics," a supposedly "free" "little web" that turned third world users into largely passive consumers of mostly western corporate content.  Critics pointed out that the Facebook initiative, giving the ability to scrape data from all the users, masqueraded as philanthropy while what Facebook's Zuckerberg euphemistic and benign touted as "internet for all" really meant "Facebook for all."

In Cathy O'Neil's "Weapons of Math Destruction (How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy," you can read about how during the 2010 and 2012 elections Facebook conducted voter turnout experiments and concluded that when they targeted 61 million of their users they were able to increase voter turnout among that group by an estimated and very significant 340,000.  O'Neil points out that: "At the same time, Facebook researchers were studying how different types of updates influenced people's voting behavior."  One of Facebook's researchers in another experiment concluded that increasing hard news in people's news feeds (as opposed to "cat videos and graduation announcements") increased voter turnout.  And in 2012 Facebook experiments on 680,000 users led it to conclude that by doctoring the users' news feeds allowed Facebook to affect their users' moods transferring in the words of Facebook's conclusion "emotional states" to others "leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness."  Further, O'Neil points to research of Karrie Karahalios that most people are unaware that Facebook tinkers their news feeds, believing incorrectly "that the system instantly shared everything they posted with all their friends."

The fine grained data about you can be sold.  Author, mathematician and big data expert Cathy O'Neil has called the internet "the ultimate profiling machine."  Congress just voted ( very unpopularly and without public comment) this spring to allow everyone's internet providers unfettered freedom to sell users' personal data.  The next big question is the extent to which social media's ability to manipulate will also be marketed and sold.

Privatized Political Advantage

Among those buying the data are political parties and their campaign operations looking to control the elected seats of government. Now with unprecedented insight into your preferences, those actors and operatives use the data to decide, with tools like gerrymandering, how much your vote should or should not be allowed to count.  With "voter preference files" that contain tens of thousands of "sets of data points" they have graduated from "microtargeting specific groups" to "nanotargeting" with different kinds of messages (whether true or not) designed elicit particular `emotional responses' from voters.  "Pay to sway" services supply a smorgasbord of fabricated realities at itemized prices, polluting for those who occupy them, the social media and internet spheres.  Meanwhile algorithms assist as “the lies, the junk, the misinformation” of traditional propaganda widespread online are targeted at individuals.

Owning Ideas and Culture to Charge For Them

The content industry has its wants as well.  Its purveyors desire, for instance, to get the public out to the very latest movie you see touted on billboards, simultaneously on the sides of city buses, via the ads on Comedy Central and other channels, perhaps also boosted by a "sponsorship" mention on your local public radio station as it does featurette reporting about what endows the film with the latest topical interest to claim your attention. While the tales may be age-old and deeply embedded in our culture, Disney would no doubt prefer that such public domain stories as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Alice in Wonderland," "Sleeping Beauty," Pocahontas and John Smith, "Beauty and the Beast," "The Jungle Book, Treasure Island," and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"  (stories that all ought to be discoverable in any library) be experienced by the through the profit generating conduits of its perpetually extended copyright controlled versions.

In his "The Master Switch" history of the "information" industry and its penchant for monopolized control of what it delivers, Tim Wu helped explain how the post-2000 proliferation of super hero movies is driven by the fact that such copyright-owned characters (like "transformers") are much easier to control ownership of than "bankable stars" and how 21st Century film has become "much less predominantly a business of story-telling than it has been, and much more a species of advertisement, an exposure strategy for the underlying intellectual property [of those `characters']"

Theodore Geisel, better know as Dr. Seuss, was extremely reticent about commercializing his work. Very few adaptions of his work were created during his life.  His estate, since he died in 1991, is managing things differently now, so, for instance, you can now find his characters alongside the Marvel superheros at Universal's theme park in Orlando.  Does that mean that in "accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension" corporate adaptations of his work will, for instance, (with "Car chases!" etc.) bleed out the purity of the environmental message concerning "unchecked greed" of the "The Lorax."

