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, March 11, 2019

Defending Libraries Testimony To City Council Regarding NYC Library Budget, The Sale of Libraries, Privatization of Libraries, Short Library Hours, And The Elimination of Books

Matthew Zadrożny and Michael D. D. White testifying at City Hall about the destruction and privatization of the libraries
On March 11, 2019 Michael D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries and Matthew Zadrożny of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library testified at a New York City Council budget hearing before the council’s library committee presided over by councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.

Mr. Zadrożny’s testimony focused on objections to very shortened hours that the 42nd Street Central Reference Library is now open to researchers and the public (there is a petition), and the relationship of those short hours to the privatizing of that library as it is increasingly used for private gala events of the wealthy.

Mr. White’s testimony focused on the elimination of books and sale and shrinkage of libraries in the system overall. . . . even as designer Karl Lagerfeld had just died with a private library of physical books for his personal use rivaling in size the number of book collections down to which some of the biggest public libraries in New York City are now shrinking.

Councilman Van Bramer said that he was unaware of some of what he was being told in the testimony presented. 

Video of the testimony and Councilman Van Bramer’s reaction is available below.

City Council Hearing March 11 2019- Testimony of Library Defenders (click through to YouTube for best viewing)

Here is an example (a Gotham Gazette article about the hearing) of how such incisive testimony as this doesn’t get covered and the public likely gets a very different message about what is happening from the reporting that is furnished:
Library Presidents Seek Additional Funds at City Council Budget Hearing, March 12, 2019, by Ben Brachfeld.
Here is the text version of the testimony of Michael D. D. White:

March 12, 2019

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer
Committee on Cultural Affairs,
   Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
Council Chambers
City Hall, New York

Re: March 11, 2019 Testimony respecting Preliminary Budget Hearing - Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations-  New York City Council Budget and Oversight Hearings on Fiscal Year 2020 Preliminary Budget, The Preliminary Capital- Plan for Fiscal Years 2020-2023, The Preliminary Ten-Year Capital Strategy for Fiscal Years 2020-2029 and The Fiscal 2019 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report.
Dear City Council Members and Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations:

This letter provides the written version of our Citizens Defending Libraries oral testimony delivered yesterday.

As the New York Times covered in its recent obituary for Karl Lagerfeld,  (Karl Lagerfeld, Designer Who Defined Luxury Fashion, Is Dead), Mr. Lagerfeld had an estimated 300,000 volumes in his personal, private library.  We presented pictures at the hearing that we have up at Citizens Defending Libraries.  Those 300,000 volumes are only a few books shy in number from the number that is being talked about as the number that will be in the reduced Mid-Manhattan Library.
See: Through The Windows of Privilege (Like Karl Lagerfeld’s) The Enduring Value Of Physical Books And Libraries With Big Collections Can Readily Be Discerned               
That’s not the way it should be.  The mid-Manhattan Library was designed to hold 700,000 books.  And now we are talking about it’s being consolidated with SIBL (the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library), from which over one million books are missing.  And then it is also supposed to be absorbing all of the hundreds of thousands of books that disappeared from the Donnell Library that was shrunk and sunk to be replaced by a luxury tower.

Mr. Lagerfeld was something of a polymath, but these 300,000 books represent his personal interests, those of just one single man.   The Mid-Manhattan Library, the main circulating library for New York City, should provide books representing the interests of all New Yorkers.

We also presented pictures at the hearing that we have up at Citizens Defending Libraries of the empty shelves at the Flatbush Library.  The pictures were taken the evening that the Brooklyn Public Library trustees held a trustees meeting above these empty shelves, quite oblivious to them and their emptiness, while they held a sort of goofy meeting about how to rearrange furniture in shrunken libraries so that library users wouldn’t notice that the libraries didn’t have enough space.
See:   Atop Empty Bookshelves of The Flatbush Library, Brooklyn Public Library Trustees Meet Displaying Holiday Spirit As They Fuss Over Expensively Tiny Library Space
Earlier at the hearing we heard Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson testify about how the replacement for the Brooklyn Heights Library is going to be a bigger, better configured library.  That’s not true; it’s going to be smaller, 40% of the previous library’s size; it will not be an “Education Library,” not a “Business Library,” not a “Career Library,” not a federal depository library (it was all these things before); it won’t have lots of books like before; and, in terms of configuration, it will be configured as an afterthought (an awkward horseshoe shape) to what the developer wanted for his luxury project.   

