|Citizens Defending Libraries rally outside City Hall Offices on March 8th to protest the selling off of libraries to benefit real estate developers|
. . . . You’d probably suffer a loss.
What if your home was burglarized by someone who was working closely together with someone inside your household in a position of trust?
. . . . You’d probably suffer a loss that was much greater.
What if the person of trust in the household expected and planned to help the burglar get away with everything (and they along with the burglar) by leaving “receipt” lying in the moonlight in place of the items absconded with that purported to be evidence that you had been “paid” for the items that would no longer be in your possession when, in fact, you would never receive any money for them of any kind?
. . . . . You’d probably think that was adding insult to injury and be very much annoyed.What if your home hadn’t yet been burglarized but you knew that the above scheme was about to unfold and furthermore you knew that the plan when they looted your home was to direct their attention on quickly seizing as many valuable items as they could, starting with the most valuable first. What if you knew they intended, so that their acts would be as irreversible as possible and would leave as little trace as possible, to melt into bullion the gold watch inherited from your grandfather and to break up the heirloom jewel necklace that came down through your grandmother, recutting its renowned and remarkably large one-of-a-kind stones into smaller unrecognizable fragments?
. . . . . You might feel an extraordinary sense of urgency about the need to make sure that none of this actually happened.This then, by analogy, is roughly where we stand with respect to the libraries of New York City which are about to be sold off in a shrinkage of the system intended to create real estate deals to benefit real estate developers. Insiders within the library systems of New York have been studying the real estate assets they hold on behalf of the public and they are planning to hand them off to developers in deals that haven’t been adequately described or consented to by the public even though it is the public to which these often one-of-a-kind assets truly belong.
That’s why Citizens Defending Libraries, in which I am participating, gave testimony and held a rally a week ago Friday about budget issues related to New York City's libraries at the March 8, 2013 hearings on: New York City Council Fiscal Year 2014 Preliminary Budget, Mayor’s FY ‘13 Preliminary Management Report and Agency Oversight. (See the picture above.) Citizens Defending Libraries was joined in giving testimony by representatives from the Committee to Save The New York Public Libraries. A report on all the testimony is available from Citizens Defending Libraries here: Testimony By Citizens Defending Libraries At March 8, 2013 City Council Committee Hearing On Library Budget Issues.
The prototype deal representing this sort of metaphorical burglary was the sudden 2008 closing of midtown Manhattan’s Donnell Library, for decades one of the city’s main central libraries across from the Museum of Modern Art. “One of the most heavily used branches,” (according to the New York Times) it was closed suddenly and without warning in the spring of that year for sale and shrinkage and its collections were disbursed. The sale came not long after the library had undergone a series of significant and expensive renovations which we may consider, were, in the end, publicly paid for. The initial announcement of the sale, which largely escaped public notice, was in early November of 2007.
|50-story Baccarat Hotel and luxury residence tower from the Daily News. Click to enlarge (if you dare).|
Was this creation of a huge, vastly larger building with such significantly shrunk library intended to benefit the library system and the public? That hardly seems a supportable proposition.
For those watching with interest as other deals unfold using the Donnell prototype as a model there are some lessons to be learned:
• When the Donnell sale was first and suddenly announced the information was given out that it would be replaced by a much smaller building than has actually turned out to be the case. It was announced that the building that would replace the library would be am eleven-story hotel, not a 50-story building.
(* When the sale was announced, one piece of information that was marshaled to the fore was the almost reassuring cozy detail that the new hotel would have a connecting entrance through “The 21 Club” on 52nd Street in the somewhat precious low-rise townhouse on the other side of the block, a restaurant full of memorabilia, evoking its speakeasy history and, off course certain elite and clubby associations, a place of renowned familiarity to go to get a very expensive hamburger where they traditionally insisted all the men wear a tie and jacket. It's the building outside of which you see the line of painted cast iron lawn jockeys.)
