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, June 5, 2018

Irony: Manhattan’s Newest “Library Of The Future” Will Be Named The “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library,” But A “Librarian Of The Future,” Personified By Edward G. Robinson In His Last Role Says Niarchos Acted “Miserably”

Edward G. Robinson playing a librarian of the future in his last role had stern and unappreciative things to say about Stavros Niarchos after whom the NYPL will name its newest "Library of the Future"
Perhaps you have picked up on this point already: What was once the Mid-Manhattan Library is undergoing going changes now, and it will be relaunched under a new name the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.”  But is this “SNFL” rechristening of the library to name it after the Greek shipping millionaire fortuitous? . . .

The NYPL is promoting the book-eliminating changes at the Mid-Manhattan Library, a consolidating shrinkage that will simultaneously eliminate New York’s biggest science library (which will be turned into a comic book focused “Pop-Culture Museum” by another ship-owning multi-billionaire) as a “Library of the Future.”  There is, however, one thing that may inconveniently haunt that “future”: It’s a “Librarian of the Future” who says the Greek shipping magnate Niarchos “acted very miserably” towards him. 

We are speaking of Edward G. Robinson who played a librarian of the future, a “book,” in the science fiction, future dystopia film “Soylen Green.”  Robinson’s role as a future librarian was famously the last role he ever played shortly before dying: He died January 26, 1973 just 12 days after the filming.  Robinson’s remarks about Niarchos were published in the New York Times shortly before his death, November 5, 1972, in an interview about his life that he gave to promote the film: Little Caesar' Is Still Punching, by Charles Higham.

It’s an interview well worth reading.  You’ll find yourself feeling for the elderly Robinson who had suffered and was feeling the effects of a number of tribulations at the end of his life, including having battling with the House Committee on Un-American Activities when his blacklisting meant he was suddenly deprived of any opportunities to work in the early 1950s.

In the interview Robinson describes the Soylent Green film:
“Soylent Green’ is, I believe, an important picture, a harrowing projection of our existence 50 years from now. It shows very clearly what may well become of us if we don't look out. It is set in Manhattan, a city of 40 million people living miserably and horribly in a depersonalized Orwellian state.
Made in 1972 and released in 1973, the film looked forward to what was then decades away, the year 2022, a year we are now actually about to arrive at.  Whatever people will tell you about when we truly first knew about the dangers of greenhouse emissions and global warming, the film presciently explains that in its version of 2022 “greenhouse effect” has created a stiflingly warm world climate, “A heat wave all year round” where “everything’s burning up.”  The world ecosystems have collapsed and people are starving because food production is minimal.

In this Manhattan of the future, wealth inequality is extremely accentuated, with the wealthy living apart in tall luxury towers protected by extra security.  They treat the common folk of the world as disposable and, with a sort of Harvey Weinstein sort of callousness, apartments come optionally with attractive and usable young women referred to as “furniture.”  The wealthy of this world are more likely than not connected with a few conglomerate mega-corporations, which, if you look behind the scenes, are in control of and virtually indistinguishable from the government that's in charge.  The highest government official wears a military style jacket.  The public is helpless and uninformed.

If you want to know anything, if you want to have any hope of piecing together any part of the big picture to understand matters in context, things that might otherwise never be fully understood or investigated in this world of the future, then books are important . . .
Edward G. Robinson, the future's librarian, a "book"
. . . That’s where the character played by Edward G. Robinson comes in.  He is the one who has access to books and who does critical research to understand the world better.  In the future slang of the movie’s invention he is known as “a book,” but that slang term is essentially the term for the librarians still functioning in that future. The Sol Roth character played by Robinson has his own personal library of books in his shared apartment.  To extend the utility of that small collection he periodically meets with other “books” (other librarians of the future) to exchange books and their knowledge of them as part of a more effectively functioning commons.  A key point plot in terms of learning the landscape of power behind what's unfolding is a banned corporate book that reveals what the powerful corporate elite knew, but weren’t sharing about the escalating waste of the world’s environment.  The frail and elderly Roth is also a touchstone in that he remembers distinctly the once robust natural world of plenty that has vanished.
A key censored book: what the powerful corporate elite knew, but weren’t sharing about the escalating waste of the world’s environment.

Roth, “the book,” lives with and is a symbiotically functioning sidekick assisting the film’s main protagonist, a police detective played by Charlton Heston.

Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in the film
A major set-piece in the film that sets up the film’s climax is the ceremonially orchestrated death that Robinson’s Sol Roth chooses for himself.  The scene was filmed just days before Edward G. Robinson’s own actual death and, to add the ultimate pathos, Robinson reportedly waited to tell Charlton Heston  (and only Heston) that his doctor had told him he was actually about to die until just before the cameras rolled.  And this reportedly affected Heston’s performance.