Major media conglomerates want to do away with net neutrality. The reasons for major media conglomerates wanting to do away with net neutrality coincide in many respects with why a robust supply of libraries are not viewed as friendly to their business model.

A Reduction to Dollar$ Sense

. . Traditional libraries have always stood as models opposite to the concept that everything in the world, plus everything that ought to be prioritized and perpetually pushed to the fore should exist in stripped-down monetizable dimensions.  To evaluate the world exclusively in the very limited terms of seeing things in terms of just numbers or only following the money is, in an of itself, impoverishing.  A 2015 report published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review studied how the huge growth and overrepresentation in the percentage executives from the finance industry serving as board members and in positions of board leadership at America’s most influential nonprofits has been affecting the culture and dynamics of those institutions. It observed:
Numerous critics have written thoughtfully about the ways in which market-based thinking and approaches applied to the nonprofit sector provide false promise, with the potential to dilute charitable values, undermine long-term mission focus . . 
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson, speaking of the attack on our public universities when bean-counting "magnates of one sort or another" overconfident of their shrewdness to make the decisions at those institutions (an impulse "that’s part of the economics that’s dominant now") said: "It’s sort of like turning over our whole aesthetic sense to people who are color blind." . . Mathematically trained and eccentric Trump-financing hedge fund "Billionaire" Robert Mercer is reportedly absolutely merciless in his own blindness: Mercer is said to value people exclusively "on the basis of what they earn" thereby allowing him to believe that that schoolteachers earning "2 million times less" than he does are "2 million times less valuable" than he is.

Surveillance

The last big subject to mention bears a relationship to the first topic.  When the government, whoever is in charge, isn't actually preventing citizens from reading certain books it might proscribe, it can, nevertheless, be interested in surveiling what books and information members of the public are reading.  In theory, this could allow the government to identify a stray terrorist or two before they act, but, perhaps more meaningfully, it could allow identification of trends in public thinking.  And identified trends can be responded to, shaped or leaders at the forefront of them neutralized or co-opted.

The introduction of digital books and computers makes surveillance easier.  Social media allows trends to to be shaped and manipulated.

Not very long after the NYPL's board of trustees was advised of the expectation that change in federal surveillance law ("CALEA") might "require" the NYPL "to reengineer their Internet service facilities to enhance law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept communications" the NYPL board hired Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government which contracts out about 70% of the surveillance it does) to assist the trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.  In consultation with Booz Allen, the NYPL made the decision to sell three major libraries, the Mid-Manhattan Library, the Donnell Library and the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL).   In addition, the plan involved gutting the research stacks of the NYPL's 42nd Street Central Reference Library, which held three million books. Those books were most of, and what was once the core of, its research collection.

Ralph Nader has opined that it is a left/right issue, whether you are left or right on the political spectrum people don't want the government to search your library records without probable cause.

Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially  Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

Defunding and dismantling our libraries hurts society broadly, probably more broadly than many may have considered.

It is, of course, usually recognized that cutting back on library services significantly impacts low-income neighborhoods relying on them.  A PowerPoint presentation to the Queens Library board told it that library service is most important to low-income users: 2/3rds visit at least weekly, & almost 30% visit every/most days.  A recent Pew research Center report says "Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities," see them as community anchors, and use them to pursue jobs.  And it's been astutely commented that wherever it happens the loss of libraries is "another surefire way to entrench inequality."
 
Researchers and students also use the libraries.  Arguing to destroy libraries, the NYPL tried a divide-and-conquer-the-community approach suggesting that the research library was elitist and not sufficiently populist when in any given year the researchers and students at its 42nd Street central reference library consult "only 6% of print sources."  The same argument was being used to thin out collections at neighborhood libraries and move books off-site from those locations too.  That "6%" consultation rate was referred to by Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column, published just weeks before her death (Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, December 3, 2012), in which she lambasted the NYPL's Central Library Plan including its stingy thinking that books should not be kept on hand if they are consulted infrequently:
If we could estimate how many ways in which the world has been changed by that 6%, the number would be far more meaningful than the traffic through its lion-guarded doors. The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace." But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.
Among other things, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and SIBL are the libraries for the graduate students at CUNY, the City University of New York, who do not have ready access to the impressive libraries used by students paying more expensive tuition at private universities.

