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

Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

Defunding and dismantling our libraries hurts society broadly, probably more broadly than many may have considered.

It is, of course, usually recognized that cutting back on library services significantly impacts low-income neighborhoods relying on them.  A PowerPoint presentation to the Queens Library board told it that library service is most important to low-income users: 2/3rds visit at least weekly, & almost 30% visit every/most days.  A recent Pew research Center report says "Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities," see them as community anchors, and use them to pursue jobs.  And it's been astutely commented that wherever it happens the loss of libraries is "another surefire way to entrench inequality."
Researchers and students also use the libraries.  Arguing to destroy libraries, the NYPL tried a divide-and-conquer-the-community approach suggesting that the research library was elitist and not sufficiently populist when in any given year the researchers and students at its 42nd Street central reference library consult "only 6% of print sources."  The same argument was being used to thin out collections at neighborhood libraries and move books off-site from those locations too.  That "6%" consultation rate was referred to by Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column, published just weeks before her death (Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, December 3, 2012), in which she lambasted the NYPL's Central Library Plan including its stingy thinking that books should not be kept on hand if they are consulted infrequently:
If we could estimate how many ways in which the world has been changed by that 6%, the number would be far more meaningful than the traffic through its lion-guarded doors. The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace." But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.
Among other things, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and SIBL are the libraries for the graduate students at CUNY, the City University of New York, who do not have ready access to the impressive libraries used by students paying more expensive tuition at private universities.

It may be that the benefits of libraries as repositories of information that may seem obscure or not often thought about might easily be dismissed, but transmitted out through those who access that information, or make use of it to lead the way to new solutions for the problems of world, the benefit is widespread.  Ripley's Believe It or Not! phenomenally successful as a widely read newspaper feature, ultimately became an “entertainment empire” and institution itself. From 1923 until 1975 all the information for the newspaper feature was found by one researcher, Norbert Pearlroth, consulting some 7,000 books a year ("approximately 350,000 during his whole career") from the 42nd Street research collection.

Sometimes the factor of racial discrimination can be more blatant: There were those in the Brooklyn Heights community who expressed eagerness to tear down replace the central destination library there with a smaller one so as to stop attracting people such as those from nearby housing projects to the neighborhood in central downtown Brooklyn.  See:  A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded.

Administration officials hell bent on transforming libraries into real estate deals have tried other divide-and-conquer-the-community ploys.  Citizens Defending Libraries has testified before the City Council so that these ploys oughtn't slip by unnoticed.  Officials have claimed that if some New Yorkers lose their libraries to sales, proceeds will benefit other communities (via accounting gimmick eyewash that's more untrue than not, and implying that other community libraries won't be sold next).  Another tactic has been to say that if library space is surrendered to the real estate community, artists can benefit by being able to rent studios to dance and paint.  And another favorite, a frequently used wedge to divide community in many contexts in NYC, is to say that if real estate projects are allowed to proceed, developers will provide a few units of so-called affordable housing in return.
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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