Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

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

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Planned Overhaul of Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza Library- Another “Central Library Plan” Questionable In All The Same Ways

Presentation of the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library Plan to the real estate committee of Community Board 9 (courtesy of The Movement To Protect The People (MTOPP)
The Brooklyn Public Library is overhauling the Grand Army Plaza Library, by far the biggest library in the Brooklyn system.  This so-called “renovation plan” ensues after the destruction of the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the central destination, downtown Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library, a library that was also an important Federal Depository Library whose function was to make now increasingly scarce and unavailable federal government documents available to the public.

A Brooklyn Central Library Plan Like the NYPL Central Library Plan

The Grand Army Plaza Library overhaul is not newly planned.  Planning goes back to at least 2008 when the BPL hired an architect to create a Master Plan for its Central Library (eliminating books) that was very much like the NYPL’s contemporaneous “Central Library Plan.”  In 2014, in the face of enormous public resistance and opprobrium, which Citizens Defending Libraries helped provide, that other Central Library Plan, the New York Public Library’s “Central Library Plan” was derailed.  The NYPL has nevertheless resurrected aspects of the NYPL “Central Library Plan,” one remnant at a time, while continuing to be careful not to again use the derided “Central Library Plan” name . . .

. . . The BPL is presenting this plan for its own biggest library as its “plan for the Central Library”; That’s easily transposed to simply calling it Brooklyn’s own `Central Library Plan.’*
(*  If you would like another, almost eerie connection linking these two central libraries found in Manhattan and Brooklyn respectively, besides the fact that they are now both going through similar, and similarly-driven "Central Library Plans," try this:  Previously, just before each library was created, the site of that library was the location of a major, incredibly huge reservoir serving the borough, in Manhattan at 42 Street and Brooklyn at Mount Prsopect by Grand Army Plaza.  So each of these libraries found in public parks is more a dapple-ganger of the other than one might immediately suspect.)   
One reason the consolidating shrinkage of the NYPL’s very expensive Central Library Plan, unveiled at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, was so widely opposed was it’s elimination and banishment of books.  The contemporaneously proceeding BPL Central Library Plan also eliminates books and banishes them off-site.  It’s first inaugural phase was the computer and tech oriented (Shelby White and) Leon Levy Information Commons (January 2013).  The “Information Commons” has no books and, located smack dab and center on the first floor, it is what automatically sops up your attention when you enter the Grand Army Central Library.

Most prominently before you when you enter Brooklyn's biggest library: The bookless, tech oriented "Information Commons"
As with all these central library plans what you see reflected in them is what might be described a slow drift away from what libraries have traditionally been towards something increasingly bookless, something that is also increasingly commercial and corporate in theme, and thus less democratic in insidious ways; something less substantive, that’s more superficial.  It is not really a “drift” so much, as it is a steady pull or tug by those who are now library administration officials.  The changes may seem slow, particularly if your visits to the libraries are not so frequent or closely observed, but the change is not as slow as it seems.  It seems slower, however, because the language used to present these plans generally obscures where library officials intend to go with them.  Their language also obscures memory of the ways in which libraries have succeeded in the past.

Presentation of the Brooklyn Central Library Plan to Community Board 9 land Use Committee- Conflicts of Interest

On April 10, 2018, the BPL’s Central Library Plan was presented to the Brooklyn Community Board 9's Land use Committee for approval.  The suspicious handling it got at that community board meeting deserves scrutiny.  It came before the board without warning or fanfare.  We have the community activist organization The Movement To Protect The People (MTOPP) led by Alicia Boyd to thank for letting us know what went down that evening.  You can watch the entire presentation in two segments via video MTOPP has posted:
Community Board 9 Land Use committee meeting on April 10, 2018 Part 1

Community Board 9 ULURP committee meeting April 10, 2018 Part 2
Along with the videos, Ms. Boyd sent her MTOPP mailing list an outraged description of what unfolded at the meeting.

