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, August 29, 2013

Response of Public Advocate Candidate Tish James to Citizens Defending Libraries Questions For Candidates For New York City Offices

Citizens Defending Libraries is requesting candidates for New York City political offices to answer questions with respect libraries (posted on its we pages August 13, 2013).  Below are the responses to these questions furnished by Public Advocate candidate Tish (Letitia) James.

To find out what other candidates provided responses (and navigate to them) go to the Citizens Defending Libraries August 13, 2013 posting.

Questions and Responses From Tish James:

1.    New York City is growing (including in wealth) and public library usage is up very substantially, 40% programmatically and 59% in terms of circulation, yet libraries are currently being funded at their lowest level in years, a drastic reduction from the past.  Do you favor this low level of funding or believe that funding should be restored at least to, or above, the level that libraries were funded in the past?
Tish James: We need to restore library funding to a level that ensures 6-7 day a week access to library services in all branches. We must further freeze layoffs throughout the public library systems, and retain both our invaluable library employees, as well as our public library spaces.
2.    Are you in favor of or do you oppose the sale of libraries, public assets of the library system and the reductions of library space (including such sales and reductions as have been proposed by the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library)?  Please explain.
Tish James:  I refer you to my Huffington Post on this issue:  Shrinking the Library System Is A Loss for New Yorkers - 08/21/2013  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/letitia-james/shrinking-the-library-sys_b_3430298.html
3.    More specifically, are you opposed to, in favor of, or neutral about the following proposed library sales, shrinkages and consolidating of library assets (Please explain and amplify your stated position–Note that one of the sales and reductions has already occurred– Donnell– while others are proposed and/or in progress):
    a.    The Donnell Library at 53rd Street across from MoMA between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
    b.    SIBIL, the Science, Industry and Business Library, (its sale is considered to be part of the NYPL’s “CLP,” Central Library Plan)
    c.    Mid-Manhattan (its sale is also considered to be part of the CLP)
    d.    Demolition and removal of research stacks underneath the Central Reference Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue (its sale is also considered to be part of the CLP).
    e.    The NYPL’s “Central Library Plan” (involving the consolidating shrinkage of the libraries noted above)
    f.    The Brooklyn Heights Library (the operations of which function on a combined and integrated basis with the Business and Career Library in the building)
    g.    The Pacific Branch Library at 4th Avenue and Pacific in Brooklyn
    h.    The Clinton Hill Library in Brooklyn
    i.    All other libraries in Brooklyn that the BPL might consider similarly selling or leveraging as a stated part of the strategic plan it published
    j.    Other libraries NYPL might decide to similarly sell and shrink, such as libraries in Harlem, North Manhattan, Staten Island or other parts of Manhattan or the Bronx.
    NOTE: The Central Library Plan involving Mid-Manhattan, SIBL and the Central Reference Library stack destruction involves reducing more than 380,000 square feet of library space to 80,000.  The Donnell sale for shrinkage and redevelopment reduced the 97,000 square foot library to 28,000 square feet of mostly underground, mostly bookless space that won’t be available until at least 2015, eight years after sale of the library was announced .  The planned sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library reduces about 62,000 square feet of space to 20,000 square feet (originally proposed to be only 15,000 sq ft), as much of a quarter of the reduced space being placed underground.
Tish James:  I oppose all of the above library shrinkages and sales, which do nothing to sustain our existing public library system, and only serve the interests of development. I have fought to save and protect branches such as the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Pacific Branch Library, and the Clinton Hill Library (which, although struggling, in currently undergoing renovation).
4.    Many people consider it an indication of a problematic mind-set on the part of decision makers that libraries are being sold for what they believe are very inadequate prices: The 97,000 sq. ft. Donnell Library, much of it recently renovated, was sold to net the NYPL only $39 million while the penthouse in the fifty-story building replacing it is on the market for $60 million and SIBL was recently completed using substantial public funds for $100 million but 87% of it was just sold for $60.8 million.  Are you opposed to the sale and shrinkage of library assets in general or do you accept sale and shrinkage if you consider that ‘an adequate price’ is obtained for the sale?  If the latter; please describe what you believe to be an ‘adequate price’?
Tish James:  I oppose sales and shrinkages when they are sold at inadequate prices, and primarily serve to privatize our existing system. Theoretically, I would consider supporting the renovation of a library space if it did not fall into the above-mentioned category, did not drastically decrease the space of the library, and did not create disruption in community access to the space. I am generally supportive of proposals to build-onto existing library spaces to create housing and other spaces that the City could lease or sell to create profit..
5.    Are you opposed to the sale of library space and assets in general or would you accept the sale of libraries if they were not being shrunk (or were being increased in size) and you considered that ‘an adequate price’ was being obtained for the sale?  Again, if the latter please describe what you believe to be an ‘adequate price.’  Alternatively, if you believe that the presumption should always be that libraries should not be available for sale or redevelopment because of such things as the disruptions and hardship caused and the way a generation of children and other will be significantly deprived of services, please elaborate upon this point of view. 
Tish James:  See response above..
6.    There is now a demand for internet and electronic services at the library.  Although a Pew poll shows that younger readers strongly prefer physical books, ebooks now make up 20% of the book market.  In some cases libraries are the only place to access certain electronic data and services (often requiring assistance of a librarian to do so).  Most people believe that libraries should now provide computer and electronic services (“bridging the digital divide” for those needing such service), which may require even more space.  Notwithstanding, do you believe that there is an adequate justification for NYC libraries to be effecting substantial reductions in the inventories of physical books available for those visiting at libraries, even in the face of increased demand?  Please explain your position.
Tish James:   While it is important for libraries to provide e-books and other electronic data which generally requires less in physical resources, I believe that this goal should not hinder access to physical books. There will always be a number of patrons seeking physical books as they may not have access to (or understand how to utilize) e-readers and other devices. Libraries should have adequate resources to meet both demands.
7.    Do you believe the libraries should be reducing professional library staff, or increasing such staff of at least maintaining the level of such professionals available to assist the public?
Tish James:  Maintaining staff should be the immediate goal while the system examines ways to create income and increase funding. In the future, we should seek to increase staff levels, specifically those professionals working primarily in digital technology.
8.    Some believe that professionally trained librarians are often in the best position to comment knowledgeably on the directions in which the New York City library system is being steered, but actions are being taken to silence such staff and prevent them from commenting, including directives to staff, loyalty oaths and “nondisparagement” (confidentiality) agreements the NYPL wants departing librarians to sign in return for severance.  Do you condone such silencing policies or feel they should be considered to be contrary to public policy?
Tish James:  [answer]
9.    Do you believe that the currently ongoing sell-offs of libraries and shrinkage of library space should be investigated and/or audited by appropriate government authorities?  Please elaborate.
Tish James:  I believe we should make sure as much information regarding the sales of public libraries is available for public scrutiny. I would support (and seek to initiate) an IBO and/or Comptroller audit of the system. 
* * * *
Again, to find out what other candidates provided responses (and navigate to them) go to the Citizens Defending Libraries August 13, 2013 posting.

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