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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Report on Wednesday, December 10th City Council Hearing On Future of Capital Budget For NYC Libraries Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries

Hearing montage: Obviously large crowd, Culture Chair Van Barmer and library subcommittee chair Costantinides center, and the very much featured Center For an Urban Future Report writers David Giles and Jonathan Bowles 
This post will be updated.

Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries appears below following the (coming) report of the hearing. (The City Council's video for the entire hearing is available at its website.)
Culture Chair Jimmy Van Bramer tweeted, during the hearing, this photo of what it looked like from his vantage saying "No surprise to see packed house."
One of the most intriguing parts of the hearing was when City Councilman Steve Levin questioned City Councilman Steve Levin questioned Brooklyn Public Library president Ms. Johnson about the BPL’s proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library that is in his district.  His questions (video below) concerned three principal topics:
    1.)  The BPL’s participation in the passage of this summer of legislation authorizing the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) to issue bonds for BPL projects.

    2.)  Exactly how much library space of various kinds is being eliminated from what currently exists at the Brooklyn Heights Library when it is shrunk down from the existing 63,000 square feet to a proposed 21,000 square feet, only 15,000 of which will be above ground

    3.)  Whether it is appropriate that the BPL’s deal with the luxury tower developer, while proposing to shrink way down the public’s library space is proposing to turn over a great deal of space to the private St. Ann’s School.
Ms. Johnson, clearly uncomfortable, gave answers that for the most part were not exactly clear.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Although there was dialogue between Ms. Johnson and Councilman Levin about the Brooklyn Heights Library facing air conditioning repar costs of "$5 million" that is a a figure that is clearly overstated and in accurate.

(VIDEO: BPL CEO Dodges Library Bonds Funding Query - Why? Click through to YouTube for best viewing)

The following is important background about the subjects Councilman Levin asked about:

DASNY BONDS?: There is concern that the DASNY bonds that Ms. Johnson didn’t want to talk about here might be issued to finance the luxury towers that replace a library like Brooklyn Heights, not the library itself.  Did Levin know his question could hit a sore spot in this regard when he asked his question, or was he thinking in more direct, simpler terms, only whether issuing bonds could help meet the capital needs of the libraries?  See Noticing New York’s reporting on this:
Sunday, August 31, 2014, 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.
Above, a demonstration of the amount of space being lost at the Brooklyn Heights Library being asked about by Councilman Levin at the hearing.  The orange overlay is the amount of space above-ground space (15,000 square feet) proposed to be kept overlaid on the exiting two floors of space now there, pretty much a two-thirds reduction
WHAT SPACE IS BEING LOST WITH LIBRARY’S SHRINKAGE?: The subject of what exactly library space, auditorium, staff space, book space, etc., is being lost with the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, together with an accounting for other losses and costs of the proposed transaction is the subject of an open letter from Citizens Defending Libraries to Ms. Johnson that Ms. Johnson has still not responded to.  See:
Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson (Requesting answer to question concerning the unrecognized cost to the public of selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library)
About two- thirds of the existing two-story Brooklyn Heights Library would disappear under the currently proposed shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library just in terms of what will be above ground.  No wonder that Ms. Johnson with such enormous losses to explain can’t answer Councilman Levin’s questions well and without her aide David Walloch whispering in her ear.
Overall, the Brooklyn Heights Library will be reduced from an existing 63,000 square feet (blue on left) to 21,000 square feet on right with green representing the small amount of above-ground square footage.
For that goes with the visuals that show (what Ms. Johnson was asked to explain) how substantial the loss of library space will be both overall and in terms of the above-ground portion see:
Tuesday, October 7, 2014,  The Public Loss of Selling And Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library- How Great Will the Loss Be? Let's Calculate
SHRUNKEN PUBLIC LIBRARY SPACE vs. EXPANDING PRIVATE SCHOOL?: As Councilman notes to Ms. Johnson the proposed luxury development (like a lot of new development going up in the neighborhood) will add to the neighborhood’s burdens.  Among other things PS8, the neighborhood public school is too small ans severely overburdened.  The public library provides ancillary support in terms of providing education related services including to PS8 students, is being shrunk with for a development increasing burdens on the community.  How inappropriate is it that one `reason’ propelling the transaction facilitation of an expansion of the St Ann’s private school into space the library will give up?