One of the biggest headlines about this CB9 Land Use Committee library plan presentation was an abject failure of proper process; one that is hard to dismiss as unintentional.  The meeting was chaired by Michael Liburd, the Land Use committee’s usual chair.  (For those of you who do not know Community Boards of New York City, think of the Land Use Committee as the Community Board’s committee for handling real estate development.  Also know that for political reasons, the composition of these land use committees and their leadership tend to reflect friendliness to development.)

Near the end of the CB9 Land Use Committee meeting Michael Liburd says “thank you very much library folks” as if these presenters were somehow separate from him; on the contrary, what he doesn’t say is that he is a trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library, a member of the board to whom the “folks” must report and are accountable to.  If you don’t believe it without seeing it with your own eyes come to a Brooklyn Public Library Trustees meeting and watch these same presenting  “folks” deferentially report to Liburd and the other trustees.  In other words, Liburd personifies the BPL too; he is one of these “library folks.”

This is a particular concern in terms of what then happens immediately afterward—  Liburd tells the Land Use Committee that he is interested in giving “these folks” (he uses that term yet again) “what they are looking for.”  There was no quorum of the land use committee (a problem in and of itself), but then Liburd has the committee members who are present vote their approval of the proposed plan, himself leading off the vote with his own raised hand voting approval.  This failure to disclose important underlying relationships is despite the fact that BPL's press release telling the public about the renovation says: "Library staff is committed to open communication throughout the construction process."

There is another layer of seeming conflict with the community's interest in that Liburd, often criticized by the community for pushing real estate development plans, has apparently been positioned as the head of the CB9 Land Use Committee in order to do so more effectively.  His function as a pro-real estate development operative pits him against the interests of the public if the priority of a board overseeing the libraries should be the provision of library services, not real estate developments.

Another question to ask: If what is being done to Brooklyn’s now most important library is truly about what libraries actually are supposed to be, then why was the presentation to CB 9's real estate oriented Land Use Committee?  It could have been instead to (or also to) the CB9 Education Committee (“responsible for advocating for the educational needs of the district”), its Parks, Recreation and Culture Committee (if it has responsibilities for “Culture”), its Health and Social Services Committee (“addresses the district’s needs for social services”), or its Youth Services Committee (“responsible for . . youth services needs assessments, and . . filling any gaps in services provided for young people.”)?  (The BPL presenter said "We want to talk to everybody we can about this project.")

And should this presentation be limited to Community Board 9, just one community board in Brooklyn?  At over 350,000 square feet, this biggest library in the Brooklyn system that has about 1 million square feet of library space, comprises about one third of all the public library space in Brooklyn.  What happens to it should be of concern to all Brooklynites and to all New Yorkers.   The now leveled central destination Business, Career and Education Library that was in Brooklyn's Downtown Central Business District easily reached by almost all New Yorkers was 63,000 square feet.

Conflicts of Interest at the Board Level, Including Newest Trustee Working For The Real Estate Development Mayor

For those who don’t think they understand how conflicts of interests like Liburd’s (or those of the others of the member’s of the BPL board) can be a problem, consider how Liburd chose to pitch his request for the vote to the Land Use committee and public attending the Meeting: In essence he was saying, “you may know me as the head of the Land Use Committee and you may have pegged me as someone who likes to promote development, but these here are `library folks,’ not like me– You can trust them to be caring about libraries, not development priorities.”
Unfortunately, if you look at the board of the BPL and its other members besides Mr. Liburd you find a rogues gallery of people whose first and foremost priorities are likely to be in conflict with the public getting the best possible libraries.  Most commonly those conflicts are by virtue of the interest those BPL board members have in Real Estate development.

Carolee Fink
Just Seven days after the Liburd CB9 BPL Central Library Plan Presentation, Mayor de Blasio’s newest appointment to BPL board attended her first board meeting with Mr. Liburd.  The name of that new appointee is Carolee Fink.  Ms. Fink is Chief of Staff to Alicia Glen.  Alicia Glen, who joined the de Blasio administration coming from Goldman Sachs (there are a lot of connections of BPL board members to Goldman Sachs), is Mayor de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor in charge of real estate development.  See:  New Brooklyn Public Library Trustees- Can You Imagine?; One of Them Is Carolee Fink, Chief of Staff to Alicia Glen (formerly of Goldman), DeBlasio’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development.

