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.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

It Gets Personal, But This Gossip Is, In Fact, Real News About The Business of Selling Libraries- Two From That Constellation of Library-Selling Stars Hook Up As A Couple: Bruce Ratner and Brooklyn Library President Linda Johnson– Guess Where?

The photo of Bruce and Linda that creeps in here is from a recent BPL gala
Sometimes to report truly relevant news, even about the real estate deal sales that plunder our libraries, you have to sound a little bit like a gossip column. . . .

Guess who’s dating whom on the sly?  Guess who just got divorced?  What two darlings spotlighted in the annals of library sell-off deals are shacking up in a love nest the location of which you might find startling and hard to fathom?

A couple of days ago reporting by the Real Deal highlighted three “memorable” residential sales that just “popped up in records.”  The number one deal highlighted was a couple’s purchase of one of the luxury condo apartments in the much litigated over and promenade-view-impairing Pierhouse development in Brooklyn Bridge Park at 130 Furman Street. . .

And who was the “couple”?: it was Bruce Ratner and Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson.

To wit, here is what the Real Deal reported:
    1.) Forest City Ratner co-founder Bruce Ratner along with Linda Johnson snapped up a condominium along the Brooklyn waterfront. The couple paid $4.7 million for the two-bedroom pad at 130 Furman Street. Ratner split from Dr. Pamela Lipkin, a plastic surgeon, who at one point during the couple’s divorce had alleged Ratner was trying to evict her from her clinic at 128 East 62nd Street.
See:  These are some of the most notable NYC resi sales of the week- Lots of Brooklyn Nets connections, by Mary Diduch, January 28, 2019

We generally like to be well wishers when couples unite, but what a confluence of the unsavory this is.  Where do we start in making the connections; there are so many connectable dots in play:
    •    Bruce Ratner is, after all, the Bruce Ratner “developer” of Forest City Ratner, who, as in the case of the Atlantic Yards Project (now going by the alias “Pacific Park”- Park?), has specialized in subsidy collection and preferential no-bid handouts from government.  When BPL president Linda Johnson first announced the sale of Brooklyn public libraries, saying that the BPL wanted to sell the most valuable libraries first, the two libraries at the top of her list for sale first were both adjacent to Forest City Ratner property.  See:  What Could We Expect Forest City Ratner Would Do With Two Library Sites On Sale For The Sake Of Creating Real Estate Deals? and A Ratner in the Stacks: Library To Sell Forest City-Adjacent Branches, by Stephen Jacob Smith, February 5, 2013.

    •    The BPL’s plan that prioritized for first sale of the two Ratner adjacent was part of a strategic real estate plan that applied to all Johnson’s BPL libraries, and we found out that the consultant who put that plan to together was Karen Backus of Karen Backus & Associates. Karen Backus was Vice President at Forest City Ratner until 1997 when she left to start this firm.  See: Mostly In Plain Sight (A Few Conscious Removals Notwithstanding) Minutes Of Brooklyn Public Library Tell Shocking Details Of Strategies To Sell Brooklyn’s Public Libraries.

    •    BPL’ spokesperson Josh Nachowitz said that the BPL would not rule out the possibility that it would sell to Ratner one of those BPL libraries prioritized for first sale, the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the central destination Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights federal depository library in downtown Brooklyn.  Ultimately, under the circumstances, doing so would have been very bad optics.  The Heights library was not, in fact sold to Ratner.  Nevertheless, the deal was structured in such a way that Ratner became the gatekeeper controlling whether the transaction could proceed.  See: Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold.

    •    BPL president Johnson and Ratner will settle into the Pierhouse amongst company they know well and have significant connections to.  In September 2015 it was considered a scandal when it was discovered that Hank Gutman (Henry B. Gutman) and David Offensend had both purchased condo apartments in the Brooklyn Bridge Park Pierhouse condominium.  Both Gutman and Offensend were board members of the board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC) that had to approve the Pierhouse development, something that then required the Conflicts of Interest Board to rule on whether this was a conflict (a ruling that it is not, is only a ruling by a politically connected COIB).  The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has pushed for development in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  It has a lot of probably not so coincidental overlap with the board of the BPL where the trustees have pushed to turn libraries into real estate development.  Two of those overlaps are Mr. Gutman and Mr. Offensend themselves. Mr. Gutman who is also on the BPL board has been one of those pushing for library sales.  Mr. Offensend’s wife, Janet Offensend, was also on the BPL board for a critical period of time where she spearheaded adoption of the BPL strategic real estate plan to sell BPL libraries. That included hiring consultant Karen Backus from Forest City Ratner and overseeing the creation and submission of the Backus recommendations).  Janet Offensend’s work as a trustee closely mirrors the work that David Offensend, her husband, was concurrently doing as he set NYC public libraries up for sale when he was Chief Operating Officer of the New York Public Library (NYPL).  Thus, two of the first library sales by the NYPL and BPL respectively, the shrink-and-sink deal of the Donnell Library and the shrink-and-sink deal of the Brooklyn Heights Library (with Ratner as gatekeeper) mirrored each other closely   

    •    With David Offensend being involved in the approval of both transactions, Starwood Development wound up being involved both as a developer of the challenged Pierhouse development in Brooklyn Bridge Park and the luxury development that replaced the Donnell Library sold by the NYPL.

    •    The reason that the Pierhouse development was legally challenged, that community residents were so angry with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and its board, and with Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation board members Gutman and Offensend getting condo apartments from the developer (even if the COIB declared there was no conflict of interest) was because of the shenanigans involved when the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (pushing for more development all the time anyway) allowed the Pierhouse development to violate representations and promises made to the community: The Pierhouse development surprised the community by being built extra tall, and obliterated views from the Brooklyn Heights promenade that were supposed to have been protected.  The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation tried shuffling off some of the blame to the Pierhouse development architects and including the way that those architects had done their numbers while interpreting some obscure rules the architects chose to apply in making the Pierhouse taller.