A Hearing Orchestrated Around a New Center Foro An Urban Future Report

To get an idea of what those opposed to treating our libraries like real estate deals were facing at this hearing and what we were up against generally, consider that the hearing was in the context of some long-term orchestration that involved pushing to the fore a report by the Center for an Urban Future and its authors David Giles and Jonathan Bowles.

The report swirls together in a hodgepodge a number of good ideas, some hard to contest ideas, and ideas for which cover is thereby extended that need to be warned against, and many of which can be traced back to the early days when people were beginning to look at rationales for develop libraries.

The heavily flogged report came out in September.  It was immediately presented to city library administration officials and their boards who mostly heartily endorsed it giving every indication they had been expecting it with bated breath.  BPL president Linda Johnson who has been leading the march to sell and shrink libraries said it conformed everything she had been saying all along.  An active efforts was made to get the members of the City Council to pay as much attention to the report as possible.

The Thursday (December 4th) before the Wednesday (December 10th) City Council hearing an invitation-only symposium was held co-sponsored by Center for an Urban Future, The Architectural League of New York, and the Charles Revson Foundation. It was centered on architectural proposals for the branch libraries based on CUF's above mentioned report (Sept. 2014). Both City Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer and Brad Lander participated along with other city and library officials, essentially setting the stage for the hearing the following week that was to be chaired by Van Bramer.

Several times during the hearing it was announced that the next in this series of hearings will be held in January . . .

And in January there will be another such promotional event:
This January the five design teams will present their research and designs in depth at this public event. Refreshments will be available. Additional information on the design work produced by this study can be found here on The Architectural League's website.
At the hearing testimony of part of the discussion that pushed the report pushed to the fore was the Center for and Urban Future report’s proposal that the process for `redeveloping' libraries should be “streamlined.”  That would help private developers move fast and minimize public input and get the property. At least FIVE times during the hearing, it was emphasized that our New York City libraries currently don't have enough electrical outlets, a reason the report gives as a reason to redesign and rebuild libraries from scratch.
Epoch Times cover story: Purportedly thinking "outside the box," is really just a good example of thinking totally "inside the PR stream,"
All this sort of promotion translates into things like this article from the EPOCH Times on "Reimagining Public Libraries" that while purporting to promote thinking "outside the box," is really is a good example of thinking totally "inside the PR stream," failing to note any of the already surfacing dystopian pitfalls as people are pitted against each other to eat others intertwined and diminished subsidies.  In the entire article there is only one reference to books.  See: Designers Draw up the Library of the Future, by Catherine Yang, Epoch Times, December 12, 2014.

Note that it make it look like two more libraries, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, appear to be in the sights of the "re-developers."

The hearing testimony below will be supplemented with additions of others who testified as this post is updated.

Hearing Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries by Michael D. D. White

December 10, 2014

James G. Van Bramer, Chair
Committee on Cultural Affairs,
   Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
Council Chambers
City Hall
New York, NY 10017

Re:    Oversight - New York City Public Library Systems’ Capital Needs & Planning.

Dear Committee:           

Libraries have had hundreds of years, actually thousands, to get what they do right, and New York City’s Libraries, despite unconscionable underfunding, are a success story.  They are packed with people already, something you don’t need to slap glass windows on to their sides to see, even if that is the latest architectural fashion.

There is nothing wrong with experimentation or new ideas, but it is potentially extremely foolish and financially wasteful to rush to overhaul, with new so-called “models,” many system libraries all at once, shutting out any chance for public reaction as we proceed, and increasing the danger of damage from ill-considered fads.

There are already identifiable problems: Basement libraries in mixed-used developments (usually vastly shrunken libraries in the first initiatives we’ve seen) are perpetually sentenced to grow no further while departing from the `monumental’ tradition of library architecture that declare libraries as important in and of themselves, beacons to their community.

Promoted somewhat deceptively as “economic,” “redeveloping” libraries is frequently the opposite, far from cheap, with much to be lost.  Selling and vastly shrinking the beloved, destination Donnell Library, the NYPL netted less than $38 million.  Alternatively, the NYPL would have lost millions on this “redevelopment” if it were replacing Donnell full scale.  Similarly, a self-cannibalizing sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library is proposed to “raise funds,” but we can only believe that the reason the BPL wants to reduce this central destination library to such a tiny size (essentially the same as what’s now proposed for a new Sunset Park Library) is that otherwise the uneconomic character of the sale would be blatantly clear to everyone.

