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, December 18, 2017

Testimony before City Council Respecting Its Oversight of Plans To Alter the 42nd Street Central Reference Library (aka NYPL Schwarzman Building)

On December 18, 2017 Citizens Defending Libraries delivered testimony before the New York City Council, both written and oral testimony delivered with library defenders from the Inwood Community looking to save that library too.

The oral testimony can be viewed via our YouTube channel.  (The entire hearing is availebl at the City Council's website.)

About the oral testimony, it is important to know that most of the hearing (if you watch from the beginning) consisted of a prolonged, coordinated attack on the city’s Department of Design and Construction (“DDC”). . . . . the implication being that government agencies are inefficient and that library real estate construction projects should therefore be turned over the library officials who have worked with private sector real estate companies to turn NYC libraries into real estate projects. 
Here is the oral testimony (click through to YouTube for best viewing):

Library Defender Testimony at City Council Dec18, 2017 Hearing

* * * *
Here is the written testimony-

December 18, 2017 

City Council Committee & Subcommittee:
      -Subcommittee on Libraries
      -Committee on Cultural Affairs,
           Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
City Hall
City Hall Park
New York, NY 10007

Re: Testimony respecting oversight of plans to alter - NYPL Schwarzman Building (i.e. 42nd Street Central Reference Library).

Dear City Council Committee and Subcommittee:

The 42nd Street Central Reference Library was designed around and with exquisite thought given first and foremost to a central core of research book stacks as a book deliver system.  Why is the NYPL now inverting the process for the building’s redesign focusing first and foremost on commercialization of what for 100+ years has been library space and leaving as an (ostensible?) afterthought what will become of the stacks?

The NYPL trustees are out of control.  At their meeting reviewing these plans, not one of them questioned the idea of making Map Room and Map Room reading space, library space for over 100 years, into a café, equipped, as a rendering showed, with wait staff and a bar where patrons could sit perusing shelve of (expensive?) wines they might choose.  The only question offered by a trustee about the café was whether the café could be expanded to take over and incorporate some of the outside public Bryant Park space.

Is the goal to appeal to library patrons?  Or is it instead, as it would appear, to appeal to tourists, tourist dollars and an elite who can rent the library out for private parties in the evening?:That’s privatization!  That and the worrisome focus on “exit by the gift shop” design puts commercialization first.

We learned at the second public presentation that although a huge portion of the expense of the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent on the ravaging “renovation” will be spent on an expensive new elevator and staircase, seeming surplusage to the building’s already ample circulation features, the NYPL architects aver they have no idea what this major expenditure will cost either dollar-wise or as an overall percentage of the overall massive expenditures.  That’s startling.  The architects also said rather incredulously that the building’s circulation needs have nothing to do with the plans for the building’s core of central stack or how that space will be used in the future.

Accordingly, it is very far from reassuring that the NYPL and its architects say that they are still absolutely flexible about how the research stacks will be used in the future, preserving the “possibility” that those stack will be returned to their right, true and proper purpose of holding book for fleet and efficient delivery to researchers.

It is also abhorrent that these excessive expenditures are being used as an excuse to sell off SIBL (the 34the Street central destination Science, Industry and Business Library).  How can the City Council condone selling off an closing New York City’s biggest science library when science is under political attack? 

Citizens Defending Libraries has posted a film of the NYPL’s first public presentation that will give you a chance to see Senator Schumer’s wife (NYPL COO Iris Weinshall) promote the plan and cozy up to Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman about it (literally patting him on the back at the board meeting) and a chance to see that the plan was not at all well-received by the public during the ensuing public presentation Q&A. . . .  It is to be remembered that Stephen A. Schwarzman, economic advisor to Donald Trump, is leading an initiative to privatize American public assets with Trump having obtained $20 billion when visiting the Saudis for investment in Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group for that purpose.

Since this plan got presented to the public AFTER the NYPL trustees (w/ Mr. Schwarzman) approved it, along with the budget for it and the commencement of construction, it sort of reeks of a “done deal” insult to injury approach.

The evening when we recently left the NYPL’s second presentation of the 42nd Street plans we couldn’t leave most directly by the library’s front door, but had to wend our way through back corridors to exit because of a candle-lit party going on in the main halls that we were told was a hedgefunders having fun making private use of this theoretically public space. . . .

. . .  Outside on 42nd Street, just a few doors down from the library a mass of demonstrators was congregated outside of the Verizon building protesting the FCC’s impending vote to end net neutrality, another diminishment of our access to information and reduction of the public commons and democratic rights.

We must preserve the primacy of the library’s mission, the free, open and ready access to books and information.


                            Michael D. D. White
                            Citizens Defending Libraries   

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