    •    Johnson and Ratner’s familiarity with Marvel Architects, the architects of their new digs also relates to libraries.  Marvel Architects, headed by Jonathan Marvel, in addition with being accused of running funny numbers to make Pierhouse taller is also the architect for the luxury tower replacing the Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library, plus is acting as advisor to Ms. Johnson and the BPL on design issues related to selling that library.  Marvel, as advisor to the BPL and Ms. Johnson came up with some very suspicious numbers respecting book counts and bookshelf capacity as the BPL tried to mount and press arguments to ensure that the library was sold for development.  See: It’s Marvelous To Have Books!- Indeed, But Architect Jonathan Marvel Designs a Library Seemingly Oblivious To The Tradition of Finding Books In The Library.

•         At this point, would it be superfluous to add that one of the first so-called “public/private partnerhsips” that BPL president has recommended for the BPL to be pursuing manifested itself in the form of the BPL partnering to promote to local school children Ratner’s Nets at his Atlantic Yards “Barclays” arena?
Back to gossip our column Hedda Hopper voice: We have a page up with more about the BPL trustees and the BPL’s senior officers including well worth reviewing bio of Linda Johnson,  Ms. Johnson started at the BPL in July 2010.  At her first meeting with the BPL board Ms. Johnson told the board how the BPL's real estate plans were her priority and not long thereafter reminded the BPL to remember that their goal was to lock the next mayor (whoever was successor to Bloomberg) into the real estate plans that were secretly underway.
Prior relationship: Linda Johnson with billionaire Leonard Lauder.
Often noted is that until December 2013 Johnson was dating another very wealthy man from a big company, Leonard Lauder, with plans to marry that were broken off just before the scheduled ceremony.  The New York Post states that they had been dating since 2012.  The Times says they were engaged in 2013.  (The relationship reportedly began after Lauder’s first wife Evelyn died in 2011.)  Leonard Lauder's very politically active brother Ron Lauder, also a famously wealthy billionaire was involved in clearing the prohibitions that allowed Bloomberg to get his third term.

The Pierhouse development offers extraordinary views of the New York’s harbor and the lower Manhattan skyline.  What allows it to manage it to do so involves, to an extent, the interposition by which the Pierhouse is grabbing views that were previously available from the Brooklyn Heights promenade and no longer are.  That raises an overall question about who gets the benefit when public assets are usurped for private benefit . . 
Above: Luxury NY Harbor and Manhattan skyline views offered, respectively by Pierhouse where Bruce and Linda bought a condo and by the luxury tower replacing Brooklyn's second biggest library that they were involved in selling off.
The luxury tower now replacing the downtown Heights Business, Career and Education Library that will now dominate the sky of historic Brooklyn Heights is, similarly to the Pierhouse, advertising stunning views.   Those views likewise include sweeping views of the harbor and the downtown Manhattan skyline.  And, as that luxury tower looks down on the much shorter federal courthouse across that way (that, with some success, was challenged for being too tall) it is worthwhile to remember that the spectacular views offered to residents of that tower are based on what the public sacrificed.  We mean by that not only the surrender of the skies of over historic Brooklyn Heights, but the sacrifice of a major library that was recently thoroughly renovated and upgraded to be state-of-the-art and one of the best in the BPL system.

If you are benefitting from the views in either of these developments you are unlikely to have second thoughts about any diminishment of the public realm by which those views may have been achieved.  However, like Bruce and Linda, you may have to keep buying new apartments, whatever has just been built, to stay ahead, and keep you back turned on the losses the public realm is suffering. . .   But the option of continually buying new apartments affording the latest edition of a good view may be something that only those who remain wealthy will be able to afford– That's true; Isn’t it? . .

. . . In that case, if you are benefitting from these newly marketed views, you might indeed actually have second thoughts about the diminishment of the public realm that made it all possible.  That’s because, like Bruce and Linda, your ongoing participation in that diminishment is vital your staying one step ahead on the treadmill.

(BTW: For those who may be confused seeing recent pictures of Mr. Ratner, he has recently shed a great deal of weight.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Library Defending Icons, A Fabulous Two-fer: Reverend Billy, The Stop Shopping Choir AND Michael Moore

Rev. Billy and Michael Moore, Dec. 16 in the lobby of The Public
What excitement!  Getting to watch two library defending icons meet, hug, and trade jokes: Reverend Billy and Michael Moore.  Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir are, of course, known for the songs they generate and perform about resisting the soulless, rampant consumerism that commercials and advertisements are perpetually seeking to claim our attention to promote.  As such, Billy and his choir are generally performing and getting extra attention around Christmas as they put out the message that Christmas can and should be a more spiritually based holiday. . .

 . . .  Michael Moore, knowing the work of our dear reverend, no doubt is quite aware of all this–  When Moore met the Reverend for the very first time he performed for Billy one of his own self-composed satirical songs about the commercialization of Christmas: written in 1966.  Indeed, he did so under our very eyes and close up: We have a snatch of video of Moore’s merry musical ditty.  We’ll share it with you below.

This is how our little two-fer came about.  At the end of December, Sunday the 16th, while sending out emails to invite other library defenders to join us at a library-defending table, we caught Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir who were featured at Joe’s Pub again for a few Sundays.  We recommend, whenever you can, catching a full fledged performance of the Rev and his choir in all their Hallelujah glory and Joe's Pub is one of the locales where you can often see them.
Joe's Pub December 16 performance
You'll never know beforehand exactly what will happen at a Reverend Billy+choir show or who might be attending in the audience.  Full disclosure, at one show the Reverend, who is always looking out for good work to trumpet about, declared library defenders in the persona of two of the individuals attending, Carolyn McIntyre and Michael D. D. White, saints in his church.  These individuals and the library defending cause were introduced to the rest of the audience with ceremonial pomp and then some extra laid on.