It may be that the benefits of libraries as repositories of information that may seem obscure or not often thought about might easily be dismissed, but transmitted out through those who access that information, or make use of it to lead the way to new solutions for the problems of world, the benefit is widespread.  Ripley's Believe It or Not! phenomenally successful as a widely read newspaper feature, ultimately became an “entertainment empire” and institution itself. From 1923 until 1975 all the information for the newspaper feature was found by one researcher, Norbert Pearlroth, consulting some 7,000 books a year ("approximately 350,000 during his whole career") from the 42nd Street research collection.

Sometimes the factor of racial discrimination can be more blatant: There were those in the Brooklyn Heights community who expressed eagerness to tear down replace the central destination library there with a smaller one so as to stop attracting people such as those from nearby housing projects to the neighborhood in central downtown Brooklyn.  See:  A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded.

Administration officials hell bent on transforming libraries into real estate deals have tried other divide-and-conquer-the-community ploys.  Citizens Defending Libraries has testified before the City Council so that these ploys oughtn't slip by unnoticed.  Officials have claimed that if some New Yorkers lose their libraries to sales, proceeds will benefit other communities (via accounting gimmick eyewash that's more untrue than not, and implying that other community libraries won't be sold next).  Another tactic has been to say that if library space is surrendered to the real estate community, artists can benefit by being able to rent studios to dance and paint.  And another favorite, a frequently used wedge to divide community in many contexts in NYC, is to say that if real estate projects are allowed to proceed, developers will provide a few units of so-called affordable housing in return.

How Many Books Are Disappearing?


Venturing into a library to witness scads of empty book shelves is a disorientating experience.  The empty shelves constitute early warning signs: Empty shelves at Mid-Manhattan Library, SIBL, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Grand Army Plaza Library, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library have meant that these libraries have been targeted to be involved in library sale and shrinkage plans.

It is stunning how many books have disappeared and become unavailable, multiple millions overall.  (Library administration officials have done their best to obscure true counts of the reductions.)  If the books disappear from targeted libraries far enough in advance library administration officials can deceptively promise that there will be as many books after the shrinkage of the library as before.  Another deception is for library officials to claim that if books are exiled to be consolidated elsewhere in a "deduping" center there will actually be "more" books as a result.  ("Deduping" is euphemism for book elimination, the idea being the more books you consolidate in a central location the more books you have that are "duplicates" to be eliminated.)

Amazingly, despite the increasing difficulty in obtaining books NYC book circulation is going up and circulation increases are mainly the physical books that patrons generally prefer.  The idea that because some books (not all- for instance, Robert Caro's "The Power Broker") are available digitally we no longer need libraries to supply physical books is a myth.  That library administration officials disparage physical books as "old-fashioned analogue books" or just "artifactual originals" or that those officials will spend more money to push people in to digital reading than what spending on physical books costs does not make that myth any more true.

When library officials solicit contributions from the general public they will jive about how they are asking for that money in order to buy more books because they know that is a vision the public will support and respond favorably to, but at the same time library officials are less than transparent about how they are actually removing books from library premises and from the system entirely.

The central destination Brooklyn Heights Library, a Federal Depository and a downtown Business Career and Education Library, had to be expanded in 1993 because its book collection had grown so much.  Its education collection held books moved to it for which there was no room at the central Grand Army Plaza Library.  When the BPL was pushing its sale, the architects planning its shrunken replacement had no information to furnish about the book capacity reduction.  When forced they offered information that seriously understated at a mere fraction how many books the 63,000 square foot library held.  Meanwhile, shelves at the Grand Army Plaza Library (where books from the Heights downtown library are supposed to have gone) are increasingly mysteriously empty.