• When the Donnell sale was announced the public was told that the library would close in a year, in the fall of 2008, but instead they closed it suddenly almost six months sooner.This past Tuesday I testified before the budget committee of Manhattan’s Community Board 5. The annual cycle of reviewing and advocating for adequate city funding of the libraries is upon us again so this issue was before them. I told them that what had not been stopped with respect to the Donnell debacle within the Community Board 5 boundary lines was now being continued with a similar shrinkages of other main libraries with the Central Library Plan, and once again it was being done in obeisance to real estate industry priorities. (The Central Library Plan involves the shrinkage and consolidating sell-offs of the Mid-Manhattan Library, the Science Library (SIBL) and the Tilden Astor 42nd Street Central Reference Library with a ripping out of the research stacks at the Central Reference Library, effectively decommissioning it as the research library it was meant to be and has functioned as since 1910. I also pointed out how the Donnell prototype was being exported with similar deals now being proposed in my own home borough of Brooklyn.
• The public was told that the new library to replace the Donnell would be “completed in no more than three-and-one-half years” which means it should have opened in the fall of 2011. Now more than a year after that projected date the replacement library is still not expected to arrive on the scene until at least 2014.
• The real estate deal and closing of the library was being rushed. Consequently, the real estate transaction for which the library was closed was not adequately locked up with signatures, documented and assured, and it did not consummate. Taking such risks may have potentially benefitted those involved in putting together the real estate transaction. Taking those risks did not benefit the public.
• When Donnell was closed the public (and Manhattan’s Community Board 5) was promised a temporary library in the same vicinity. That promise was also not fulfilled.
• Despite all the city funding going into Donnell and to the New York Public Library, library officials chose to sell off Donnell without informing public officials, including the City Council, about it and without input from the public or librarian professionals.
• When Donnell was closed the public was told that Donnell was in serious need of repairs even though it had just been renovated. It should be a warning (see Citizens Defending Libraries testimony) that among the repairs presenting insurmountable problems was an “outdated air-conditioning” system. It now seems guaranteed that when library officials want to sell libraries for real estate deals they will reflexively cite air conditioning as a problem and conjure up amazing estimates of the costs that would be involved in dealing with the problem, thereby justifying demolition of public assets.
|Community Board 5 Committee Agenda|
At this point I should probably deal with the metaphor of the home burglar and the insider trusted within the householder expecting that they can somehow get away with their theft by leaving a “receipt” that says the burglarized homeowner is being paid for the stolen items. What the public is being told as these properties belonging to the public are plundered is that they can expect to be “paid” for whatever is sold, that somehow money will go into the library system as a result. In fact, because money is fungible (so that the money does not go to the libraries), the situation is quite the reverse: Whatever money might somehow with a theatrical flourish be earmarked as theoretically going to libraries as a result of any of these transactions, the city, under Bloomberg, is pursuing a plan of cutting library funding to the bone, engaging in an absolute starvation of the system. And because Bloomberg’s incentive is to underfund the libraries, to “demolish" them "by neglect” with the goal of pushing through these fire sales benefitting buddies in the real estate industry, the pursuit of these pending sales is actually bringing library funding to an unprecedented all-time low.
|Chart from Center For An Urban For Future report showing sharp decline in funding against escalating use. That bump in blue funding line is the third term elections. The steep decline is implementation of the plan to sell libraries.|
That libraries are underfunded is without doubt: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.” . .So I made the point to the Community Board 5 board members at the Tuesday committee meeting that not only is the Donnell Library real estate deal being exported outside the boundaries of their community district, this has also resulted in an underfunding of the library system being exported to every borough of the city. I called upon them to rectify the Donnell situation and also to examine and stop the Central Library Plan that, although it is impossible to know exactly how much it will cost (and figures and designs keep changing), will be very expensive in a foolhardy way. The reason that plan calls for money to be used so stupidly, rather than in the much better ways in which it could be used, is that it concentrates on generating the still under wraps real estate deals the public presently has very little consciousness of.