After this Sunday, December 16th performance, as we ourselves departed, Michael Moore was out in the lobby of The Public (of which Joe’s Pub is a constituent part).  You'll never know who will be in the audience for a Reverend Billy show.  Now, it actually turned out that Michael Moore hadn’t caught Billy's performance, although he said he’d like to catch one.  Still, performance artist Laurie Anderson (“O Superman") was one of those in the Stop Shopping audience that afternoon.  Not shabby!

We got talking with Mr. Moore who we have had the chance to speak with about the libraries once before.  Had we known enough to be able to recognize them when we ran into Moore and were thanking and appreciating him for his work, we would have realized he was with film makers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, founders of Elsewhere Films, who work with Moore.  So, although we didn't know it, we were obviously praising their work too.

We should tell you more about both Reverend Billy and Michael Moore as library defenders.  Who should we tell you about first?  Let’s start with Moore. . .

Talking with Mr. Moore we mentioned that we have a few pages up at about him and the libraries.  They are:
    •    Michael Moore (Who Says The Attacks On Libraries Are An Effort To Dumb Down The Public and That Librarians Saved His Book From Censorship) Has A Terrific New “Must See” Film: Fahrenheit 11/9

    •    Books As Catalysts In A World Where Information And Points of View Are Often Suppressed

    •    Michael Moore’s Anti-George Bush Book Was Saved From The Censorious 9/11 Tyranny by A Courageous Librarian Mobilizing Comrades

    •    How Did Trump Get Elected?: Michael Moore In “Terms of My Surrender” Envisions That It Was A Dumbing Down of the Country That Involved Closing Libraries
Mr. Moore did correct us on one thing though, the gentlemen we once identified as Mr. Moore’s bodyguard with him outside after his Broadway show, a gentleman who know well about the Inwood library sell-off, was actually his regular driver.

Reverend Billy and his choir have been the special guests with us at many a library demonstration almost from the start.  And the choir wrote and performed a don’t destroy libraries song to defend the 42nd Street Central Reference Library incorporating the words of Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column: “You Don’t Update a Masterpiece.”  Ms. Huxtable’s last column was influential and inspiring in multiple ways.

Here are some of the links (including videos): 
    •    PHOTO GALLERY: June 3, 2013 Vigil At Central Reference Library Protesting Loss of Our Cultural Patrimony- Evening of NYPL Fund-Raiser (includes extra videos)

    •    New York Public Library SERMON by Rev. Billy + "Breaking Into Public Space" SONG

    •    SAVE THE STACKS! - NY Public Library Protest "Shoutin' out in Public Space" song

    •    Reverend Billy choir goes to save the libraries from sale a (includes “You Don’t Update A Masterpiece)

    •    PHOTO & VIDEO GALLERY: September 25, 2013 Rally Outside NYPL Trustees Meeting At the Countee Cullen and Schomburg Center Libraries In Harlem, 515 Malcolm X Blvd

    •    PHOTO & VIDEO GALLERY: February 14, 2015 Library Lovers Gather on Valentine's Day to Speak and Sing of Aching Hearts

    •    Valentine's Day- Open The Rose
Sometimes Rev. Billy and his band have soloed without other library defending groups.  In August of 2014 the Reverend Billy led a small band of fellow activists out to discover and visit the ReCAP facility site in New Jersey where the NYPL’s exiled research books are now entombed.  His plan was to lead a ceremonial “Stonehenge Circle” protest about the books’ removal.  The protest was interrupted, its completion effectively prohibited, because it turned out that ReCAP shares an area of Princeton University with the nearby Forrestal Campus, a high security level federal site.

Here are some of the photos we got of the meeting of these two great defenders of libraries and the public interest and who somehow also always manage to maintain the good humor to have some satirical fun with it all at the same time.   It’s followed by the video snippet we can share of Michael Moore singing his Christmas song to Billy.

Michael Moore with Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Carolyn McIntyre

In the background Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, founders of Elsewhere Films. In the foreground right Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White.

Michael Moore sings his Christmas Song to Rev Billy (Click through to YouTube for best viewing)

While we are on the subject of satirical Christmas songs, we should mention that Tom Lehrer wrote his, A Christmas Carol,” which has in it this stanza:
Hark the herald tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!
And while we are on the subject of defending libraries songs, and great personalities who entertain us as we fight for causes, let’s remember the “Don’t Sell Our Libraries Song” written for our cause by Judy Gorman who, still with us, sang on the same stage with an admiring Pete Seeger.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Atop Empty Bookshelves of The Flatbush Library, Brooklyn Public Library Trustees Meet Displaying Holiday Spirit As They Fuss Over Expensively Tiny Library Space

“Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”: That’s a certain snide metaphor most of us are familiar with– 

The quip doesn’t have exact application to the December 11, 2018 meeting of the Brooklyn Public Library trustees, but what the trustees did at their close-of-the-year, seasonal holiday meeting does stand as a very apt, stark and not altogether different metaphor for things wrong at the BPL.  They devoted their time to a presentation about rearranging furniture in shrunken library spaces like the one they were in.  Their meeting occurred atop a library of empty library shelves, and, although the Trustees were theoretically in charge, nobody in the meeting seemed to notice or care that the library book shelves in the building below them were empty. 

Blithely, the trustees were in happy holiday spirit.  And the holiday gifting that was going on?: To put the final ribboned bow of symbolism on this event, each library trustee was given a copy of a book about the neglectful destruction of libraries.       

