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

The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For When Officials Sell Libraries

Some of The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For 

City and library officials working with real estate developers trot out a standard set of misleading falsehoods and ploys to promote library sales.  If you think they sound good, watch out, often what they are saying is pretty much opposite to the real truth.

Here are lies to watch out for:

Lies about proper public process.  What political officials will try to tell you about how libraries are being sold off with the due process of adequate public input and participation is often not true.

On September 30, 2013, the New York City Council had its first ever hearing hearing about the plans to sell city libraries.  It involved all sorts of coordinated testimony about how good it was to sell and shrink libraries around the city like Mid-Manhattan, SIBL and Brooklyn Heights.  It was basically a defensive action responding to the public efforts Citizens Defending Libraries was helping to spearhead after CDL's creation.  It was also a reaction to a June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing about the library sales where the public had turned out universally opposing the library sales and library officials were crucified in the press for their incompetent responses.

At the September 30, 2013, City Council hearing BPL President Linda Johnson extolled the quality of `public involvement' in the sell-off of the Brooklyn Heights Library in response to a softball question that sounded prearranged.  Prepared for this, Citizens Defending Libraries was simultaneously submitting written testimony at the hearing directly contradicting that assertion in Ms. Johnson's testimony, pointing out that the:
public process for selling off New York City libraries, such as it exists, is confusing, deceptive and intentionally frustrating to those wishing to, in any way oppose, or question the wisdom of, selling off libraries, shrinking them, or underfunding them as a prelude to such sell-offs.
Pending library sales, frequently worked on secretly for years in advance, are not announced to the public until the sales are purportedly “done deals.”  The public will often be told to forget about expressing their opposition because of this.  Local officials will have signed on to the sales before the public knows or has been able to give them any input or reaction.

Officials will hold some public events as eyewash, but these eyewash events will not be about asking the public whether they want their library sold, whether they want it shrunk, whether they might actually want their library bigger, or how else they might want to plan for the future of the public property; the public will only be invited to express what they might want when their library is, in fact, sold and shrunk, its books eliminated.  Meanwhile, basic background information, like about the extent of the loss of books will not be forthcoming.

If there is going to be a ULURP process (not always the case because it is not always required), the public will be told to cool their heals and wait to express opposition to the project only when that ULURP process has all been rigged.  The ULURP process (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) won't be launched or proceed to its next steps until the powers that control things have lined up the votes in advance to push the library sale through.

How rigged is this process?:  In the case of the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, when passionate and essentially unanimous testimony from the community opposing the sale overwhelmed the Brooklyn Community Board 2 land use Committee causing the committee to falter and vote that that the sale should not be approved and should not be considered again, the Chair of CB2 directed that approval of the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library be sent back to the committee on short notice over a Fourth of July weekend directing that "When this committee meets next it will be to do what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at last Wednesday’s meeting."  The Land Use Committee then met again, comprised of a different set of members and voted for the sale while refusing to hear any public testimony.

The sale procedure progressed to be approved by the entire CB2 board to whom the CB2 Chair had refused to distribute the Citizens Defending Libraries letter addressed to them and which voted, for the most part without its members bothering to minimally acquaint themselves with the asset they were disposing.

Similarly, when the Brooklyn Heights Library then went before the City Planning Commission a panoply of conflicts of interest affecting the Commission whose members are heavily representative of the real estate industry interest, assured that the vote would be to sell and shrink the library as the Commission's Chair indicated a willingness to do the same sort of thing to turn NYC public schools into real estate deals.

The lie that the public should wait to oppose sale of libraries because it will have that opportunity at a later date (when the rigged "done deal" ULURP review process starts).   
The public is often told that there will be a process in which the public can oppose the sale of the library in the future so it is not appropriate or worthwhile to oppose that sale at this time.  The truth is that these deals are clearly presented for final steps like ULURP only after officials have done everything they can to assure that what the public may say during the process doesn't matter.

Lies that new "replacement" libraries will be as big or even bigger than the old.  Library officials routinely try to obscure the math of library shrinkage by odd and selective approaches to measurement concluding that because the new space will be "bigger" in terms of what they want or what is `publicly accessible' and therefore pronounce as being "bigger" replacement libraries that are actually smaller, sometimes startlingly so.  The NYPL's Central Library Plan was promoted as making a "bigger" library when it was actually taking about 400,000 square feet of library space and reducing it to about 80,000 square feet.  By disregarding that its Business, Career and Education functions were being terminated at the location, the BPL tried to sell the shrink-and-sink replacement Brooklyn Heights Library, one-third the size was, as being as big as the 63,000 square foot library being destroyed.

The above-ground portion of the Brooklyn Heights Library was about 38,000 square feet.  It had two more half floors of readily accessible books below ground.  The above-ground portion of the library to "replace" it will be just 15,000 square feet.

The lie that the library is too dilapidated will be too expensive and impossible to fix (especially its air conditioning).   The decision to sell the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Heights Library, was from all the evidence, probably made in 2007 (if not sooner.)  The announcement that it was going to be sold was kept under wraps and the sale did not get revealed until the beginning of 2013 when the plans was to push the sale through before December 31, 2013, the last day of the Bloomberg administration.   July Fourth weekend 2012, just six-months before the announced sale of the library it was announced that the air conditioning system for the library had broken down.  Library officials at the BPL then said a major reason the library was being sold was because the air conditioning could not be fixed.  That same summer of 2012 it was announced that libraries across the Brooklyn Public Library system were suffering from air conditioning problems that could not be solved.  The only library pushed for that no such broken air conditioning claim was made about is the ultra modern SIBL, completed in 1996.

Virtually every library that city and library administration officials have pushed forward for sale has been asserted to have insoluble air conditioning problems: The Donnell, Brooklyn Heights, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Mid-Manhattan, the research stacks at the 42nd Street Library.  Over and over again and right from the beginning we see libraries that were recently renovated proclaimed to be dilapidated and not worthy of maintenance.  These lies can be embarrassing: There were made about the Brooklyn Heights Library expanded and fully upgraded to be one of BPL's best in 1993; about SIBL, the "library of the future" built in 1996; about the Inwood Library who renovation NYPL President Tony Marx had just recently praised. 

The "there will be the same number of books" lie.  For more about how this isn't true see our section about how book counts are reducing at New York City libraries.
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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