. . .. . . Libraries are the little guys. They are a pittance that should be easy to include in the city budget, especially given that the money goes far since libraries are so well used.
|Michael Leslie of Citiznes Defending Libraries and Veronika Conant of the Committee to Save The New York Public Library waiting to testify before the committee|
President George W. Bush may have had a problem conceptualizing what exact rules are supposed to apply about allowing the same people to fool you twice: I would expect a lot more from Community Board 5.
Has Community Board 5 really taken all those bullet-pointed lessons from Donnell appearing above and applied them to the Central Library Plan? Have they considered how tall a building will be put up when Mid-Manhattan is sold? What about SIBL? What exactly is the public being told at this point and what should the public be told? Are there new behemoths the size of the Chrysler Buildings in the making- The bulk but not the beauty- looking like the hotel going up where the Donnell stood?
|Still from video NYPL has produced to promote the Central Library Plan's consolidation and shrinkage|
|Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and crew hearing testimony|
As President Marx answered questions it could be observed that he was constantly being fed information by Chief Operating Officer David G. Offensend.
Mr. Offensend is a resident of Brooklyn Heights living on Monroe Street just a few very short blocks from the Brooklyn Heights library now proposed to be sold off in a rushed hand-off to a developer before the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s term and before the required public reviews take place. Neighbors have complained to me that he has been prodevelopement in the neighborhood and at the same time not sufficiently open about things he is moving forward. Mr. Offensend was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2010 as a board member to (in the words of Bloomberg’s own press release) “the new Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the new City-controlled entity that will guide the future of the park.” ("City-controlled" in that press release was a euphemism for mayor-controlled, unlike a typical city park: Monday, May 24, 2010, Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? An Examination of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Terms of the Politics of Development. And pay particular attention to Part 2.)
Mr.Offensend, who hails originally from the world of investment banking, is also a “past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.” More recently, he was just a Brooklyn Heights Association board member. He isn’t any longer, but the possibility that people in the neighborhood like Mr. Offensend might still have influence with members of the Brooklyn Heights Association board is a matter of serious alert particularly in that the BHA is showing a perplexing lack of concern about the attack and elimination of the neighborhood’s library and seems also to care very little about how this attack is part of a system-wide plundering of library resources. More on this in a moment. Without organizations such as the BHA rising to join ranks with others facing similar jeopardy throughout the city we can expect that the city’s real estate industry will get its way in decimating the system.
|David G. Offensend|
Many conversations returned to the figure of David Offensend, co-founder of Evercore Partners, a private equity firm with a market capitalization of a billion dollars. Offensend joined the library in 2004, in part because the trustees felt that the institution’s money was not being handled with due care; he now serves as chief operating officer. According to staffers, Offensend has been instrumental in the shift toward a “business and metrics” sort of thinking. He told the Princeton alumni website in 2009, “If an organization is receptive, the application of business world experiences can have a huge positive impact.” But what kind of business and what kind of metrics? It was under Offensend that Booz Allen was brought in; it was under Offensend, and in the wake of the Schwarzman gift [$100 million in March 2008, a date that coincides with the Donnell sale], that the ambitious plan to fundamentally reconfigure the library took shape. Offensend described the plan to me this way: “We did not think that putting the central library in [the main building] was an investment per se in the branch libraries versus the research libraries. It was rather one plus one will equal significantly more than two.” We can see here the familiar arithmetic of corporate downsizing.Mr. Offensend started with the NYPL in 2004 so he was working for the library when the Donnell sell-off plan was fabricated.
Mr. Petersen’s article is full of detailed observations based on interviews of those within the system about how the “public has been consulted only very minimally on the library’s decisions,” how preparatory to the machinations going on many of the skilled librarians who might have spoken up for and advocated for the books and collections and for the library as a research institution were forced out, required to sign agreements not to “disparage or encourage or induce others to disparage” the library, how the people now running the library “doesn’t care about research.”