We are not going to say that video games (increasingly recognized as a respected cultural art form) or cooking schools don’t have a place in libraries.  They may if libraries grow, but we are going to say that such things should not replace the time-perfected, traditional and basic functions libraries have long served.  Also, do we really think that libraries are Swiss Army knives needing to be all things to all people?

Further, when it comes to “mixed-use” projects, let’s be aware of how bundling benefits to be dispensed to the public (affordable housing, artist studios or cooking schools, fill-in-the blank), with libraries which were once considered, all on their very own, a basic essential public service, forces the public to start viewing these as competing goods.  What can be dressed-up as a “win win” scenario can actually be a “lose or lose,” divide-and-conquer scenario with everyone eating up everyone else’s subsidy.  The public can thereby be drawn into expecting sacrifices, especially of our libraries, more of this city’s escalating spiral of political and wealth inequality. We admonish you to remember that all the initial proposals to surface involved shrinkages of libraries.  One `for instance’ in this vein, is how the private Spaceworks company was set up to shrink library space (like Red Hook and Williamsburg) based on the view that NYC library space is “underutilized.”

The second, recent Center for an Urban Future report is far from gospel.  NYPL President Marx expressing reservations about the report to his board said the “old isn't necessarily bad. . . Some of our most beautiful libraries are some of our oldest and they've been beautifully renovated, and some of them are close to our hearts.  I can think of some that really are gems.” - We should remember that the Center for an Urban Future did not do its own real estate analysis: They got it from the libraries who, in turn, in the case of BPL, got it from a former Forest City Ratner Sr. Vive President Karen Backus, who prioritized for the BPL deals adjacent to Forest City Ratner property. Also, the proposed escalating priority of `programming’ over `books’ results from a reversal of the statistics from the Center for an Urban Future report provided a year prior.  (By the way, running supplemental electric service through a building to provide additional electric outlets is not difficult, not a reason to rebuild a library.)

We are pleased that the recently released proposal for the Sunset Park Library is the first plan since Citizens Defending Libraries has been in existence that looks to increase, not shrink, the size of that library, in this case to 20,600 square feet.  However, even this proposal has flaws:
    •    The branch library will lose, in perpetuity, any options for future growth
    •    The community will have to go through a period of disruption and not having a proper library (with Donnell it's verging on a 7.5 year period), which disruption would be unnecessary if the library shifted to an alternative nearby site
    •    The public is subject to division as competing benefits are dangled
    •    Competitive bids are being sidestepped
    •    Especially given the uncertainties of the funding estimates and vagaries of construction the chances of being forced into accepting a bait-and-switch are severe.
Citizens Defending Libraries is reluctant to make any proposals for the “redevelopment” of libraries so long as we perceive that such proposals are likely to be abused, but if libraries are, in fact, to be redeveloped and the land they sit on recycled, “leveraged” into real estate sales, the way to do it when it is truly necessary and appropriate is to first build new, bigger, better libraries at nearby comparable sites.  This could be funded with a revolving fund, primed with city capital dollars, that in the scheme of things would not be very large sum, which would be replenished as the older library properties are then vacated and sold. Libraries would be redeveloped in sequence, not pell mell and en masse.  This would also avoid community disruptions and a multitude of other problems, including the need for getting into the thicket of  “partnerships.” . . . . As much as the private sector vaunts so-called “public-private partnerships” they are a stew presenting too many risks of crony capitalism.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

We attach the following for guidance and reference.  The attached indicates much of what needs to considered if libraries are to be “redeveloped” as well as pitfalls we face if such “redevelopment” is infected with the wrong mind set and motivations:
    1.    Citizens Defending Libraries Letter of Support
    2.    A Proposed Statement of Principles that applies to the Sunset Park Plans or and potentially to the redevelopment of any library.
    3.    A Noticing New York article from August indicating some of the things that ten years worth of minutes of Brooklyn Public Library disclose about the history and genesis of the BPL’s real estate plans.
    4.    An Open Letter to Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson (October 15, 2014) requesting an answer to a question concerning the unrecognized cost to the public of selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library
    5.    Press release about Citizens Audit and Investigation that Citizens Defending Libraries is conducting.