In the 1990s the NYPL liked to brag about how many books were in its principal Manhattan libraries: the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the Mid-Manhattan Library, the Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and going by published NYPL brags at that time in 1996 there were at least 12 million books, probably likely soon thereafter going up to around 13 million (not counting the Donnell central library.)   The NYPL contacted us to say that these figures were wrong, that New York Times reporter Bruce Weber must have not gotten his book count figures from independent research, not the library official putting out the good news story; that the NYPL Central Reference Libraries only had just over 7.3 million books in 1996 and that across all the NYPL research libraries there were then 12.5 million "books and booklike materials".  But when we asked for a before and after accounting of the number of books in each library (The 42nd Street Central Reference Library, Mid-Manhattan, the now sold-off 42nd Street Annex, the Donnell Library and the Lincoln Center Library where along with Mid-Manhattan books and materials from Donnell were supposed to have been sent) it was not furnished.  (Questions on actual book counts involve addresses where books are obtainable and whether things like government documents or law books are excluded from the count.)

In 1987 the 42nd Street Library construction plans were undertaken to add underground stacks that would give the 42nd Street Central Reference Library (whose books were overflowing into the 42nd Street Annex) book shelf capacity to hold about 6.5 million books (about 172 miles of book shelves). 

However, on March 11, 2014, NYPL president Anthony Marx told the City Council that he did not know whether the 42nd Street Central Library would, under its plans for the future, be able to meet a goal of holding even as many as a minimal "4.2 million books." 

At the tail end of the Bloomberg administration the NYPL hurriedly emptied the research stacks of the 42nd Street Central Library hoping to destroy them.  Those stacks reportedly held the three million books they were famously designed to.  In shell game math, the NYPL suggested it would avoid reducing available books by moving research books to space under Bryant Park that was always intended to expand (not shrink) the number of books, but, according to figures released by the library in 1987, the space available and not yet in use under Bryant Park will hold only 1.4 million books.  Meanwhile, other rooms throughout the 42nd Street building with shelves that were once filled with books lining them are also now emptied of books.  That includes rooms sufficiently large that the NYPL trustees have held trustees meetings in them.

Statistics for SIBL in its September 1997 Trifold Brochure told New Yorkers that the library then held a research collection of 1.2 Million volumes, plus a circulating collection of 40,000 books and videos, over 10,000 business and scientific serials, open shelf-shelf reference offering 60,000 volumes.  (Moreover, it furnished seating for 500 persons with laptop plug-ins, electronic Resource Center with 73 workstations, and an electronic Training Center with seating for 39 persons.)  By 2006, the year before Donnell's sale was announced, SIBL's collection had grown to 1.45 million.  And the number of books found at SIBL now?:  Wander the library and you will find half of the pen shelves empty.  As for book count, the recent handout only mentions a "50,000 open-shelf collection," and with so many of the shelves visibly empty it's questionable whether that can still be accurate.  The research stacks, once the main repository of SIBl's books  (which previously sent those books to patrons through the book elevators behind the librarians desk) are no longer there to hold additional books because the space the stacks occupied was sold by the NYPL.

Might we hope that many of SIBL's books can still be retrieved from the Recap de-duping center in Princeton?: SIBL's librarians told us that many of the missing books patrons request no have to be laboriously gotten back from Chicago.

The Mid-Manhattan Library was designed with a capacity of 700,000 books. The Wall Street Journal reported that, as part of the consolidating shrinkage underway, Mid-Manhattan is being redesigned to hold only 400,000 books and other circulating materials.  And the architect presenting this redesign to the NYPL board of trustees assured them of the stacks holding even this limited number of books: “They are not structural, the shelves, you can take it away later if you want.”  It is important to bear in mind that these assuredly banishable 400,000 books in Mid-Manhattan are supposed to represent the consolidation of books from other central Manhattan destination libraries, the destroyed Donnell and the all of the 1.45 million or more books from SIBL.


Notwithstanding inquiries to the NYPL, we don't yet know how many books the 97,000 square foot, five-story Donnell central library held, but we do know, of that unknown total, approximately 175,000 volumes in the World Language Collection were transferred to Mid-Manhattan from the Donnell when it closed in 2008.

