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, 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-café 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. 

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