Testimony of Veronika Conant
New York City Council - Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations and Select Committee on Libraries Oversight - New York City Public Library System's Capital Needs & Planning, 
December 10, 2014, Council Chambers, City Hall
Testimony by Veronika Conant

Thank you for calling this hearing.  I am Veronika Conant, a retired academic librarian, member of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, and past Pres. of the West 54 - 55 Street Block Association, active during the disastrous sale of the Donnell Library.

Recommendations, inspired by the Center for an Urban Future Report:
o    Create a 10 year, $1.1 billion capital fund for NY's public libraries
o    Create a prioritized list of capital funding needs.
o    Group by types: HVAC repairs/replacement, boiler repairs/replacement, roof re-pairs/replacement, etc. and go in order of highest priorities first
o    Get approval from the City to do each type jointly and try to lower the cost for the combined projects. Streamline these and do the same for each, wiring, etc.

1.     Get the 42nd Street Library back to normal functioning as soon as possible:
a)   Upgrade the already existing HVAC and sprinklers in the seven floors of book stacks, and return the 3 million books from off-site storage. Even at the high estimate of $46 million for 160,000 square feet of stacks, the unit cost is $287.50 per square foot. If DDC can do it for $150 per square foot, the cost would be $24 million.
b)    Repair the Reading Room, now closed for over 1/2 year, and restore the excel-lent and architecturally significant unique book delivery system for readers as soon as possible.   While it is appreciated that NYPL will reconfigure the space in other parts of the 42nd Street Library, we want to be assured no space will be taken away from what is needed to allow the book delivery function and to provide air condition-ing, humidity controls and sprinklers for the book stacks.
2.   Complete the second Bryant Park Stack Extension (BPSE), started during Vartan Gregorian's Presidency, with the goal of doubling storage for the collection. Even at the high estimate of $20 million for storing there 1.8 million items, unit cost is about $11 per item. At the lower, $9 million estimate, we originally heard, unit cost is $5.50 per item, more cost effective than ReCAP.  42nd Street has room to store 3.5 million books inside the building and 3.1 - 3.2 million in the two BPSEs, totaling 6.6 - 6.7 million items stored with easy access in the most cost effective way.
3.  Renovate and, using available air rights, enlarge Mid-Manhattan, creating additional, valuable space in a beautiful new library for NYC.  
4.  Do not sell SIBL (the Science, Industry & Business Library) at 34 St & Madison Ave, created in 1996 for $100 million, expensively furnished, already wired and equipped with hundreds of computers. It can become a perfect Computer Center. Five floors had already been sold for over $60 million. All it needs is longer opening hours than the present 51 hours per week, a relatively inexpensive investment. (By comparison, Mid-Manhattan is open 88 hrs per week).
Do not sell any public libraries at a time when more people than ever use them.
5,  Streamline branch library needs and repair HVAC systems and boilers first, to keep libraries open year round, then do roof, elevator repairs and wiring, also make every library building accessible to the disabled and elderly.DDC has done very good work, if streamlining can bring prices down and shorten completion times all the better.
6. The Donnell Library, is still under construction. Can it be enlarged, and if that is not possible, can the 28,000 square foot space be redesigned to a better configuration, providing adequate seating, quiet space, room for the collection and staff, wired for many computers and technology, plus an auditorium. It functioned very well as a re-gional library, an idea, recommended by CUF. 
There is need for several major libraries in Midtown where population density is very high:
Donnell, SIBL, Mid-Manhattan and 42nd Street serve a very large population, they are also very accessible by public transportation and close to several colleges, schools.

Andrew Carnegie donated in 1905 $ millions to build 65+ free, circulating branch libraries in NYC on the condition that the City agrees to pay for utilities, and rent if the land is not owned, and maintain them in perpetuity. This agreement has not been kept for decades, there is a great deal of deferred maintenance, leading to major capital needs. Having a baseline capital funding established for regular preventive maintenance could avoid the state of deterioration currently existing and would be much more cost effective with benefit to all. Thank you.

Veronika A Conant, M.L.S. retired from Hunter College Libraries
45 W 54 St, 7C, New York, NY 10019         212 581-1895   vaconant [at] yahoo.com

I have two strong disagreements with the Report:
1.   Maximize Public Space.     
 What matters in a library is not public space but its content, the collection, how many people can be seated at tables and workstations, the number of librarians and support staff, computer access, use of technology, having both quiet and meeting space and hours open. Space is needed for both the collection and staff, they are the essence of a library.  Librarians need peace and quiet to think, work, learn and develop, allowing them to assist library users in the best possible way. It is also important for staff morale.