At their close-of-the-year, December 11, 2018 trustees meeting the board of Brooklyn Public Library treated themselves to a special showcasing of what we have refereed to as their Murphy Library concept, the idea that if spaces in libraries are flexible enough in the ways certain people are conceiving, that libraries don’t need to be large at all; they can be tiny.  In other words, the size of a library is virtually just a state of mind— To quote Hamlet: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”* And there is a corollary concept that the BPL trustees and their cohorts advance along with the concept that with sufficient flexibility, space of almost any size can be enough library space: That corollary is that just about any space, any time, can be library space.
(* On the other hand, Hamlet experiences the entirety of Denmark to be a prison, knowing what he knows of the crimes afoot and knowing that “the time is out of joint.”  NYPL librarians were told to discard "extra" copies of Hamlet, even if there might be demand for them, in order to keep their shelves half empty.)
An Overview of The Fussing Over Library Space

Before, we get to the details of the December 11th “Making Space” presentation to the trustees, which we will in a moment, it is worthwhile to consider an overview.

The fussy energy that library administration officials and others are putting into their “Making Space” initiatives could, at first blush, be regarded as a valiant effort to squeeze the most out of library resources, communicating to onlookers that library spaces are intensely valued by these people . . .  That’s until you realize that these same people, the same coalition of economic forces (the Revson Foundation, The Center For an Urban Future, the BPL trustees themselves) are at the same time working hard to justify the selling off of libraries, turning them into real estate deals like the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library sale (creating, as a priority, a luxury tower where you can now go for $1,500 ice cream sundaes) and the similar -shrink-and-sink sale of the Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library with the concurrent elimination of books and librarians. . . (We are eliminating the city’s largest science museum!)  When that is considered these perky “Making Space” optimisms look much more like an effort to justify the shrinking of libraries by proving that there is no need or benefit fulfilled when libraries spaces are larger.

The zest for `flexibility’ that these “Making Space” initiatives show may seem to demonstrate commendable creativity and inventiveness in envisioning how library spaces can be used. . .  But that is until you realize that these same people are the ones that over and over again suggest that existing libraries must be rushed into the hand of real state developers who will tear them down because, the vision and insight of library administrators failing them, they just don’t see how the spaces of those, often larger, libraries can still be flexibly or valuably used by the public.  This same lack of competence, creativity and this propensity to abject despair also crops up when these people can’t believe how libraries they want to give to real estate developers could ever be kept in good repair.

The presentation of the “Making Space” initiatives involve an almost absurd delectation of, a preoccupation with, the value of repeatedly reconfiguring the arrangement of space, as if the arrangement and configuration of space matters.  Indeed, as just noted, these same library administration officials will argue that they want to sell libraries because of their poor configurations as with NYPL COO (and Senator Schumer wife) Iris Weinshall in 2017 stressing that a reason to sell the Inwood library was so that it could be reconfigured or BPL president Linda Johnson saying the same things about the central destination, downtown Brooklyn Heights Library she wanted to shrink.  But then, at the developer meetings where these libraries are being sold off, the developers are told that the development proposals they submit will not get extra credit for good configuration of “replacement” library space.  In the case of the redevelopment of the former Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library, the horse-shoe shape of the smaller, more underground  “replacement” library was clearly just an afterthought to the developer being able to first cream off the top what was most valuable to him.

In the case of the Inwood Library and Downtown Brooklyn Heights Library, the library spaces being jettisoned were recently accomplished expansions that were praised.  Likewise, the city’s largest science library, SIBL (the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th street) that is being done away with is a recent expansion of space, configured with modern needs in mind, and was also praised even as the public invested heavily to produce it.

All these things considered, what might be the theoretically praiseworthy aspirations of the “Making Space” initiative look a lot more like just one more overturned walnut shell being pushed around the table in a much larger shell game of distractions.

Then there is the question how the “Making Space” initiatives focus cleverly to such a significant extent on re-imagining what has clearly been library space with broader and broader redefinitions where, particularly at the outer edges, the relationship of such uses to the essential mission of libraries becomes quite vague: Case in point?– making library space into karaoke space.

There is a desperate need for public spaces and public services of all sorts.  That need is felt all the more acutely as the world around us is privatized and government services contract.  There is nothing wrong and everything right with wanting more theater space and, for instance, museum space.  Furthermore, the tradition of libraries also providing community and public assembly space already goes back.  But throwing everything in the same pot creates an opportunity for muddling and can even create destructive competition where instead of being properly augmented, public resources that have already been made scarce get divided up into ever smaller fractions.

And that muddling can work against, instead of in favor of, those other groups getting thrown into the same pot with the libraries.  For instance, in a consolidating shrinkage, the BPL is giving up its Brower Park Library space.  Although that library, the “smallest library” in the BPL system, desperately needed to be enlarged (and could have been enlarged) the “replacement” library will be no bigger, perhaps smaller, and will take over and shrink space in the Brooklyn Children’s Museum that not long ago needed to be enlarged at public expense.

When what is “library” space keeps getting redefined to include other increasingly broad alternative uses, it draws in other constituencies to claim the space.  One experiment, of the BPL and NYPL officials in this regard was to privatize and shrink library space by turning library space over to the private Spaceworks corporation (actually set up for that purpose), which would then charge for artists to use the space.  Thus the BPL gave away the second floor on top of its Williamsburg Library and was marching next toward a similar substantial shrinkage of the Red Hook Library. Spaceworks proclaimed that one of it's central purposes was to take over library space because it was “underutilized.”

At the same time, this kind of muddling is potentially a distraction and deflection from the loss of books and core library services.  Plus, finally, somewhere along the line, the constituency for defending libraries is likely to get confusingly diffuse.

If you are going to dismantle libraries it is a useful start to first dismantle the concept of what “a library” is: If any space of any size used for virtually anything can be “a library,” and if virtually any space anywhere, anytime can be considered “a library,” then it is almost as if, nothing in particular is a library and everything is a library.  In other words there is nothing that is not “a library.”  If you are confused enough about what a library actually is, how do you defend them?