Meanwhile, other libraries elsewhere in other parts of New York are also losing their books with another some 100,000 books or so disappearing from central destination Brooklyn Heights library in downtown Brooklyn, that missing 100,000 representing about three times as many books as are expected to be placed in the shrunk-and-sunk "replacement" library.

Why Turning Libraries Into Real Estate Deals Isn't The Good Deal Library and City Development Officials Describe

At first blush, many people have accepted what city development and library officials have regularly asserted about the deals launching this city-wide program of converting libraries into real estate deals (or, similarly, "redeveloping" our schools for that matter), that by "unlocking" library real estate development rights with multi-use developments it is a "win-win" proposition that benefits the libraries as well as the developers and real estate industry.

The offer of a free lunch is a tempting thing to hope for, but it doesn't bear scrutiny.  The math, when you do it, simply doesn't work out: It is expensive to tear down existing, frequently recently renovated libraries that the public has already invested substantially in.  When these development ideas are promoted the math goes from initial wishful fantasies, to deliberately obfuscated lack of transparency, to outright mendacious misrepresentation.  If library officials had insisted that the Donnell Library or the Brooklyn Heights Library be fully and completely replaced when they were sold (irrespective or their spaces being shoved underground), the sales would have to be calculated showing deep and obviously absurd public losses. . .

There is also the disruption that affects the public. And, although library and city officials try to skip over the point, when library assets are being divested, the libraries are, in the process, shedding their opportunities for future expansion and to keep pace as the city grows.

Moreover and probably most important, such multi-use development schemes force the libraries to "partner" with powerful private real estate interests that ultimately wind up in the drivers seat, setting the priorities with big checkbooks that bankroll false and misleading PR.  With the moneyed interests throwing their weight around, the public is exposed to bait-and-switch variations.  The Donnell Library sale deal that was described to the press and public when it was announced in no way resembled the deal that was consummated.

Selling Libraries And The Broader Issue of Private Sector Plunder of Public Property

Libraries are not our only public commons that are undemocratically under attack.  The attacks on libraries reflect a much wider scourge of plundering our public assets with the selling off and privatizing of schools, hospitals, public housing, parks, and even the privatization of our streets and sidewalks.  Accordingly, instead of just fighting the library fight, Citizens Defending Libraries (and you can join us) has reached out to other activists to hold a series of forums on the selling off of public assets and help engender and understanding of the commonalty of the threats and tactics an subterfuges we see.  For instance, as Noam Chomsky has explained one such "standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.". .  (In other words, when the door is open to privatization and sell-off there is an inducement to underfund.)  And then, with the transfer to private ownership, the result for public gets even worse.

Some of The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For 

City and library officials working with real estate developers trot out a standard set of misleading falsehoods and ploys to promote library sales.  If you think they sound good, watch out, often what they are saying is pretty much opposite to the real truth.

Here are lies to watch out for:

Lies about proper public process.  What political officials will try to tell you about how libraries are being sold off with the due process of adequate public input and participation is often not true.

On September 30, 2013, the New York City Council had its first ever hearing hearing about the plans to sell city libraries.  It involved all sorts of coordinated testimony about how good it was to sell and shrink libraries around the city like Mid-Manhattan, SIBL and Brooklyn Heights.  It was basically a defensive action responding to the public efforts Citizens Defending Libraries was helping to spearhead after CDL's creation.  It was also a reaction to a June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing about the library sales where the public had turned out universally opposing the library sales and library officials were crucified in the press for their incompetent responses.

At the September 30, 2013, City Council hearing BPL President Linda Johnson extolled the quality of `public involvement' in the sell-off of the Brooklyn Heights Library in response to a softball question that sounded prearranged.  Prepared for this, Citizens Defending Libraries was simultaneously submitting written testimony at the hearing directly contradicting that assertion in Ms. Johnson's testimony, pointing out that the:
public process for selling off New York City libraries, such as it exists, is confusing, deceptive and intentionally frustrating to those wishing to, in any way oppose, or question the wisdom of, selling off libraries, shrinking them, or underfunding them as a prelude to such sell-offs.
Pending library sales, frequently worked on secretly for years in advance, are not announced to the public until the sales are purportedly “done deals.”  The public will often be told to forget about expressing their opposition because of this.  Local officials will have signed on to the sales before the public knows or has been able to give them any input or reaction.