2.  Floating Book Ops is a bad idea. There are too few resources present for local pa-trons, they need to order most of what they want and wait for its arrival. This is ineffec-tive and discourages library use. It is good to have centralized cataloging and preserva-tion, imaging. But local librarians know their collection and the specialized interests and needs of their users. Therefore, they should remain active in book selection.Having every request go through the Library Service Center, LIC, is not necessarily a cost effective operation in a large, congested city. If a book, requested at 79th Street is at 96th Street, then the book has to be packed, taken by truck to LIC, go through an enormous book sorter, get packed again and sent to 79th Street and then back. Can a cost benefit study be done about Book Ops? Fairway on W 74 St sometimes delivers my food to W 54 St by bicycle.

Testimony of Charles D. Warren of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library
(Available on the site of Committee to Save the New York Public Library)

Picture from the site of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library
Testimony of Charles D. Warren of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library before the New York City Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, jointly with the Subcommittee on Libraries. December 10, 2014
I am Charles Warren and I represent the Committee to Save the New York Public Library (CSNYPL), a citizens group that has sought to keep the popular Mid-Manhattan Branch as a library rather than a real estate deal, keep three million books in the stacks of the Central Library at 42nd Street, and maintain the Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL), the library closest to the CUNY Graduate Center.

With the support of thousands of New Yorkers, students, librarians, celebrated authors, union leaders, elected officials, and others we insisted that the $300 million price tag for the Central Library Plan (CLP), which escalated to $500 million, was too high. Thanks to our efforts and the elected officials who recognized the wasteful folly of this plan, we have stopped it.

The election of 2013 brought a new energy to our city government and the abandonment of NYPL's destructive and extravagant Central Library Plan gives us all the opportunity to set a better course for the future. Base-line budgeting for the operating budgets of the three library systems is a positive step. And now, we welcome the opportunity to rethink the capital spending budget for our city's libraries. As you know the many years of under-funding have left a pressing need for intelligent planning and stable funding.

The Center for an Urban Future has performed a great service in its careful study of the branch libraries and I want to add to that with some comments about what NYPL is calling the Midtown Campus, a scheme that encompasses its research library on 42nd Street and the popular Mid-Manhattan Library across 5th Avenue. I urge you to see that these two libraries are intertwined with and complimentary to the citywide network of neighborhood branches. Their central location and unique resources extend their importance beyond NYPL's three borough system - they serve the whole city.
Public money and Private control - Is that a public/private partnership?
To citizens of New York it seemed the $151 Million contributed by New York City to the Central Library Plan was conjured from thin air; $100 Million from the Mayor; $50 Million from the City Council; $1 Million from the Manhattan Borough President. This money was granted when NYPL claimed it did not yet have even schematic designs. There were no public hearings, there was no public input. Now, most of this sum remains in the adopted FY 2015 capital budget. What is it for?

The NYPL Midtown Campus includes the Central Library at 42nd Street and the Mid-Manhattan Branch, but it fails to mention the Science Industry and Business Library, (SIBL) just a few blocks away.

Will the city council follow the old pattern where it grants $151 Million for a vaguely described plan being developed in secret? We need to know what our tax dollars are paying for. We must not stand for a partnership where the money is public and the decisions are private.

Just last week NYPL conducted a survey about plans for the Midtown Campus, but the survey omitted key questions. They did not ask:
    •    Does it make sense to leave the stacks empty for want of modern climate controls?

    •    Which Midtown Campus building is best suited to which library service?

    •    Should SIBL be sold or made part of the Midtown Campus?

    •    What balance should we strike between books and electronic services?
Instead, all the poll questions were skewed to avoid these important choices and reinforce a narrow set of pre-determined outcomes. This cannot be presented as meaningful public consultation.

If NYPL will not ask difficult questions, we must. And we must add a budget question: What is the best, most resilient, least destructive, and most economical way of achieving the public's objectives for the library and the city? Long term capital plans should encompass all parts of all NYPL buildings.
Mistakes made with an insular process
NYPL is a not-for-profit corporation with a $ 1.1 Billion endowment. I often disagree with its president, Tony Marx, but I have no doubt that he is motivated by the same devotion to the library and the city that motivates the CSNYPL. I know the NYPL trustees are similarly well intentioned. We should applaud their extraordinary generosity and hard work. But insular decision-making at NYPL has led to a series of bad consequences:
    •    Ten years and countless millions wasted on the Central Library Plan.