Similarly, NYPL COO Iris Weinshall said that the reason to sell the Inwood Library was because of its poor configuration, but when they assembled the developers to bid on the property the library administration officials and city development officials told those developers that configuration of the replacement library didn’t matter.
See: The Voice of an Inwood Library Defender- Jeffrey Wollock Provides an Overview: Libraries as Real Estate -How NYC's Libraries are Being Stolen
So what you are told is not true, and we are eliminating books and living in a world where people like Karl Lagerfeld, who have the privilege to own what is valuable, own more books than we are furnishing the citizens of New York City in our public libraries.

Please not as well that Citizens Defending Libraries endorses and supports the testimony of Matthew Zadrozny of the Committee to Save The New York Public Library objecting to the NYPL’s very contracted for the 42nd Street Central Referenced Library and how keeping those shortened hours in order to hold private gala events at the library represents a highly inappropriate privatization of that public asset intended to serve the public.

For more about the disappearance of books from our New York City public libraries see the section of information about it on our Citizens Defending Libraries main page:
How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?     
Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries   

Mr. White presented these visuals during his testimony of the many books in Karl Lagerfeld's library and of the empty shelves ignored by the oblivious BPL trustees visiting the Flatbush Library:

Here is the text version of the testimony of Matthew Zadrożny:
Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations

City Council of New York City

March 11, 2019

Chairman Van Bramer, Councilmember Borelli, Councilmember Cumbo, Councilmember Koslowitz, Councilmember Moya, thank you for holding this hearing.

My name is Matthew Zadrozny. I am a data scientist and a member of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, also known as, SaveNYPL.org. I've used the NYPL for 25 years, as a student, freelancer, and recently to research NYC history. I donate money to NYPL through its Young Lions program and attend board meetings as a member of the public.

Earlier today you heard Tony Marx, NYPL's president, request additional funds for longer hours. I support this. But there's more to the story.

The leadership of NYPL wants longer hours for the branch libraries. However, they have resisted longer hours at NYPL's Central Research Library at 42nd & 5th Avenue. For sixty years after its founding, the main library was open around 87 hours per week. Now it is open only 56 hours. Most days, today included, the main library closes at 6pm — before working New Yorkers can get there. On Sundays, the library is only open for four hours. And last summer it was closed on Sundays.

Historically, longer, later hours allowed New Yorkers to come after work and stay till 9 or 10 in the evening, researching, studying, and bettering their lives. NYPL reduced hours in the 70s due to a budget crisis. Now the library's endowment is at a record high of more than $1 billion. The obstacle is not money but leadership's addiction to corporate events and weddings.

SaveNYPL has been protesting this. We want NYPL to give priority to the public and readers, not parties and rentals. We have collected some 2,000 signatures from New Yorkers who need the main library to be open late. These include high school kids, college students, researchers, writers, and freelancers — people who are the engine of NYC's economy and culture.

Over the library entrance are the words: "The City of New York has erected this building for the free use of all the people." The 42nd street building is owned by the City of New York and it belongs to all New Yorkers. It is the greatest publicly accessible research library in the world. Closing the library for private events during prime time is de facto privatization and unbecoming of a great city.

What is more important: Cocktail parties for the connected? Or a quiet space for students, scholars, startup founders, and job seekers?

The City Council should tell NYPL's leadership that the best way to help the public is not through expensive and unnecessary capital projects. Instead, keep the central library, and all libraries, open longer. Serve readers, not cocktails!

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