Edward G. Robinson’s gripe with Stavros Niarchos, laid out fully in the Times interview, involves how  Robinson lost $3 million worth of paintings in a divorce suit.  Robinson had been an avid art collector.  Then, when he was still financially weakened in the wake of his recent blacklisting, he was forced to sell much of his collection.  He sold to Niarchos who later was unwilling to sell back paintings that Robinson was most personally attached to:
    . . .  in order to comply with the California community property laws in his divorce from the former actress Gladys Lloyd, whom he had married in 1927, he had to sell more than half his superb collection, started in 1933, of masterpieces of art. “It was so brutal—the worst ordeal I ever went through. I went to everyone I could think of—rich men who had an affinity for art—Winthrop Rockefeller, Bobby Lehman, Kirkeby out hereto try to arrange for a loan to pay off the estimated worth of half the paintings, but these men played games with me; they only agreed to help provided I would sell them four or five of the paintings for little or no money. And so I said, ‘No deal.’

    “My wife had been very ill, and it proved impossible to reach any kind of sane agreement with her. I had no real estate, very few stocks, nothing else could sell. I had put my money, my whole life's blood, into paintings. Finally, some dealers took the paintings for over three million on behalf of Niarchos, the Greek shipping millionaire. He acted very miserably in the whole matter. He wouldn't let me buy back what I wanted when I finally got the money. Just a few things he condescended to part with, crumbs from the master's table. It was horrible.

    “The worst blow of all was losing Rouault's ‘The Old Clown.’ It was the king of my collection, I used to call him ‘Everyman’ The symbol of man's inhumanity to man. After that divorce suit, I realized just what the phrase inhumanity to man’ really meant.”

    Robinson's eyes clouded over with tears. “As for the remainder of the pictures, I don't know what I'll do with them. For years selected groups, classes, have come to see them. I have never closed them off from the public. You don't own any painting, you pay for the privilege of being a custodian. But I don't like the idea of them ending up in a museum. It's like putting a beautiful dead man or woman in morgue. Last December, I was in the Prado and I was horrified: the paintings there are badly hung, badly lit, you can't see the details. And it's supposed to be a foremost tourist attraction of Spain. No, I don't want to leave these lovely things to a museum, although I suppose inevitably they will end up there. What will I do with them otherwise? I don't know. I don't know.”

George Rouault's "Le Vieux Clown" or "The Old Clown." 
"The symbol of man's inhumanity to man."  -
"It was horrible. . .  I realized just what the phrase inhumanity to man’ really meant.”

Monday, June 4, 2018

Wall Street Journal Reveals Fate Of SIBL, The City’s Biggest Science Library: Super-Wealthy Paul Allen Will Turn It Into “Pop-Culture Museum.”

The "Thing" that will take over NYC's biggest science library
The Wall Street Journal just revealed the currently intended fate of the SIBL, the NYPL’s Science, Industry and Business Library and the city’s biggest Science Library.  Paul Allen, one of the very richest of the world’s multi-billionaires wants to turn it into a “Pop-Culture Museum.”
Allen intends it to be another edition of Allen’s Seattle-based Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPOP where, according to the Journal: “Current exhibits focus on everything from Marvel comics to horror films to the rock band Nirvana.”  (See: Pop-Culture Museum Eyes a Second Home— Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is gearing up to take over a 100,000-square-foot space in the old B. Altman building, By Charles Passy, June 1, 2018.)

An obvious observation the Wall Street Journal article doesn’t offer: A science library, an institution fundamental to a functioning democracy is being destroyed.  This is being done at a time when science itself is under attack by those who are synchronistically interested in crippling democracy.  Yes, the disappearing science library is being replaced by what is called and may actually qualify as a “museum” (it’s being run as a “nonprofit’), but how readily can you differentiate a pop-culture museum like this from straight-out advertising, a further building up the brands owned by the huge media mega-consortiums of which Disney, owning the Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Muppets brands, is just a fractional part?

Museum web page or advertisement for Marvel's Universe of Super Heros?  Or both?
While this time its being done though an out-and-out sale of the property, shifts that make library space into space that is more commercially supportive way of pop-culture is consistent with what is being done to library space even when it isn’t being sold: The NYPL’s 42nd Street Central Reference Library is being commercialized with book-eliminating wine-cafĂ© and exit-through-the gift shop, “renovations” and with similar changes, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Grand Army Plaza Library (one-third of all the library space in Brooklyn) is eliminating books, while the book appearance veneer the BPL management plans to dress up the plan involves moving its “popular library” out where it can be better seen.  The BPL says that for the sake of these appearances it will make its “popular library” more book focused and less comic book focused than it currently is. . . . There are those comic books again!