    •    The fiasco of Donnell Library, where the anticipated real estate bonanza for NYPL has not been realized. Money from the sale of this beloved and busy neighborhood library has been chipped away at by bad deals, long delays, and millions spent to rent substitute space for years. In the end an irreplaceable neighborhood library of about 90,000 square feet will be replaced with a largely subterranean space 1/3 its size.

    •    SIBL was built at the cost of about $ 100 Million. It is a commercial condominium owned by NYPL, not by the city. But many costs associated with this facility were funded with NYS bonding authority. Should NYPL now be free to sell it without city approval? NYPL is now silent on the future of this huge investment in the "library of the future" (focused on CD-ROMs and an object lesson for those thinking they can predict the course of fast changing technology).
An on-going example of private planning with consequences for public funds is the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP) in Princeton, New Jersey. NYPL continues to spend its capital funds to construct and expand its remote storage facility there. These substantial capital investments are represented as "private funds." and they are being made outside of New York City. Meanwhile, NYPL refuses to invest in its stacks, the uniquely efficient shelf system at the heart of its city owned 42nd Street building. Without public input, it has decided to leave the stacks empty, warehousing this space like a landlord waiting for an uptick in the real estate market.

Is it efficient to shuttle books back and forth from Princeton on a continuous basis? Is it environmentally responsible? Is it good for the preservation of the books? Is it good for New Yorkers? The answer seems to be that ReCAP is paid for with "private funds" and so it is not subject to city oversight. But "private funds" spent in New Jersey are dollars that are not spent on New York City facilities, and this means fewer jobs in New York. That leaves more needs to be met by city taxpayers and a bigger hole in the capital budget.

The public was barely consulted on these decisions, or consulted after they were set in motion. They have real consequences for library services and a real impact on the city's capital expenditures. We need reform.
Make all information available to all
In order to make informed decisions about capital projects, the City Council and the public need access to cost and other information for past, present, and future projects. Decision-making is hobbled when public cost data are disclosed, but private cost data are concealed. NYPL leaders promise openness but fail to disclose important information.

For example: At the June 27, 2013 hearing before State Assembly Committee on Libraries, NYPL CEO Anthony Marx testified about CLP:
    .. we understand that this plan needs an independent cost estimate and we will provide one as soon as we have an actual architectural design that can be assessed. We are as eager to [do] that as quickly as possible.., but we have to get it right. We also understand the public interest in having a cost estimate done by independent actors of what it would instead cost to make the current stacks work at state of the art preservation or for that matter to renovate the current Mid-Manhattan on site.. We will provide that information. We would love to do it sooner it looks at this point like we won't have all of that complete till the fall. As soon as we have it we will make it public.
What was finally disclosed in the Wall Street Journal, as CLP was being scrapped, was that its cost had ballooned to $ 500 Million, that fitting out the unused storage under Bryant Park would cost $24 million (rather than the $ 8.5 Million NYPL estimated earlier) and that the cost to provide proper environmental controls in the stacks was estimated at $ 46 Million. No estimates were supplied for renovating the Mid-Manhattan Library, no professional cost-estimator was identified, nor was detail supplied. Indeed, the plans and specifications that formed the basis of these estimates have never been disclosed.

The failure of NYPL to fulfill its promise leaves the City Council and the public in the dark. We are deprived of important information and cost data needed to assess alternatives or estimate present capital plans for these buildings.
A closed book from an institution devoted to information access
Partial, selective disclosure of information is a pattern with NYPL. Its trustees' meetings are open to the public, but much of the substance of those meetings is hidden within the briefing books provided to the trustees and not made public. I have asked Carey Maloney, the Speaker Mark-Viverito's new representative to the NYPL trustees, to make his copy of these briefing books public, I have made the same request to the Comptroller's staff. It should not require a quarterly Freedom of Information Act request to make public the substantive information underlying public meetings. Failure to disclose this information makes a mockery of open board meetings.
Pass-through contracts and NYC Department of Design and Construction
As this Committee knows, there are existing tools to require greater disclosure for the construction of city owned buildings. In a hearing held by this committee on April 28, 2014, the role of the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) in library construction projects was examined. Testimony by Commissioner Peña-Mora and his deputy David Resnick emphasized the safe-guards and requirements for transparency in the DDC process. Under questioning, they compared this openness to the lack of transparency when pass-through contracts are used.