When the BPL sold the central destination downtown Brooklyn Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library that real estate deal (investigated for pay-to-play) was pushed through at City Hall by Alicia Glen.  In December 2015 when BPL president Linda Johnson told the BPL board of trustees how the sale of that library sale went down (it’s a shrink-and-sink deal replacing the central destination library with a luxury tower), Johnson told the BPL board of trustees that Ms. Glen had adopted the library sale and shrinkage deal as “her own” to “push it across the finish line.”  The secretive final negotiations at City Hall included raiding Department of Education funds for space in the luxury building to help the developer.

Moreover, the trustees were told that this sale was a “huge turning point for the library system” and “across the city in general” with Johnson `pioneering’ the future of libraries.  And previously Ms. Johnson had told the city council that the shrink-and-sink sale would be a model for all three of the city’s library systems.

Introducing Ms. Fink to the other BPL board members, Ms. Johnson told them that Ms. Fink “loves libraries.”  Maybe so, but in just what manner of speaking does Ms. Fink love libraries?  For their libraryness?

When "Loving Libraries" Is Nothing But Satire

Although those trustees and administrators now in charge of the libraries increasingly see them in real estate development terms, they do not want the public to know that.  Hence the need to carefully parse what is behind their actual words.  On April 1st Noticing New York did an April Fools satire about the PR the BPL was breaking out for its Central Library Plan: Reimagining Our Library Spaces: Where Once There Were Books There Will Now Be “Maker Rooms” To Be Named Appropriately After A Famous Hedge Funder and Presidential Candidate.  The satire did not have to stray very far from actual facts in its lambasting of the kind of library administration double talk that requires incredible vigilance from any listener.

One thing that helps when listening to current library administration officials telling us about plans for the libraries is to let what we know other library plans inform our intuition about what we should be alert for: For instance, the former NYPL Central Library Plan and now, in the wake of its derailment, the NYPL plans for the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the Mid-Manhattan Library and the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL).

The presentation to the CB 9 Land Use Committee began by telling those present that the Grand Army Plaza Library "has challenges" because it “opened in 1941" and "hasn't seen much comprehensive improvement since that time."  That disingenuously seems intended to make the library seem like an old library in need of an expensive overhaul.  The presentation did not say that the library was actually not actually completed until 1955 (a substantial public commitment, the library took almost sixty years to put in place beginning back in 1898), or that it was expanded in the 1990s and again in 2005.  After that last expansion (back in the days when libraries were still expected by everybody to have books) the library was still not sufficiently large to house the Education Library, which had to be moved to the Brooklyn Heights downtown Brooklyn central destination library. (Because the Heights library is now destroyed, the Education Library has theoretically come back to Grand Army Plaza.)   The Land Use committee was also not told that the Brooklyn CPL, as previously defined, was already underway with the opening of the Leon Levy Information Commons in January of 2013, done with at least a $3.25 million expenditure that replaced the library's media section. Additionally, according to the BPL‘s minutes, it cost $5 million to jettison the books (February 23, 2010 BPL minutes), not the $3.25 million figure given by the Times, which lower figure in the Times, was the amount of Leon Levy Foundation gift money paying for this.  One figure the Times gave doesn’t include, for instance, is the $1,334.764 that came from Albany by virtue of taxpayer largess (June 15, 2010 BPL minutes).