Officials will hold some public events as eyewash, but these eyewash events will not be about asking the public whether they want their library sold, whether they want it shrunk, whether they might actually want their library bigger, or how else they might want to plan for the future of the public property; the public will only be invited to express what they might want when their library is, in fact, sold and shrunk, its books eliminated.  Meanwhile, basic background information, like about the extent of the loss of books will not be forthcoming.

If there is going to be a ULURP process (not always the case because it is not always required), the public will be told to cool their heals and wait to express opposition to the project only when that ULURP process has all been rigged.  The ULURP process (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) won't be launched or proceed to its next steps until the powers that control things have lined up the votes in advance to push the library sale through.

How rigged is this process?:  In the case of the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, when passionate and essentially unanimous testimony from the community opposing the sale overwhelmed the Brooklyn Community Board 2 land use Committee causing the committee to falter and vote that that the sale should not be approved and should not be considered again, the Chair of CB2 directed that approval of the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library be sent back to the committee on short notice over a Fourth of July weekend directing that "When this committee meets next it will be to do what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at last Wednesday’s meeting."  The Land Use Committee then met again, comprised of a different set of members and voted for the sale while refusing to hear any public testimony.

The sale procedure progressed to be approved by the entire CB2 board to whom the CB2 Chair had refused to distribute the Citizens Defending Libraries letter addressed to them and which voted, for the most part without its members bothering to minimally acquaint themselves with the asset they were disposing.

Similarly, when the Brooklyn Heights Library then went before the City Planning Commission a panoply of conflicts of interest affecting the Commission whose members are heavily representative of the real estate industry interest, assured that the vote would be to sell and shrink the library as the Commission's Chair indicated a willingness to do the same sort of thing to turn NYC public schools into real estate deals.

The lie that the public should wait to oppose sale of libraries because it will have that opportunity at a later date (when the rigged "done deal" ULURP review process starts).   
The public is often told that there will be a process in which the public can oppose the sale of the library in the future so it is not appropriate or worthwhile to oppose that sale at this time.  The truth is that these deals are clearly presented for final steps like ULURP only after officials have done everything they can to assure that what the public may say during the process doesn't matter.

Lies that new "replacement" libraries will be as big or even bigger than the old.  Library officials routinely try to obscure the math of library shrinkage by odd and selective approaches to measurement concluding that because the new space will be "bigger" in terms of what they want or what is `publicly accessible' and therefore pronounce as being "bigger" replacement libraries that are actually smaller, sometimes startlingly so.  The NYPL's Central Library Plan was promoted as making a "bigger" library when it was actually taking about 400,000 square feet of library space and reducing it to about 80,000 square feet.  By disregarding that its Business, Career and Education functions were being terminated at the location, the BPL tried to sell the shrink-and-sink replacement Brooklyn Heights Library, one-third the size was, as being as big as the 63,000 square foot library being destroyed.

The above-ground portion of the Brooklyn Heights Library was about 38,000 square feet.  It had two more half floors of readily accessible books below ground.  The above-ground portion of the library to "replace" it will be just 15,000 square feet.

The lie that the library is too dilapidated will be too expensive and impossible to fix (especially its air conditioning).   The decision to sell the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Heights Library, was from all the evidence, probably made in 2007 (if not sooner.)  The announcement that it was going to be sold was kept under wraps and the sale did not get revealed until the beginning of 2013 when the plans was to push the sale through before December 31, 2013, the last day of the Bloomberg administration.   July Fourth weekend 2012, just six-months before the announced sale of the library it was announced that the air conditioning system for the library had broken down.  Library officials at the BPL then said a major reason the library was being sold was because the air conditioning could not be fixed.  That same summer of 2012 it was announced that libraries across the Brooklyn Public Library system were suffering from air conditioning problems that could not be solved.  The only library pushed for that no such broken air conditioning claim was made about is the ultra modern SIBL, completed in 1996.