The Wall Street Journal article debates whether the new museum will fill a void:
While New York City doesn't have a directly comparable facility to the Museum of Pop Culture, the subject is covered in part by a host of institutions, said Mark Walhimer, a museum consultant based in the city. In particular, he pointed to the Museum of the Moving Image, located in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens.
Yes, if you wanted to see the Star Wars exhibit you had to go to the Brooklyn Museum, where you can now purchase $2,500 tickets if you want to see the David Bowie exhibit on a private basis.  As fun as these exhibits might be, it still raises questions: Are our museums, like our libraries, becoming too commercial?

It’s amazing how Paul Allen’s purchase and the impending demise of the city’s biggest science library has so heretofore been essentially unreported by the press, both local New York City press and National media, unless you want to consider Noticing New York’s reporting: As NYPL Senior Execs Present Pretty Pictures To City Council Of Expensive Mid-Manhattan Do-Over Renovation They Neglect To Mention One Thing: Rush To Immediately Sell SIBL (at a suspiciously low price?) To Very Interesting Buyer, January 11, 2017.

It’s amazing because Paul Allen is such an eccentric and interesting multi-billionaire: As Noticing New York noted, as if out of a James Bond film, he owns a fleet of the world’s largest yachts, a squadron of World War I fighter planes, he’s flying into space and building the world’s largest airplane.

Although it presented breaking news, The Wall Street Journal didn’t do a great job of connecting a number of dots.  Among the points it didn’t mention:
    •    Our suggestion that Mr. Allen donate the SIBL back to the NYPL with the stipulation that it be used as a library, restored to its original intended purpose, something that would probably cost Mr. Allen less than operating his yachts for a very fractional period of time.

    •    The irony that Mr. Allen as a Microsoft co-founder made his money through science.  That makes it much more of a shame that Mr. Allen should now be a party to the destruction of the city’s biggest science library, a sort of “I’ve got mine” mentality while pulling the ladder up after you so that nobody else can follow.

    •    That Mr. Allen’s father worked in a library where the young Mr. Allen would tag along after him as he worked, something else that may have contributed to Mr. Allen's ultimate success.

    •    That Mr. Allen has said that when he tagged along with his father he imagined “a trove of knowledge” found in a library could save a “dying or threatened civilization.”  That may sound virtually like the kind of science-fiction fantasy that might get play in Mr. Allen’s museum, but there is a close correlation between the demise of civilizations and the loss of their libraries.  Further, it can be debated how fictive the idea that we are a threatened society might be.

    •    That it would be very deserving of investigation to look into what seems to be the very low price the NYPL sold all of its SIBL space for.  SIBL was a significant public investment.  The Journal article notes it “opened in 1996 with much fanfare.”  That was when it was christened “the library of the future.”  It is still one of the City’s most modern technologically advanced libraries, just as the central downtown Brooklyn Heights Library was when it was sold.
The Journal article concludes:
The museum's launch would spell the end for the Science, Industry and Business Library, which opened in 1996 with much fanfare. The library's services will be absorbed into Midtown's Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (formerly the Mid-Manhattan Library), which is under renovation and slated to reopen in 2020, library officials said.

The collection would become available at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main library at 42nd Street.   
That formulation for describing the fate of SIBL elides the fact the science library is going out of existence.  NYPL is ending the Science Library because, as NYPL’s Bill Kelly, its Director of Research Libraries, explained, people should get their information from the internet.  You can listen to Mr. Kelly explain this in our video. . . the clip comes at about the 50 minute marker, directly following the inserted reporting about the proposed elimination of net neutrality.  (And after the ironic inserts about "Dark Money" in the NYPL gift shop and Stephen Schwarzman, and after the walk pass the hedge-funders' soiree in the closed research library.)
Video: NYPL 2nd Presentation of "Master Plan" Dec 7, 2017 Part2.
The Wall Street Journal is behind a pay wall.  This Citizens Defending Libraries post aside, only those who are paid subscribers to the Journal are going to know or be affected by what the Journal has, or has not reported about Paul Allen’s acquisition and the fate of SIBL.  Maybe the readers of the Wall Street Journal are not a group that will find it so essential to know the things noted here as left out of the story. . .   but wouldn’t they, at least, find much of it interesting?

Citizens Defending Libraries did offer comment for the article before its publication, but that comment was not included.