The Land Use Committee was told that the library was not getting rid of books.  This despite the fact that New York Times article about it said that plan called for, among other things, getting rid of “two levels of old-fashioned `stacks’” describing these shelves to hold books as “unused space that Ms. Johnson wants to repurpose.”   This is the kind of deceptive description of what is going on that listeners need to be alert for.  It also says something about how administrators proceed.  If library administration officials remove books from the shelves before they tell the public about subsequently revealed physical changes they intend to make to the libraries then they can say then, they are not getting rid of books.  If the stacks have already been denuded of the books they were built to hold then the space that they occupy can be derisively referred to as “unused.”
Pictures Citizens Defending Libraries posted in 2016 showing shelves at the Grand Army Plaza Library were already extensively emptied as of that spring.
Pictures Citizens Defending Libraries posted in 2016 show that shelves at the Grand Army Plaza Library were already extensively emptied by the spring of that year.  These empty and thus “unused” shelves were in public areas like the Grand Army Plaza Library’s history section, but the Times article referred to elimination of other book shelving stacks the public doesn’t even see and thus, with the books they held, would not be as automatically conscious of.  These empty shelves were despite and don’t take into account all the books that disappeared from the Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library, including the Federal Depository included there that disappeared with it.  The layers of forgetting are being lathered on . . .

In his book “Dismantling the Public Sphere- Situating and Sustaining Librarianship In the Age of the New Public Philosophy,” John E. Buschman, complaining about some of the objectionable things that befell libraries after 9/11, noted that, in addition to some of the surveillance undertaken at libraries, “librarians have been ordered by the federal government to purge government documents items from their collections.”   Early in the book, Buschman noted that in 1984 “the Federal Depository Library program was seriously curtailed” and that “between 1982 and 1985, about four thousand government documents were eliminated— among them titles like `Statistical Reporter’ and `Health Care Financing trends.’” Nevertheless, in 1993 the Brooklyn Heights Federal Depository library needed to be expanded in 1993.

When the BPL closed the Brooklyn Heights Library, it promised that the once very substantial Business and Career Library that functioned within it (not, however, the “Education” portion) would be reopened at Grand Army Plaza.   Technically, this was a consolidating shrinkage.  What the BPL opened immediately at Grand Army Plaza was a pathetically small room of books hidden at the end of a narrow wending hall that it called the Business and Career Library while promising at the time, with supplied visuals, a bigger and glitzier “Business and Career Library” via future remodeling of some other Grand Army Plaza space.
In a hidden room the remains of a Business, Career and Education Library that was also a Federal Depository Library
What they were then destroying in 2016 was called a “Business and Career Library (emphasis supplied) and so that losses would perhaps be less noticed, what they in 2016 provided in the interim and promised to provide in improved form in the future was a “Business and Career Library.” The word used was Library.”  Now in 2018 as the BPL promotes the overhaul at Grand Army Plaza the terminology has shifted and the public is being told that what it will be getting with the overhaul is a “Business Career Center,”(emphasis supplied) a “center” not a library.  These shifts in terminology are important, insidiously implying that libraries don’t have value and must be replaced with facilities described with other terms, most likely those sounding more potentially more worshipful or respectful of technology and sometimes real estate.

Although Buschman was writing his “Dismantling the Public Sphere,” in 2003, before some of the worst NYC library plans would first see the light of day, he was already picking up the way even library schools were starting to eschew honoring graduates with the title of “librarian” or referring to collections of books; library schools were instead becoming “schools of information” and the schools were coming up with descriptors for graduates like “information professional,” “information manager,” “knowledge specialists.”  In New York we had also stopped referring to those in charge of libraries as head librarians, substituting the real estate term “project manager.”  As
Buschman points out these terms, increasingly general and abstract tend to lose their meaning.  What is the difference between a bookless "Information Commons" that encourages business meetings and a bookless "Business and Career Center?"  Probably not much: The BPL told the Community Board that two spaces would on top of each other and would "work together." 

Indeed, the new image of what is now proposed to be the “Business Career Centeris now supposed to look like is unabashedly devoid of books.  Sterile and white, rather like a makeshift low-budget hospital cafeteria I suspect that most people will find the image unappealing and lacking in imagination.