At the September 17, 2014 NYPL trustee meeting Anthony Marx claimed that pass-through contracts allowed the NYPL to deliver library projects at half the cost in half the time (compared to DDC). If this can be verified, it is a remarkable record of efficiency (even considering the lack of Wicks law requirements in pass-throughs contracts) and the city might want to fill vacancies at DDC from the staff of NYPL. But only NYPL has the data to support their claim.

We need to reform the rules for pass-through contracts so the use of some "private funds" does not cast a veil of secrecy over public building projects. I urge you to use the expertise within the DDC to find a more transparent process for these contracts. Absent greater transparency, our tax dollars are spent without sufficient public scrutiny or safe-guards.
Our Position on the capital budget
We support base-line budgeting. We support increased funding for NYPL and the other library systems. We support budget reform that allows for long term planning. These measures are needed to strengthen New York's libraries.

But reform must accompany these increases and improvements in funding.

When we met with Peter Hatch from the Deputy Mayor's office he indicated relations between the city and NYPL had entered a new era. But we cannot rely on better inter-personal relationships alone. With increased funding for operations and capital projects we must have greater openness, accountability, and transparency at NYPL. Citizens must be able to participate in decisions about both long and short term plans and we need mechanisms within the government to oversee library expenditures of both public and private funds. These libraries are our buildings. In return for more a more consistent stream of public funds, we must demand a more public planning process.
We urge the following reforms:
    •    Make increased and long-term capital funding contingent on greater openness and better oversight of NYPL.

    •    Require advance notice and periods of public comment on NYPL capital expenditures whether funded by the NYC or "privately" by NYPL.

    •    Reform pass-through contracts to provide better oversight and transparency.

    •    Use the government's three appointed representatives as a conduit of information between the NYPL trustees and the public.

    •    Require a quarterly public report from the Speaker's representative providing an independent account of NYPL plans.

    •    Require the disclosure of all information presented at NYPL trustee's meetings.

    •    Require disclosure of past cost estimates relating to the Central Library Plan
Testimony of  State Senator Velmanette Montgomery

State Senator Velmanettc Montgomery
25th New York Senatorial District
Ranking Democratic Conference Member, Children & Families

December 10,2014
Comments to the NYC Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Regarding Capital Needs and Funding
Chairman Van Bramer and Members of the Committee:

I thank you for the opportunity to address you this afternoon as you consider not just the upcoming annual budgets for our libraries, but in a larger sense their future purposes.

I am a very strong proponent of libraries. I believe they are one of the most vital elements of an informed electorate and educated society. Making information available free of charge to all people regardless of age, race, citizenship, education , or economics, is central to a thriving democracy. This has been their purpose for hundreds of years and I am confident they will serve this necessary function for centuries to come. . .. if we. as elected officials, are wise stewards of this public asset.

We must establish a steady funding stream for our libraries. We cannot continue to allow the executive branch to propose a figure in the budget and then depend on the Council to scramble to restore necessary funds. In recent years we have seen our library budgets repeatedly slashed, and then been told the only way to save our libraries is to sell them. Or to just sell part of them for purposes that will undercut the primary focus of the libraries. If we were to substitute the word "children" for libraries, what would that say about our custodial skills?  To save them we have to sell them? Really? To save libraries they have to become rehearsal studios and theaters? For libraries to continue, they must become something other than libraries?

I do not oppose progress, but I do oppose change based on dubious assertions offered by parties who stand to benefit from certain changes. Libraries are for books and studying. They are not rehearsal studios. Those are not a good fit. I am not persuaded that traditional books are obsolete. And neither are scientists, who have repeatedly shown in studies that the experience of reading from a book is profoundly different than reading from a screen, and far superior for transmission and retention of information. And children prefer books!

We have heard this song before when publishers were assuring us that the future was audio books. Thank God we didn't listen to that!

I urge you to exercise caution in your funding considerations. We have to save our children, and save our libraries. We have to save the future and not throw away precious public assets in favor of fads and unproven but well-funded theories.

We have to endow our libraries. They are tools for our citizens, and not tools for bargaining. I have every confidence that you will weigh carefully the many options available to you and the seriousness of the responsibility with which you have been charged.

Thank you for your consideration.


Sen. Velmanette Montgomery
25" District.

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