Mr. Petersen ends his article by pointing out that while those pressing for the Central Library Plan (and its associated real estate sell-offs and shrinkage of the library system say they are `democratizng’ the library, that is not the case:
More than anything, this rhetoric reveals the fundamentally anti-democratic worldview that has taken hold at the library. It is of a piece with what the new Masters of the Universe have accomplished in the public schools, where hedge funders have provided the lion’s share of the backing for privatization, and in the so-called reforms to our financial system, where technocrats meet behind closed doors to decide what will be best for the rest of us. Oligarchs acting in the people’s name (with the people’s money) is not democratic; selling off New York’s cultural patrimony to out-of-town heiresses, closing down treasured divisions and branches, pushing out expert staff, and shipping books to a warehouse in the suburbs, all without consulting the public, is not democratic. If the reconstruction goes through, scholarly research will be more, not less, concentrated in the handful of inordinately wealthy and exclusive colleges and universities. The renovation is elitism garbed in populist rhetoric, ultimately condescending to the very people the library’s board thinks they’re serving. . . .New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman has made the same observation and in Noticing New York, building on Kimmelman’s observation, I pointed out the bigger picture truth: The effect of these cutbacks and shrinkages of service is going to fall very heavily on those of lower income and the less advantaged in our society. See: Saturday, February 9, 2013, Libraries That Are Now Supposedly “Dilapidated” Were Just Renovated: And Are Developers’ Real Estate Deals More Important Than Bryant Park?
As Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has said, public libraries are a “great equalizer.”
Every year for more than two decades I have gone on the Brooklyn Height House Tour, the annual mainstay fund raiser for the Brooklyn Heights Association, where the showcase houses of the wealthy and well-off in Brooklyn Heights are put on display. What I have noticed, true to this day, is that those homes, with a lot of space to fill and a lot of money to fill up that space up with are, more often than not, full of books everywhere, lots of shelves, sometimes stacked, almost always by the bedside and in the master bedrooms. The owners of one house recently showcased ripped out a floor to devote space to a beautiful multi-level personal library with balconies ringing the upper level.
It’s not that these home don’t also have computers. They do. And CDs and internet access. They have everything. What this means is that the underfunding and shrinkage of libraries isn’t only failing to address what David Giles calls the “digital divide” in his Center For An Urban Future report, Branches of Opportunity, that growing separation of opportunity between those who have computers and access to the internet. We are opening up a brand new chasm, those with access to books and those without.
The Brooklyn Heights Association recently posted (3/14/'13) its position on the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library in an untitled, undated, Community Alert. Aside from its appalling inclusion of many grossly misleading and inaccurate statements (so many I will have to deal with it at length elsewhere) the statement of position is frightening in how closely it parallels the position of the Brooklyn Public Library itself. It adopts inaccurate speaking points hewed to by the BPL and doesn't advocate to oppose the shrinkage and sale the BPL wants. That is notwithstanding that it ends with the statement that the BHA we expects “to be strong advocates for a new library that meets the needs of our community.”
By comparison, the BHA is asking for far less with respect to the Brooklyn Heights library than Community Board 5 was asking for when it was opposing the Donnell Library closing in its community. Community Board 5 didn’t get what it asked for and it has since lapsed in addressing the issue but the BHA isn’t putting up a fight at all. It may consequently expect to achieve even less than Manhattan's Community Board 5 achieved.
One could have supposed that Anthony Marx as president of the NYPL might not have needed to have been fed so many basic figures by his chief operating officer, David Offensend given, that Marx is, most assuredly, a very handsomely paid individual. Exactly what he is paid does not seem to have been made a matter of public record yet, but a 2006 New York Times article commented on how Mr. Marx's predecessor in office, Paul LeClerc, was paid $800,000 (plus an unneeded $136,110 as a housing allowance) according to the most recent NYPL tax return filed that year, which the article noted was a jump of more than $221,000 from the year prior. See: November 19, 2006, New York Library Officials’ Pay? Shhh, by Serge F. Kovaleski.