Don't call it a "library", call it a "Business and Career Center"
It feels like a bait and switch: As noted, called a "center" now, not "library" it's not the same name given for this 'replacement' as when the Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library was being sold to a developer and it's not the same name rendering supplied at that time either.  One must wonder if the budget has changed.  Perhaps it's not the budget for building what the public might actually get someday (who knows if there were actual designs to price that out back when the Heights library was being destroyed); Maybe it's just the budget available for making attractive renderings.  When approval of a developer's development proposal is at stake gobs of money get spent on persuasive PR and renderings, but now the David Kramer Hudson Companies proposal is in the bag and the Heights library leveled, a hole in the ground.  Does the budget for renderings therefore go down now?
A better "library" or a better "rendering"?: The previous "conceptual rendering" of the "Business Career Library" offered in 2017.  Does it seem to have more books, or is it just that you can't tell because the elevators and stairs are featured so prominently instead?
How do you tout bleak, empty spaces as beneficial to the public and distract from mention of their unlibrarylike booklessness?:  Dutifully picking up, without question, from the Monday, March 26, 2018 BPL press release announcing the latest iteration of these plans the Brooklyn Eagle article about them quotes Linda Johnson as saying that with the overhaul of the library the public will get, not a `library,' but the “inspiring, flexible space” the public `richly deserves.’  That's right, the empty bookless space that Johnson thinks the public deserves is “inspiring, flexible space.”
The "so cool, so cool" Leon Levy Information Commons space- Immediately usable to hold your wedding!

"Flexible space" means that once was once "library" space dedicated to such uses can be diverted to other uses.  The "so cool, so cool" Leon Levy Information Commons space be easily used to host a wedding (with the BPL swiftly contacting the press to promote it). (See:  Public Spaces- At Brooklyn Library's New Center, Books Are Secondary, by Eli Rosenberg, May 9, 2013.) The BPL, just like the NYPL, has a whole program now set up devoted commercially renting its spaces to host events; Weddings are a featured subcategory— That's if you are among those luck enough to be able to afford them.  One problem is that this can dictate that the library sometimes closes for special events, evicting those who want to use actual library services and making library hours unpredictable.

Another rendering of“inspiring, flexible space,” a virtual empty dance floor devoid of books that the BPL intends to create out of library space in its plan, is what the BPL is now calling its "Civic Commons" . . . a "first-of-its-kind."
"Civic Commons"?
The Noticing New York April 1st satire about the BPL's plans spoke in jest about how the BPL supposedly saying it was creating the neo-commons that makes sense today.”  How far away from this satire will the "Civic Commons" be?   The BPL says that it intends to make use of this space with "partners."   One day we may find out who those "Civic Commons" partners actually wind up being as they materialize, but it doesn't bode well that some of the first "partnering" the BPL started off with when going down this road was real estate developer Forest City Ratner and partnering with the Nets basketball team.  That's what Ms. Johnson told her board of trustees at the December 2013 board meeting just months before the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" arena for the Nest was to open.  Indeed, afterward tents were set up taking over the plaza space fronting the Grand Army Plaza library to promote the Nets to children.

That the BPL's future be structured to involve “alliance and partnerships” was recommended in a suspiciously produced “Community Needs Assessment” that finally saw the light of day at the Trustee level in the fall of 2009.  The same “Community Needs Assessment” said that BPL should be engaged in "support for economic development."  Don't such "partnerships," especially when they are commercially oriented, together with the support of economic development compromise the mission of the library and subtract from public sphere?. . .

John Buschman has another question in this regard: He asks if libraries are not providing an alternative model, are not serving democratic ideals, "What public purpose is served by public funding of" projects that "are imitative of the private sector?  What right do we have to public funding to compete with [other?] businesses.  Perhaps more importantly, does society need another model of media-dominated, entertainment oriented consumerism in its public institutions?" 

Buschman suggests that key to attaining the equilibrium whereby libraries will provide a democratic public sphere is to avoid the "'steering mechanisms' of money and power (i.e. corporate-dominated mass media)." 