Virtually every library that city and library administration officials have pushed forward for sale has been asserted to have insoluble air conditioning problems: The Donnell, Brooklyn Heights, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Mid-Manhattan, the research stacks at the 42nd Street Library.  Over and over again and right from the beginning we see libraries that were recently renovated proclaimed to be dilapidated and not worthy of maintenance.  These lies can be embarrassing: There were made about the Brooklyn Heights Library expanded and fully upgraded to be one of BPL's best in 1993; about SIBL, the "library of the future" built in 1996; about the Inwood Library who renovation NYPL President Tony Marx had just recently praised. 

The "there will be the same number of books" lie.  For more about how this isn't true see our section about how book counts are reducing at New York City libraries.

 
Where Does It Go From Here?  What Can You do?

One thing you can do is consider this a worthy cause and inform yourself and others about it.  Protection and preservation of our libraries is something that most people instantly and automatically understand.  As one member of our group observed early on: "If you can't stop them at libraries, where can you stop them?"  That's why we must stop them.. .

 . .  But also, because people do understand what it means to protect libraries, because they understand it in their very bones, the protection of libraries is an issue and a cause that can be used as a fulcrum to push back on the many other issues that relate to it, the impoverishing privatizations of public assets in general, abuses of the real estate industry, the corrupting influence of money in politics, inequality of power and wealth and the abuses of power by the wealthy. 

What Can We Do Next?

We can alter the laws.  The library boards need to be made more accountable to the people the libraries are supposed to serve and there need to be more checks and balances to ensure the public is represented and prevent abuses.  With a change in law a wider range of elected public officials, including the New York Public Advocate, can be involved in appointing the NYC library board members.  Conflict of interest laws should be stronger and more vigorously and effectively enforced.

The New York State Attorney General, New York City and New York State Comptrollers, and the city's Public Advocate probably have sufficient powers to prevent current abuses at the libraries.  The should act to do so, but if they say they don't have that power, the law can made clear that they have and are required to use those powers.
 
Laws should be passed that make it illegal as a matter of public policy to silence librarians to prevent them from speaking out against the abuses they witness and voiding, as a matter of public policy, all of the contractual provisions previously entered.

Insist on transparency.  One of the ways that officials involved in selling libraries, shrinking and underfunding them, have been able to do so is through a lack of transparency that assists them in peddling claims that the actual facts ought to eventually contradict when discovered.  We, as the public, are entitled to transparency even as they avoid it.  We are entitled to demand it through our elected representatives, or, for most things, we can take matters into our own hands, via the Freedom of Information Laws that allow us to make Freedom of Information Law requests.  We can also encourage the press to inquisitively investigate and publish what ought to be published. 

Wear a Citizens Defending Libraries Button.  Wearing a "Don't Sell Our Libraries" Citizens Defending Libraries Button (or perhaps several of them) helps get the word out about what is going on and that the public broadly opposes it.  And if you wear one when talking face to face with public officials at events public forums, rallies, or community board meetings they will always know where you are coming from.

Get Signatures For Our Citizens Defending Libraries Letter of support.  Our Citizens Defending Libraries Letter of support, as intended, has been signed by many community groups, public interest groups, elected officials and candidates for office.

Sign our Citizens Defending Libraries petition.  Signing our Citizens Defending Libraries petition, and encouraging your friends to as well, communicates immediately our ever-increasing numbers to the elected officials.  It also means you will get emails about information that becomes important to communicate and that you can, in turn, pass along. . .

 . . . You can contact us about how best to canvass libraries and events to get the word out and collect more signatures for the petition.  We may send a team out to work with you.

Get on Our Mailing List.  You can get emails about what is happening if you sign our petition, but that goes through a MoveOn process that is cumbersome and slow.  You can get urgent emails quickly and participate in saving the libraries directly if you contact us and ask to be put on our mailing list.  Email us at: Cem62 [at] aol.com (subject line "library email list."