The article was noting how the NYPL was paying these high-escalating salaries to the president and others at a time when it had “declared itself in some financial distress” and was selling off assets like the “Kindred Spirits” 1849 Hudson River School landscape by Asher B. Durand, some of them at prices “less than their estimated value.”
The most recent return filed by the NYPL for 2011, the year Marx was appointed to replace LeClerc, does not show Mark’s salary but shows that the all-in annual compensation for LeClerc at that point (including some minimal deferred compensation) was $1,408,757. That's right: well over one million dollars annually. (See the chart from the tax form.)
|From Federal tax return, top NYPL salaries in 2011. Click to enlarge|
The Times article about these rising management salaries ends with a statement from Mayor Bloomberg via a spokesman endorsing the stupendous salaries:
“The mayor through his experience on about 20 nonprofit boards and as chairman of Johns Hopkins University believes that the public and nonprofit sectors need strong management, and they should pay for it.”In his Lions In Winter article (Part 1) about changes at the NYPL Charles Petersen discusses salaries in a concluding footnote where he analyses library budget figures to note that a flow of additional funds into the NYPL were not going into:
• collections (“the amount of linear feet of archives being taken in at the New York Public Library is now a tenth of what it was in the 1990s”)He observes the that part “of the increase has been due to a rise in pay for the library’s senior management, whose total budget went from $9.8 million to $14.1 million between 1991 and 2010" but makes an even more interesting observation about how increasing baseline library costs are associated with the hiring somewhat mysterious staff that are not traditional library workers:
• traditional research library staff salaries (“whose numbers. . dropped from 703 in 1990 to 454 in 2010, and whose total salaries and benefits remained stagnant for much of this time at around $30 million.”)
• Nor for computers or access to the internet.
. . . bringing together all of the publicly available data on the library’s budget shows that much of the increase in baseline costs has gone to pay the salaries and benefits of staff members whom the library, in the data it provides to the ARL, has not reported as part of its traditional staff. In 2010, these staff members received $28 million a year in salaries and benefits; the research library’s more traditional staff received only $26 million.The heads of the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library are not quite so well paid although many an average citizen would be jealous of their salaries. Linda E. Johnson of the BPL gets an all-in compensation figure of $333,109 according to the most recent tax filing by the BPL (see below). Thomas W. Galante of the Queens systems gets an all-in compensation figure of $488,503 according to the most recent tax filing by the Queens system (see next chart extracted below).
What exactly do these people do? They’re not senior management, and they’re not fundraisers. I asked the PR department repeatedly for more information and never received a definitive answer. Some of these staff members work for the digital department; others could be traditional catalogers who, since the research cataloging department was recently merged with the circulating cataloging department, may perhaps not be reported to the ARL. Many of the former staff members with whom I spoke suggested that a notable portion of these funds may be going to the library’s internal strategy department. A single department couldn’t account for such a large increase, but when asked about the current budget for the strategy department a library spokesperson could not provide a figure. Considering the amount of money going to these and other staff members, this is a subject more journalists may want to investigate.
|From last filed Federal tax return, top BPL salaries. Click to enlarge|
|From last filed Federal tax return, top Queens Library salaries. Click to enlarge|
|Union rally on steps of City Hall held last Wednesday by DC 37 asking for baseline funding for libraries as insulation against political funding games, "dwarf tossing" (and shenanigans to had off the system's public real estate to insiders)|
|Redundant, or undeserved, acknowledgment?|
As noted, the sell-off and shrinkage of Donnell was announced in early November 2007. Only a few years before, in February 2004, the library was celebratorily announcing a $275,000 renovation in Donnell of the “teen center,” the Nathan Straus Young Adult Center aka, Teen Central. The NYPL described it as a “state-of-the-art facility,” a “teen room featuring hip-hop music, teen-friendly furniture, and Wi-Fi access.” The NYPL also said, “With a collection of over 10,000 books, Teen Central has been the central collection for teenagers for The New York Public Library since the Donnell Library Center opened in 1955.” The renovation involved a “complete redesign of the interior public service areas.”