Here is what might happen to the "Civic Commons" or some other of the library space being converted through possible future "partnering."  Along with a lot of other commercializing changes, The NYPL is currently proposing to convert the Map Room and map reading space at its fabled 42nd Street Central Reference Library into an apparently fancy wine-serving wait staff-equipped café.  Rather than being alarmed by this proposal when it was presented to them NYPL trustees wanted to make sure officials were considering expanding and opening up the café to absorb some of Bryant Park’s public space. That was something apparently part of their out-of-public-sight discussions. . . .

Parts of the BPL's plan would readily facilitate a Brooklyn version of this: a new restaurant space within the library building that could open up into and include outdoor café space in a public park.  The BPL intends to convert parking space now behind the library into green space.  That green space abuts Mount Prospect Park, a public park which sits between the library and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Mount Prospect Park includes the promontory that is the second highest point in Brooklyn; the highest point in Brooklyn is Battle Hill in Greenwood Cemetery.  Explaining what was intended, the BPL spokesperson said that it was hoped the park's boundary with the BPL's space 'seamless.'  The BPL press release says, "to connect the branch with Mount Prospect Park to create a Central Brooklyn green campus that includes the library, park and Botanical Gardens."

The BPL spokesperson said this plan to “dramatically open up the exterior of the library” was what “gets the Oohs and Ahs.”

Right now Mount Prospect Park, closed on all other sides, can only be entered from Eastern Parkway. To the Park's East side, there is the boundary around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where visitors must pay a fee to enter, a fee which, after 85 years of being free, the Garden started charging in 1996. That fee was originally $3.00 if you weren't a student or senior, but, significantly outpacing inflation, it's now up to $15.00.

Where it not for the heavily trafficked Flatbush Avenue and the fences that close both of them off, Mount Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden would be extensions of Prospect Park.  The creation of connections that would allow people to, by walking behind the library, go from Flatbush Avenue through Mount Prospect Park all the way to Eastern Parkway arguably could be a good thing; Jane Jacobs in her precepts generally praises the multiplication of connections in cities.  Still, there should probably be some wariness about for whose benefit these changes are being launched intending and whether they are intended to serve a gentrifying impulse.

At the same time that the BPL is creating the "Civic Commons" and adding the green space outside, it is asking for Landmarks Commission approval to add a new door on the Flatbush side of the building to access the "Commons."  Although that could be convenient for some patrons, it would also allow for that portion of the building to be accessed separately from the rest of the building and perhaps shut off from it to maintain separate hours.  The proposed door, no image of which was circulated by the BPL with its press release, was shown to Community Board 9, presumably so Landmarks could be told they had seen it.  The board was told the door along with new windows would make the building look less "scary."
A new door and windows will be less "scary"?

For some reason the BPL with its press release included an image of new staircase and seating area looking rather like the reception area of a midtown law firm (minus a magazine table).  
A staircase you can sit under to watch people ascend and descend!
Although the Central Library Plan involves all this bookless space in the images above, the first picture slide that was actually shown to the land use committee was the one slide that showed them the most books. In fact, the committee was told that BPL wanted to have the library to feel more like a library when someone walked in the front door;  “When you walk into the library it doesn’t feel much like a library”(i.e. You don’t see any books), said the BPL's presenter.  (That's partly, as noted, because the smack-dab-in-the-middle "Information Commons" — soon visually to be essentially two stories when  — is presented as the most prominent feature.)  So the BPL says it is proposing to “pull the library experience forward” by “repositioning” the “Popular Library” near the entrance.  The “Popular Library” according to the presenter is currently it’s a lot of “magazines and a lot of comic books,” but he said to generate that book experience the BPL plans to "reformat" the Popular Library to make it more “book focused” “so that just as you walk in the front door you” by turning you head will “see the popular library off to the right.”

New York City libraries have been focusing on the popular and the new designs for them tend to include "grab and go" book desks by the front doors of the redesigned libraries to streamline visitor interactions with the libraries to efficiently brief interactions that supply the patron with what they probably think they already want when they walk in the door.