Probably those of us who are not entranced and excited by “Making Space” initiatives presentations are supposed to be viewed as old, behind-the-times fuddy-duddies unwilling to pay homage to the marvelous future that’s unfolding. . .

. . .  That’s as if we are not supposed to notice that as the BPL trustees were in exuberant holiday spirit enjoying this presentation they were sitting atop a library full of empty bookshelves.

The “Making Space” Initiatives Presentation

The “Brooklyn Public Library’s Making Space” initiative is a “Featured Project” of The Revson Foundation, a “pilot” project to deal with the “major challenge,” of library administration officials “finding spaces that can accommodate the diverse variety of programs.”  The presentation to the trustees on december 11th was by David Giles.  Mr. Giles came to the BPL as staff after working for the Center For an Urban Future (CUF) doing work funded by the Revson Foundation, where he advocated for sales that turned libraries into real estate deals. That included writing op-eds CUF got published in newspapers favoring library sales.  Giles is on the BPL’s strategy staff.  “Strategy” is the rubric under which library administration officials generally put their libraries-as-real-estate venture activities.

Giles explained that his presentation was a version of the presentation given for the AIA, American Institute of Architects, earlier in the year.  It reflects the design work of SITU Studio, an Architectural Design and furniture fabrication company which is lucky enough to be located in the subsidized Brooklyn Navy Yards.  SITU Studio has branded its Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries as “L+.”  The “+” branding is a nice PR touch, an example of what has become the fairly standard Owellian tactic these days of reverse naming things: It counters the fact that the project focuses on making use of inadequate, small and insufficient spaces.  Making certain the “+” branding doesn’t go unnoticed or unremarked upon SITU Studio’s used the “+” design as a motif for door handles and sprinkled it around liberally for other of its furniture design accents.

Giles explained to the trustees that the project:
was meant to sort of re-envision The library community room as a more dynamic education and collaboration space.  And it was meant to address the gap between the types of services and programs that we put on as a 21st century library, uhm and the various buildings that we’ve inherited over the last 120 years or so. [i.e. “old.”]
Giles said these old `inherited' buildings included approximately 18 Carnegie era libraries buildings built at the beginning of the last century (the BPL previously caused the Brooklyn Paper to carry an article about how they ought to be sold), about 15 mid-century buildings, and about 20 so-called “Lindsay box buildings” from the 1960s and 70s.  He described the Carnegie era libraries as being “highly controlled spaces” from the “prime shush period” with lots of space for private work.  (The Flatbush Library in which the presentation was occurring is `Carnegie era,’ the sixth Carnegie, which opened in Brooklyn in 1905,)

The mid-century libraries were “fairly large, two stories” with “lots of spaces for shelving and seating, even, and in some instances, auditoriums and stages for public events.”  The Lindsay Boxes were referred to as stripped down to “a kind of franchise model” avoiding “accouterments” to “spaces” that “are sort of devoted mainly to shelving.”

In January of 2013 Mr. Giles authored a report issued by the Center For and Urban Future with figures we quickly picked up on because those figures argued well against the sell off of libraries and the elimination of books: “[Libraries] have experienced a 40 percent spike in the number of people attending programs and a 59 percent increase in circulation over the past decade.”  Mr. Giles didn’t offer a new figure to replace their previously cited “59 percent increase in circulation” figure that we used against them when we disagreed about whether libraries should be sold, but in saying that program attendance was now putting “an incredible strain on our buildings” Giles had a now boosted figure for program attendance saying that “in just the last five years” there was another 20% increase, making program attendance “more like a 59%, 60% increase” over the previous 18 years. . . . If those numbers don’t quite jibe (and they don’t seem to), it could be because some of those figures are for New York City libraries generally, while others may be for just the BPL’s Brooklyn libraries.

Giles explained that the BPL library programs were hosting cultural celebrations and cultural programs: theatrical performances; and townhall type discussions, media classes, and programs for teens and adults, tell-a-stories and televisits.  And he said that, doing an audit, the BPL decided it was hosting 70,000 or so public programs during the year throughout all its libraries.

Giles explained (starting to refer, as he talked, to what was in the community room where the trustees sat):
As a part of this project, Situ studios, along with our librarians, and strategy office did a complete audit of the 70,000 or so public programs that are happening in the library across the year.  And they categorized these in terms of program types, and took a sort of deep dive in terms of the functional requirements and spatial demands they made, uhm, and sort of systematized these programs, not only in terms of theme and program type, but in terms of furniture requirements and functions. . . .

And then they started developing what they are calling `building blocks' to support these various program demands.  And, two things they wanted to do here, they wanted to create furniture pieces that were incredibly movable, easily rearranged into new constellations, and fairly cheap to produce and manufacture.  So you can see here these quite sturdy metal frames can be used, uhm and, you know, produced in different ways to support different purposes.  Here we have a mobile media cabinet, which has, actually, outlets installed inside.  It holds a game console and television, but that same frame can be repurposed, not by the library staff, but by the manufacturers as a sort of hanging coat hanging unit.  We have different storage units, different sizes. The storage units can double as seats.  All of the services are writable, so people can write on these, use them as white boards.  We have mobile walls that serve as whiteboards, And also pin up boards on the other side.  They help divide up the room as well. 
Here are some other mobile walls and signs. . . .
So, translating, if you will, the idea of all this “fairly cheap” rolling box furniture, is that it is sort of like a theater set, where black clad figures that the audience is supposed to ignore swoop in during scene changes effecting rearrangements that when the audience and actors assist with their imagination suggest entirely different places, indoors, outdoors, maybe even on different continents, palaces or hovels . . .