|The beginning of the NYPL press release announcing the 2003 renovation of the teen center, the Nathan Straus Young Adult Center|
There was another recent renovation of the Donnell that was similarly jettisoned to history's dust heap. There was a relatively new auditorium and media center. My understanding is that they were the product of a renovation completed in 2000-2001. I was told, but I don't have verification, that the cost involved over a million and a half dollars provided by the city. Whatever the case I am sure that the cost of the renovation was significant and in the end the loss of these things is a loss to the public.
I was in the Donnell auditorium October 3, 2007, just one month before announcement of the Donnell sale so I remember that the condition of the auditorium was excellent and it looked relatively new. I was there for a well-attended (sold out), well-reported event held by the Municipal Art Society. The event was “Is New York Losing Its Soul?,” the first of a series of panel discussions MAS was holding with respect to its then- running Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit. The panelists were New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman, Alison Tocci of Time Out New York, author Tama Janowitz, Darren Walker, a VP of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn Theaters. (See: Thursday, October 4, 2007, Is New York Losing Its Soul?, Thursday, October 04, 2007, Is New York losing its soul? Sort of, panelists say (and one targets AY), Sunday, October 07, 2007, New York's soul lost? 'New York Calling' fills in some gaps, Coverage of Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, the exhibit, public programs and walking tours, Panel Discussion: Is New York Losing Its Soul?)
The event is available to watch in a video (inserted below) which I recommend if you have the time. Here is an image of the event from that video in which you can get some sort of sense of the auditorium. (Another image is available here.)
|Donnell auditorium being used for Jane Jacobs event in 2007, just before its announced destruction. Less than ten years after its expensive renovation?|
You can also see pictures of the destroyed Donnell as it was being gutted in a series of images from Driven By Boredom at The Donnell Library Center: A Eulogy In Pictures, December 11th 2008, (and here) three of which are below.
Again, the cavalier sacrifice of these new and recently publicly paid for renovations to the deities of real estate help accentuate our recognition of how senselessly galling these losses are, but it is important to remember that, in the end, it isn't just the recent renovation work that is being scrapped: It is also most importantly the irreplaceable underlying assets. For those who remember it, the Donnell was made of the same Indiana limestone as Rockefeller Center, two blocks away, and shared in some of its stately graciousness.
The New York Times reporting on the “Is New York Losing Its Soul?” event finished with some resonating lines ending in a profound question. (See: Panel Discussion: Has New York Lost Its Soul?, by Sewell Chan, October 4, 2007)
The discussion that evening addressed many of the uneasy ills confronting the city in terms of overdevelopement, the carelessness thereof, and the increasing disparities between conspicuous wealth lack of wealth. One of the lines in the midst of the evening was Clyde Haberman's comment that Mayor Michael Bloomberg never met a developer he didn't like. The concluding lines of the Times article actually came out of an exchange that concerned the privatization we are seeing as ever more ubiquitous “business improvement districts” (BIDs) are taking over and assuming what used to be government functions. Nevertheless they have application to what is happening with the sell-off of libraries and the shrinkage and underfunding of the system that accompanies such a sacking of the public’s assets.
The resonating words were spoken by Darren Walker, a vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation:
There is something profoundly wrong when government cannot deliver basic services . . .So does it help that they say that when we sell off our irreplaceable libraries those theoretically trusted insiders on the inside who are assisting will be leaving a receipt, as if we have been adequately compensated for the loss?
. . . Where is the public commons? Who owns the public commons?”