Pushing a superficial focus on the currently popular has a lot in common with the how media obsessions with junk food news stories (Jonbenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy or runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks) can take over the 24/7 news cycle of outlets like CNN, corporate commercialism thus hijacking, en mass, public attention away from deeper exploration of probably more relevant news. Even obsessions with supposedly “serious” news like Russiagate can effect that kind of hijacking.  And should we all be steered into reading exactly the same books as suggested by a new Mayoral NYC subway promoted ad campaign “Let's get everyone in New York on the same page— NYC.gov/onebook #OneBookNY.”  (The NYC library systems are participating in this campaign.) Doesn't this crowd control of having everyone reading the same few books at the same time thwart discovery shunting the exploratory wandering of individual imaginations into more predicable mainstream channels while exacerbating that fabled race to the down to “the lowest common denominator”? . . .

. . . Does it also remind you of how "teaching to the test" has turned over to the monopoly of a few testing corporations the job of determining how everyone should be educated no matter where they live or what communities they are parts of?
In the subway, the NYC-promoted campaign“Let's get everyone in New York on the same page— NYC.gov/onebook #OneBookNY.” (click to enlarge)
In “Dismantling the Public Sphere” Buschman (p. 121) writes that essentially the idea of a consumerish “give ‘em what they want” focus of librarianship, putting up “a large number of `hot’ items on the shelf to compete with bookstore chains” and quantifying the value of a library only through popularity ignores “merit or lasting value” in curating selections.  While not arguing that libraries should be unresponsive to the public, Buschman says that “customer-driven librarianship abandons a number of public sphere roles.”  “The first of these,” he says, is “our role in organized social memory and rational discourse in a democracy.”  He says that the consumer driven fixation on “exclusively what is popular at the moment” by definition “abandons the public sphere goal of a plurality of ‘voices’ and viewpoints on anything not ‘hot’ to a present or future reader.”  He reminds us that “there is a reason some services are in the public sector; their value is very real but difficult to measure and requires a different kind of judgement and management.”

In a democracy where we can get our information and where we get out news is important.

There was one slide the committee was shown that was not one of those it distributed with its press release about its central library plan:  The BPL says that early on they want to implement “a concept” of a “teen center” they say they will work out after they have talked with some teens.  Is this sort of "been there-done that"?:  May 4, 2000, with a $2.5 million "renovation and expansion of the Eastern Parkway wing" completion, the "new Youth Wing" officially opened that had "exclusively designed areas for children and teens."

Getting Rid of Books Is Expensive

At a time when the BPL claims a desperate shortage of capital funds is hobbling its entire system, these book-eliminating Central Library Plan changes will not come cheap.  Now, at the starting point the BPL is projecting, without actual plans to cost everything out, the total project costs will be $135 million, but over the at least eight years execution of the plans if now expected to take it is more likely to exceed $200 million.  When the NYPL first promoted its original plans for its own Central Library Plan they promote the plan as expected to cost $300 million for the consolidated shrinkage that would eliminate space, bookshelves and books; We never found out how much more those plans would actually cost, only that they would cost more than half a billion dollars ($500 million+).

John Buschman in his book looks skeptically at how promoting a "crisis culture" in libraries is used to put libraries on the defensive while pushing them into ill thought out responses.   The suspect tales of how we are supposedly no longer able to afford our libraries sure fit within that mold.

Buschman also makes the case (p. 149) that there is an extreme imbalance that allows those hyping "technology"  to speak with a louder voice during decision making about our libraries; that when librarians shop for any traditional library resources that are somewhat expensive they "will professionally and critically evaluate the resource against their needs and weigh costs," but "when an electronic resource costing multiples" of those amounts are considered "critical facilities seem to go out the window," the focus becoming presentation and style, while "the authority and efficacy of the product" is just assumed because there is no real way to evaluate it.  This is the way that technology that will readily be outdated in just a few years gets substituted for the time-tested curation of books and human history of the centuries.

Meanwhile, where are the books going?  Not so very, very long ago, New York Magazine put the number of books at the Grand Army Plaza library at 1.5 million.  The Business, Career and Education Federal depository library previously in Brooklyn Heights and now leveled once had at least another 130,000 books.