. . . Will the BPL be engaging black clad stage assistants to swoop in between the library space users?  We imagined turnover time when all the “mobile walls” that have served so ingeniously “as whiteboards” have to be wiped down (make sure you get all the sides) so the next group of users have a clean slate for how they will `conjure’ the room.  We were tempted to try out these BPL whiteboards by writing, “Don’t sell or shrink our libraries” on them and see how fast the trustees would react, but nowhere in the room were there any whiteboard writing implements to be seen.
It's "curtains" for the old fashioned library user of days past!
Giles explained how the room could also be divided (as if into more than one room) for “two different programs simultaneously.” Pointing to the ceiling Giles explained that heavy curtains hung on tracks there could pulled around as enveloping privacy walls.  BPL president Linda Johnson delightedly told the trustees that curtains hanging almost to the floor were designed to be “soundproof” (indeed, like the “Get Smart” television series “cone of silence”?).  And if you don’t like hanging curtain walls evocative of Ninotchka’s satirical vision of Soviet era Russian poverty, there were also rolling walls.

Giles said “You can hang a lot of different things from the ceiling grid: you can hang theater lights, speakers, projectors, and furniture, OK?”
Looking a little bit like a vacuum cleaner nozzle, an electric cord dangling above our heads ready to be dragged down for use by a right-height individual
Included among the things “hanging” from the ceiling grid were dangling electrical cords looking a little like vacuum cleaner nozzles for right-height human beings to reach up and grab

Giles explained:
Uhm, One big need was power.  This room had two outlets.  And with the conduit’s and the ceiling grid we were able to add 24 that’s in here for different programs.  You can see the extendable cords hanging from the ceiling for maker programs.
Wow!  Gosh golly.  Library administration officials and the other library sale promoting organizations they have been working with have cited the lack of electrical outlets of as one of their favorite capital infrastructure shortcomings when describing libraries, but running electric lines or cords is one of the easiest, cheapest things to do, especially when you don’t bury them in the walls when prioritizing aesthetic goals.
One of those electrical nozzles when it's a little closer to nose height
Giles explained that he and his designers had hopes of somehow arranging the constellation of furniture to “create a natural stage” for karaoke and talent shows at the library (part of the
“very different public service model and . .  diverse variety of programs” Giles was telling the trustees could be so ingeniously handled by strained resources with such flexible repurposing of library space).  Giles said that while “it was a nice idea” they had “backed off” of it “because of insurance.”

Then Giles demonstrated the room’s addressable LED “smart lights” and if you want to know when he became most gleeful it was probably as he was talking about “value engineering” and showing off how the lights that hung like children’s party balloons between the grid for hanging curtains, electric cords and furniture (or other lights) could change colors or be multiple colors at the same time.  The lighting was going to be good for karaoke and talent shows.

We have a short little video that captured the moment (click through to Youtube for best viewing): 

Giles said that at first he worried that spending on the lights would be an excessively expensive part of the project, but if you are following these things, you probably know that, along with other computer type things, LEDs tricked up with integrated computer features are getting pretty cheap these days.  What did you put on you Chanucha bush this year?  Giles said the LED lights were “aspirational.”

Fun fact about lighting: One of the defining characteristics of Film Noir is its lighting emphasized dramatic areas of dark shadow contrasted with bright light shining on key objects.  Yes it was partly inherited from early German Expressionist cinema, but one reason it was adopted as part of the look of the genre was that the films of Film Noir tended to be B films and the use of the bare minimum of lighting (already costing virtually nothing), was a way to stretch low budgets to get dramatic effects without investing anything for sets. . . Just saying.

Giles put up slide after slide to show all the “configurations” into which a flexible room could theoretically be rearranged: typical classroom configuration, team cooking classes, job readiness classes, English as a Second Language classes, citizenship test classes, classes on for health insurance enrollment assistance, homework assistance, “maker space” configurations, storytime configuration, movie nights, and of course karaoke and talent shows.

At one point, Giles stopped to admire an image of the divided community room with people filling it and exclaimed that the image was “sort of like a Renaissance painting; I love this picture.”
David Gile's "Renaissance painting," (a Rembrandt?)
At the outset, the trustees were told that the guinea pig libraries for the program experimentation were the Flatbush Library they were in and the smaller Clinton Hill Library’s space.  The Clinton Hill Library has been talked about in connection with a future library sale, but now probably only in conjunction with an upzoning of the area like with the Inwood Library.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Linda Johnson said the community room they were in was “a prototype, the kind of thing we would like to do with other libraries throughout the system.”
Situ Studio partner Brad Samuels said in another "Making Space" presentation video you can watch on video*
That mass production is essentially what Situ Studio partner Brad Samuels said in another presentation video you can watch on video*, that the approach representing a “paradigm shift” is designed to be “replicable” and “implemented anywhere in the city.”  In fact, Mr. Samuels, saying that future of the libraries was “not monumental” and that the future of the libraries “is distributed,” talked in that presentation about how the same approach was also intended to convert other than existing library space into such flexible `L+ library space’ by throwing these L+ “kits of parts” into “community retail space” such as “persistently vacant store fronts.”  Samuels cited, for example how a “cooking class could benefit” if it took place in abandoned restaurant space that still had working sinks.
(* We have our own video of an event we did with Rev. Billy where at about 10:36 we reviewed, with some parody, the L+ ideas for using tiny library spaces.) 
These thoughts about minimal investment library “outposts” that pop up into existence easily by, say, taking over a closed restaurant or another space a landlord is finding hard to rent out, are thoughts that are interesting to sit with a bit, if you consider that the people paying the piper with NYC public library money are people now tending to think of libraries as pieces on a real estate chess board.  These are people who also seem to have no compunction about popping them back out of existence when disappearing acts would convenience a deal being put together– “Outpost libraries” could be rent paying placeholders as time is bided.

