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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

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 (with whom he is now doing many, many troublesome deals.)

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.
For complete information go back to our Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page (or to read through all the content of our Main Page in LONG FORM CLICK)

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