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.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?

Although plans to sell NYC libraries were not announced by the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration until much later, those plans actually to go back to at least 2005 or probably 2004David Offensend was hired by the NYPL in June of 2004 and, though he is imprecise, he says that he started working on library deals not long after his arrival there.  Janet Offensend, his wife, who helped launch BPL library sales started haunting the BPL and its board in 2005.  Other city development officials were being positioned by Mayor Bloomberg on the BPL board around that time.  (The Bloomberg administration took office January 1, 2002, shortly after 9/11.  By contrast, the Giuliani administration implemented library expansion plans that carried over into the early Bloomberg years.)

The BPL's minutes for 2005 show that in January a developer, perhaps jumping the gun based on inside knowledge, was angling to buy the 12,200 square-foot Midwood Library.  In November 2006 the New York Times ran a little noticed article about tearing down “obsolete” branch libraries to produce “new,” "better" library space in multi-use developments saying that a study had produced "an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City" to identify "candidates for redevelopment" (like the "Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park" libraries and the "Clinton Hill Library," which involves pushing through an accompanying rezoning.)  The article mentions "deferred maintenance" as a reason to redevelop the libraries.

In May of 2006 it was revealed that four Connecticut librarians had won a fight, secret because of a gag order since it began in July 2005, to resist broad federal surveillance of their library patrons.

Although the public did not know what it needed to know in order to see it happening, 2007 and 2008 were extremely eventful years in terms of furthering the plans to sell NYC libraries: 
    •    In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government) was hired to assist the NYPL trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.
    •    In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.
    •    In November The Donnell Library sale was announced.
    •    The NYPL was working on selecting architects in connection with the Central Library Plan.
    •    The NYPL had plans for other consolidating shrinkage hub libraries for Northern Manhattan and Staten Island.
    •    Albany legislation reorganized the BPL board giving Mayor Bloomberg more control.
    •    The BPL started working on a "Strategic Real Estate Plan" being drafted by a former vice president of Forest City Ratner, which, will include a sale of the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library replicating the Donnell sale (with Forest City Ratner involved in the transaction) as well as “leveraging” all its “over one million square feet of real estate by launching partnerships . . .
    •    The BPL is working on a deal to turn the Brower Park Library into a redevelopment deal.
    •   The BPL was considering creating a tiny new library in DUMBO asnew library model,” (an “Out-Post”), that would have been only 1,700 square feet.
     •    Brownstoner published an article about the BPL selling the Clinton Hill Library for redevelopment and, although the public was unaware, there was a list of city libraries developers were looking at.
    •    The BPL agreed, at city request (before the fiscal crisis), to start deferring capital expenditures for its libraries.
    •    The BPL hired an architect to create a Master Plan for its Central Library (eliminating books) that’s much like the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.
    •    The NYPL board was advised of the expectation that federal law might "require" the NYPL "to reengineer their Internet service facilities to enhance law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept communications."
This is right around the time (just as Bloomberg clears his third term election hurdle) that funding for the libraries drops drastically even as public use continues a steep upward trajectory. The lack of funds with these funding cuts will be cited as the principal reason to sell libraries.

Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
In 2009 a lot of librarians were being fired, shifted to different positions and NYPL librarians were being being asked to sign “nondisparagement agreements” to silence them when real estate deals get announced.  Also in 2009, the BPL adopted a late in the game "Community Needs Assessment" blessing its library sales and offering the principle that the Brooklyn Public Library should as one of is objectives be engaged in "support for economic development."

When Linda Johnson arrives to head the BPL in 2010 she speaks to the BPL board about how the strategic plan converting libraries into real estate deals is her priority.

Locking in aspects of its Central Library Plan, the NYPL proceeds in 2011 and 2012 to sell its book-storing Annex between 10th and 11th avenues and part of SIBL.  Also in 2011 Linda Johnson reminds the BPL board that their goal is to advance so far into the "real estate plan" that it will be deep in progress "when a new Mayor takes office . .  he or she will not derail it."  . .

. .  Also in 2011, Ms. Johnson tells the BPL trustees that Booz & Co. has been hired because of their "extensive experience with libraries" and would be involved with the right-sizing of the libraries.  This involves Bloomberg's First Deputy Mayor (and a meeting at Gracie mansion) overseeing the use of Booz & Co.to make coordinated changes for all three of the city library systems, BPL, NYPL and Queens. 

The July 4th weekend of the summer of 2012 is when the air conditioning in the Brooklyn Heights Library `broke down` along with other air conditioning systems of libraries across the BPL system- This was just before library sales were to be announced.  The Heights air conditioning "break down" like other air conditioning "break downs" at other libraries will be cited six months later as a reason to sell the library.

As another parting 2012 gift, 2012 is also the year that the Bloomberg administration set up the library-shrinking Spaceworks corporation.

January 2013 is when the overall assault on the libraries becomes clear with new Brooklyn library sale plans coming to light as the Bloomberg administration hopes to ram them through or lock those sales through, together with the NYPL Central Library Plan, before leaving office at the end of the calendar 2013.  That's when Citizens Defending Libraries is formed to counter the plans.
For complete information go back to our Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page (or to read through all the content of our Main Page in LONG FORM CLICK)

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