This idea that `poof,’ an unused restaurant now becomes `library space,’ that library space can be anywhere, anytime, is based partly on the notion that library space can be anything.  It is also based, as Mr. Samuels referred to in his presentation, on the idea that libraries don’t need to have books on the premises when there is instead a “floating collection” of books theoretically (not at the libraries  themselves). That “floating collection” qualifies every space to be a library.  Mr. Samuels credited Christian Zabriski and Lauren Comito of Urban Librarians Unite (who have argued for all the library real estate sale deals proposed so far) with helping him construct his vision for the libraries.  Mr. Samuels said that the existing space now in libraries needed to “catch up” with this vision.

The Empty Shelves of the Flatbush Library

The BPL trustees were happy with Mr. Giles’ presentation.  Not one of them seemed aware or commented that they had noticed that the bookshelves in the library downstairs below them were, as they met, largely empty.  You could actually see this looking through the atrium windows of the community room in which they sat.  And we have close up photographs that show the situation.  (Would this be a good time to mention that only a few weeks ago we posted information about how to recognize someone who can be the diagnosed as a "communal narcissist"?)
From this vantage you can see through the windows the BPL trustees having an executive discussion meeting at their December 11th meeting, and at the same time empty bookshelves below.
When we went to the mezzanine to take photographs, some arriving library users were just ahead got upstairs seconds before us and we heard them immediately exclaim about the empty shelves we were about to witness ourselves: “They ain’t got jack!”

The goal of these disappointed book seekers was apparently books related to education and to study for college preparation. . .

The Flatbush Library serves a largely Caribbean community.  It seems like the Caribbean is rich in history and culture.  Are there no books and materials about it?  If there are, they are not filing this library.

Some of the same bookshelves could also be seen to be empty in the summer of 2017 when the Brooklyner ran an article (with photos) that the BPL had “announced a drastic cut in their summer hoursfor the Flatbush Library due to a broken air conditioning system.”

The Brooklyner article noted:
Some commenters expressed concern that this reduced schedule signaled the beginning of the end, citing the demolished Brooklyn Heights Branch.

“They did the same thing at the Brooklyn Heights branch a couple of years ago, before they sold it to a developer,” writes another commenter. “The air conditioner can be repaired, the city just doesn’t want to pay for it.”
Who knows what was going on in 2017 (we also don’t have a date for when the community room work was gearing up), but, as Citizens Defending Libraries has frequently written and testified, air conditioning in city libraries seems to suspiciously break and balk at being repaired over and over again when library administrators want to sell or shrink libraries: The Donnell Library, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the Red Hook Library, the Sunset Park Library, the Pacific Branch Library, etc. 

Feeling Good About Themselves BPL Trustees Give Themselves a Popular Book About Library Destruction
Putting a ribbon and bow on it: The ribbon and bow wrapped red books in front of each of the BPL trustees as a holiday present is a critically acclaimed current bestseller about library destruction.
And that book about the neglectful destruction of libraries that each of the BPL library trustees was given as a holiday season present?  It’s “The Library Book,” a critically acclaimed current bestseller by Susan Orlean about the hugely destructive fire in the Los Angeles Library in 1986 when more than a million books were lost or destroyed.  It happened because of the neglect by those officially in charge.  The LA Public Library was rife with fire safety violations and many experts had warned of the worst before the fire happened.

Ed D’Angelo, a recently retired BPL librarian, who has written his own book about what is destroying our libraries generally (based in part on what he personally saw first hand and reacted to) wrote us that the Susan Orlean book is “an enjoyable read” by “a great writer” who “knows how to tell a good story” and did a lot of research.  But he complains that the book is a “`feel good’ book about public libraries.” He says that the book “lacks a critical edge,” and that Orlean “doesn't take the next step and subject all the information she's gathered to critical analysis,” that she “doesn't step back and question” what she has described.

D’Angelo said “You're supposed to walk away from reading the book feel warm and fuzzy about public libraries. . .  But critical analysis doesn't sell books or make library bureaucrats feel warm and fuzzy.”

D’Angelo said that the conclusion that Orlean could have drawn, but failed to was that those in charge in Los Angeles were a “a poor custodian of books” and that “the fire merely dramatized their negligence.” D’Angelo opined that the fact that all the trustees of the BPL were given a copy of The Library Book as a holiday gift this year “doesn't reflect well on the book!!”

Friday, January 25, 2019

It’s What The Brooklyn Heights Association Wanted And Fought For: As Library-Replacing Lux Tower Gets Ready To Sprint Toward Full Height With Its Last Stack of Floors It Begins To Dominate Heights Skies

View of library-replacing luxury tower from Montague Street (crane working to add the last stack of thus boosted floors to achieve its final ultimate height)
The luxury condo tower, which in a shrink-and-sink deal is replacing the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library in Downtown Brooklyn, has another stack of floors to be constructed before it reaches full “stature,” if that’s the word for it.

The advertised condominium apartment views now available on the developer’s website show those views looking down on the federal courthouse across the way (once opposed by neighbors as being too tall) and looking over the top of the adjacent One Pierrepont Plaza Ratner 1988 skyscraper.  Those views are from only the height of the building’s twenty-sixth floor, round about the height the building is reaching now.  When the 400+ foot tall building is complete it will be 36 stories tall, an additional ten stories over that 26.
Looking down on the federal courthouse, a building one opposed as too big

The slightly higher than mid-level 26th Floor view gets you to the top of the Ratner skyscraper that vexed the Brooklyn Heights Association because of its size
But even at the threshold height it has now reached where it is, finally starting to leave the Ratner skyscraper below, it is now becoming clear how the building will dominate the skies of Brooklyn Heights.  We offer pictures here so you can imagine it even taller still.

It is interesting to think that this is what the Brooklyn Heights Association wanted for Brooklyn Heights, that it is what the association fought hard to bring into existence against the overwhelming consensus of neighbors who did not want to give up the second biggest library in Brooklyn, a central destination downtown library that conveniently served all Brooklynites and many other New Yorkers coming from all around the city.