Testify at public hearings.   There are frequent opportunities to testify at public hearing either in person or by sending in written or emailed testimony.  Feel free to crib from our web pages and past testimony to make the points you want to make.  Keep track of these opportunities by getting our mailings, referring to our public Citizens Defending Libraries calendar or incorporating it into your own.

Birddog our elected officials.  Wherever you go (and we suggest that you get out and go places, because doing so can be meaningful) make it a point to bird-dog our public officials about this issue wherever they are.  Don't let them off the hook.

Birddog and get the press to do its job (that includes passing along our press releases and calling local outlets about them, plus commenting on local blogs).   The press that Citizens Defending Libraries and the broader community has been able to get about the flimflam of selling off libraries has been very important to saving them.  Unfortunately, the press has not been particularly robust in doing its job.  Sometimes, engaging in press release journalism the press has simply reported the sale and shrinkage of libraries along with their underfunding as a good thing while leaving out and obscuring the public's opposition to these shenanigans. . . .

. . .  WNYC, which takes a lot of money from the Revson Foundation, has, for instance, often been virtually complicit in the promotion of the library sales.  By contrast, coverage by WBAI of our fight against the library sales has been good.

All members of the public, especially those who can contact people they know on the communications industry are capable of assisting us in ensuring that the issues get the coverage they deserve.

Write Letters to the Editor and Comment on Articles Published on the Web.  One good way to hold the press accountable while piggybacking on library and real estate development coverage that is out there is to respond with letters to the editor and comments to articles published on the web.  In some cases, newspapers like "The Observer" and "The Brooklyn Paper" will publish well written web comments in their print editions as letters to the editor.

Use social media to stay informed and pass the word around.  Citizens Defending Libraries is doing its best to generate Tweets on Twitter (@DefendLibraries), Facebook posts, YouTube videos, Flyers, and emails that you can easily pass around to get the word out.  This can be a way of passing around good news articles and important press when they do get generated.  We hope you take advantage.

Speak or invite us to speak about libraries at your community organization.  Perhaps you belong to a church or religious congregation.  Let them and/or your local community board know about the situation.  

Stay on top of what is happening with your own library and keep us informed.  The city has many libraries.  The advance warning signs that a library will soon be one of the next to be sacrificed may be subtle.  Often, the users, members of the community and local librarians will be able to be the first to spot what is going on.  We need everyone to be alert and it helps if information is passed along to us that we can then pass along more broadly.

Help with research.  Much of what we have been able to do in terms of sounding the alarm has been because of research that allowed us to find out about and inform the public concerning things that are not publicly known.   Library lovers are often excellent researchers.  Pitch in to add to our knowledge store.

Help with FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests.  Requesting information from government and library administration doesn't have to be done by lawyers (although sometimes it helps to be a lawyer to sue when FOIL requests are ignored as they have been).  Anybody can do it and journalists frequently make such requests.  It does require being organized and some follow-up.  All three library systems are subject to the New York State Open Meetings Law and must produce minutes and information concerning their meetings.  The Brooklyn and Queens Library system are also both subject to the NYS Freedom of Information Law (and the NYPL should be and can still be asked for information,)

Sing the Judy Gorman Library Song.   Activist singer song writer Judy Gorman who has played with Pete Seeger in the past is a supporter of our cause and wrote a marvelous song about the library sales excellent for singing at demonstrations or as you walk the streets collecting petition signatures.
     
This page (which will be periodically updated) provides resources in connection with the petition and campaign to oppose the defunding of New York City's libraries, the shrinkage of the system and the sale of library real estate in deals that prioritize benefit for developers.

The morning crowd waiting for the Brooklyn Heights downtown library to open
The Petition Being Put Forth By Citizens Defending Libraries

The first petition (gathered over 17,000 signature, most of them online- available at signon.org with a background statement and can still be signed).   On June 16, Citizens Defending libraries issued a new updated petition that you can sign now:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
CONTACT: To contact Citizens Defending Libraries email MDDWhite (at) aol.com.

The archive of our previous web page (used into December 2017) can be found by clicking HERE.

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