Getting Your Head Around The Idea of a Commons 
As they were waiting for a quorum, before the BPL’s April 10th meeting officially began BPL president Linda Johnson told some of the BPL trustees that she had just returned from a trip to Cuba.  Explaining what it was like, Johnson said about the island that “it was hard to get your head around, but the people are very nice.”

“Hard to get your head around”?— Cuba is a country organized insistently around the idea of much more extensively shared public commons and mutual support.  Among other things it’s been observed how that means delivery of better health care than in the United States.  It also means that after Cuba was one of the islands hardest hit by Hurricane Irma in September, Cuba, “a world leader in hurricane preparedness and recovery” suffered minimal loss of life and, within days provided aid to its neighbors sending “more than 750 health workers to Antigua, Barbuda, Saint Kitts, Nevis, Saint Lucia, the Bahamas, Dominica and Haiti.”

By contrast, Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico just a few days later that month and six months later, under the auspices of our capitalist country, tarps had still not been provided to cover leaking and wrecked roofs and all sorts of other basic relief lags.  The New York Times was willing to blame bungling on its front page (subsequently suppressing the word, not the concept, from its internet article), but that ignores how this “bungling” furthers plans for privatization of the island of Puerto Rico that were afoot before the storm hit and how, there has been a subsequent  “disaster capitalism” intensification of the machinations to privatize the island of Puerto Rico, chase out its current inhabitants and make it a tax-haven paradise for the likes of cryptocurrency adventurists. 

What was Linda Johnson doing in Cuba?  Theoretically, as head of the Brooklyn public library system, she is herself is in charge of caretaking one of the biggest most important commons in the city of New York.  Officially, the Trump administration is now trying to dissuade Americans from the more frequent visits to Cuba that began with policies the Obama administration made.  Johnson went to Cuba just before April 17th, the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. sponsored invasion of Cuba, chosen as the day for Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel, to step down from power.  What changes are expected; hoped for?  Who hopes to be in on them?

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments on an island closer to Brooklyn.  When Governor’s Island was transferred from the U.S. government to New York City there was a covenant that housing on the island was prohibited.  Since the military left and the subsequent transfer, people haven’t been sleeping on the island; everyone gets ushered off at the end of the day. . . But now, although the word is being avoided, "glamping" is coming to Governor’s Island via a company that specializes in it.  What is "glamping"?: It is `camping' for the glamour set.  "Luxury tents that come equipped with chandeliers  . .  start at $500."

April BPL Trustees Meeting

At the April board meeting, Linda Johnson told the trustees that the Brooklyn Central Library Plan "is underway" and that "all of the planning is being done so we have actually just one big construction project that goes over a significant period of time" saying the BPL wanted to "seemlessly move from one phase to the next."  She said that the BPL was thinking of the phases from a "development standpoint," because they are "concerned about raising the money needed as `public-private partnership.'"  She said that come next January people using the library are going to need to understand that use of the library is going to be "compromised" for a time because "things are going to be tight around here."

At the April board meeting, the trustees were told that the demand for physical books at the library was not diminishing, not being reduced by any continuing shift over to the more expensive digital books library administration officials years have been pushing after introducing many years ago: Digital books steadily remain at a continually low, essentially flat, 7%, with circulation of physical books for the year at 13 million, and the more expensive, more evanescent, typically just "rented" digital books being pushed by the library at only 1 million.  Nevertheless, Johnson's focus was to emphasize to her board that there had been an incremental increase to that low 7% figure this year (about 1%).

Elected Officials?

 Can we expect help from our New York City elected officials? . . .

The BPL press release includes the statement of New York City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo that she is "proud to join in support of the four-phase renovation" and what it will mean in terms of the ability of "future generations" to access the "vast resources" of the library.  Other statements showing a lack of appreciation for the very worrisome aspects of the BPL's plans were furnished in the press release from United States Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, New York State Senator Kevin Parker, Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley.

1 comment:

  1. This is just horrifying. Similar changes are afoot at the branches, with plans to remove historic stack shelving in the Carnegie branches.