It must be recognized that hugely tall buildings that leave their neighbors in the dust, at certain times, have, for many of us, a certain commanding beauty.  Sometimes you just have to begrudgingly admit that, even if and when they might make you feel small and insignificant or cast shadows onto your parks, they have an arresting way of whispering (or shouting) progress, achievement and newness while advertising human technological proficiency.  Maybe some who settled or who have dwelled enviously in Brooklyn Heights with a Manhattan-wannabe complex will feel that this building announces that Brooklyn Heights has arrived. 

Is this why the Brooklyn Heights Association fought so hard, often secretively and behind-the-scenes, to have this shiny new tower provide contrast for New York’s oldest historic district and  neighborhood by poking up into its skies where it will be seen from repeated vantages as the casual stroller meanders through local townhouse streets? . . .

. . .  Or was it that the Brooklyn Heights Association was just eager to see an important library squashed out of existence in a shrink-and-sink deal that would push the much diminished library space underground, while eliminating books and librarians, disappearing the Business Library, the Career Library, the Education library and the federal depository library resources?  Of course this means that the Brooklyn Heights Association was reversing itself from the time when it was opposing the height of the adjacent Ratner skyscraper and (in connection therewith) was negotiating for a bigger, better library.  And that bigger, better library the BHA said it wanted then is something the neighborhood finally got fairly recently, but now it's been been torn down for the luxury tower even though it was expanded and fully upgraded to be one of the best and most modern in the Brooklyn Public Library system.

. . . Of course shrinking the library and getting rid of the Business, Career and Education Federal depository resources does have the effect of evicting those who were coming from elsewhere, such as the nearby projects, to use the libraries.

. . .  Or did the Brooklyn Heights Association want to see the luxury tower replace the library because the Saint Ann’s private school was going to get a private windfall from the sale of real estate development rights it possessed provided that the city proceeded with eliminating the library?  Did it want that because the Saint Ann’s school contingent was better than well represented in the Brooklyn Heights Association’s decision making about what to do about the sale of the city land and public asset to create the luxury tower?  Moreover, the entangled Brooklyn Heights Association sidelined itself and eschewed speaking out in the name of good government, remaining steadfastly indifferent to the pay-to-play investigation scandals that emerged concerning the sale of the city owned library sale to a connected developer the de Blasio administration favored in the hand-off of the property for so much less than it was worth.  Once compromised in this regard it is more difficult to speak out in the future.

Of course all of this raises questions about what the BHA can be expected to do in the future and how reliable the BHA is, and for what (ditto an elected official like Councilman Steve Levin).  What will the BHA decide to oppose and what will it decide to promote?  There was, not long ago, a proposal to build another similar luxury tower just doors down from the library-replacing lux tower, the Pineapple Walk building.  The Heights Association, inconsistently we would say, opposed it.  That was then.  Real estate development is a long game.  No doubt that proposal will be back and when the library-replacing lux tower is fully present and accounted for it will seem even harder, seemingly sillier to oppose it. Maybe some of the new residents in the library-replacing tower will by then even be members of the BHA and arguing that it would be great to have a sister luxury Cadman Tower West building.

Then, aside from the question of what the BHA `opposes,' there is the question of what the BHA will be timely and effective at opposing.  We can note that the sale of Long Island College Hospital, The view-destroying over-construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier One Pierrehouse buildings, the building at Pier Six in Brooklyn Bridge Park of more buildings than the agreed upon formula dictated, a lot of construction period as local public schools get more crowded were all things the BHA opposed, but its opposition was ineffective.
From Henry Street seen rising behind the Supreme Court Appellate Division Building
As seen from 101 Clark Street where many meetings were held to try to stop sale of the library
As seen currently (floors to go) from Monroe Place from where impetus and support for the building came.
Go all the way to to the end of this newly landscaped Brooklyn Bridge Park pier and you will find the tower following you like the moon follows you on along a road on a moonlight night
Behind the Unitarian Universalist church on Pierrepont Street
How Brooklyn Heights looks from the 26th floor of the luxury tower

Thursday, January 24, 2019

As The “Library Squasher” Rises, Developer of Luxury Towers Advertises Views From Middle Apartments (On 26th Floor) That Look Down On Federal Courthouse Once Challenged as Too Tall

The wealthy who can afford to buy apartments on the floors in the upper portion of the luxury building replacing the central destination downtown Brooklyn library may expect to look down on justice, both figuratively and literally.   This view of federal courthouse is from the 26th floor.
The luxury condo tower, which in a shrink-and-sink deal is replacing the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library in Downtown Brooklyn, is still only around two-thirds complete, but the developer is advertising the impressively commanding views that will make new residents coming to the building feel like they are the kings and queens of the neighborhood.

The stratospheric views offered on the developer’s website are not from the very top of what will be the 36-story, 400+ foot tall building; they are only from partway up, from the height of the 26th floor. . .

Nevertheless, from that still much lower height, the view that will be offered looks down on the federal courthouse across on the other side of Cadman Plaza Park that was once challenged, with some success, by neighbors in the locality as being too tall.

There is another interesting twist in this, the neighbors who legally challenged the federal courthouse building as being too tall hired a lawyer and urban planner named Michael White to mount their legal challenge.  The Michael White that they hired is not the same Michael White, the Michael D. D. White, the lawyer and urban planner who, as co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, opposed the wreckage and sacrifice of the central downtown library to build this truly enormous luxury tower.  The two Michael Whites did once meet professionally however. . .

. . . Michael D. D. White, the co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, contrary what the other Michael White said, thought that the federal courthouse, an important public building, was not too tall.  Even if it had been taller, it would be no match for height of the luxury building going up now.  For more on this back story see Noticing New York: Not THAT Michael White, August 13, 2008.