Monday, September 23, 2013

Sell-Offs Of New York City Libraries Gets Focus In Public Advocate Runoff Race Between James and Squadron

From Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube video of rally in April outside the Brooklyn Heights Library, one of the libraries threatened to be sold off
There is an October 1st runoff of the race for the Public Advocate.  Letitia James, the City Council member famous for taking on Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards government-assisted mega-monopoly actually won the Democratic primary for that nomination, but by just a few percentage points shy of what she needed to avoid a runoff race.  She is now running against Daniel Squadron, the runner-up who outspent Ms. James by more than two-to-one in that original primary.  In all, Ms. James, who was running against four other Democratic candidates, was outspent more than four-to-one in that first leg of the race almost winning the forty percent nonetheless.

The issue of selling off New York City libraries is now shaping up to be a big issue in the race, getting a lot of spotlighting focus.

The Issue?:  Our libraries are being emptied of books (devastating pictures here) in preparation for selling them off in real estate deals intended to benefit developers, not the public.   The Brooklyn Heights Library is one of the first libraries being sold in a deal where it looks like most of the proceeds and most of the benefit of any such sale will go to Forest City Ratner, whether or not Forest City Ratner officially takes over the library as formally-named developer of the site.  See:  Friday, September 20, 2013, Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is SoldForest City Ratner?: Tish James is going to feel right in her element taking them on again as it becomes part of the library fight she has taken on.

Tish James Opposes Bloomberg Sell-Off of NYC Libraries

Ms. James has been opposing the sale of New York City libraries since the city-wide plans for these sales first came to light as can been seen in a series of videos available on Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel (March 8, 2013, April 13, 2013, and June 30, 2013, - and Ms. James visited other Citizens Defending Libraries events as well) and is made clear in Ms. James Huffington Post/Brooklyn Eagle Op-Ed piece:  Shrinking the Library System Is A Loss for New Yorkers (August 21, 2013) and OPINION: Shrinking the library system is a loss for New Yorkers (August 29, 2013).  Note:  I am a cofounder of Citizens Defending Libraries and a promoter of its petition against the sale of city libraries for the benefit of developers.

Letitia James & Stephen Levin Fight Library Selloff Schemes (From the June 30th Micah Kellner State Assembly hearings on the sell-off NYC libraries where Tish James spoke against such sell-offs.  State Senator Velmanette Montgomery attended and made a statement.  State Senator Daniel Squadron did not attend or provide a statement opposing the sales.)

Squadron Campaign Recognition of Library Sell-offs Relevance to Runoff Campaign For Public Advocate

Proof that the library sell-offs is becoming a focus of the campaign is presenting itself in multiple ways.  One of them: Just a half hour before Daniel Squadron’s kickoff press conference to launch his runoff campaign Squadron released a press release (also handed out at the press event) with his new position on the library sell-offs.  The statement says he is now against them.  His campaign sent his statement to Citizens Defending Libraries at the same time.  There will be more analysis about where Mr. Squadron actually now stands and about clarifying questions Citizens Defending Libraries has asked him to answer as we proceed. . .
Mayoral candidate de Blasio with Citizens Defending Libraries at 42nd Street library in July
In any event, it is strange to think that any elected representative or candidate running for office would ever openly favor the sell-off and shrinkage of New York City libraries.  Christine Quinn favored the library sales and shrinkages, but she did not do so very openly.  As it was, she lost the race of for the Democratic nomination for mayor while Bill de Blasio, the candidate who triumped handily in beating her, stood with Citizens Defending Libraries on the steps of the library at 42nd  Street to decry and call a halt to these sales.    

Linkages: Libraries and Campaign- Squadron Supporters Attacking James And Supporting Library Sell-off 

Prior to Mr. Squadron’s issuance of his campaign kickoff library press release, the first indication that people supporting Mr. Squadron see the library issue as an important campaign issue came another way: in communications from Deborah Hallen right after the election.  We'll explain who Deborah Hallen is in a moment.  The communications from Ms. Hallen attempted to attack and attempted to discredit Tish James respecting her stand on the libraries whilst arguing that the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library is proper and publicly supportable.   (Does this involved the implication that sales of other threatened city libraries should also proceed?)

The primary election which Tish James won and Daniel Squadron lost was September 10th.  The first communication from Ms. Hallen we know of, to at least one person, was a voice mail was left the morning of the 12th at 10:46 AM.

Ms. Hallen is now the head of a 501(c)(3) ("charitable") group named (many think deceptively) “The Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library.” This past spring, Noticing New York first wrote about how that group has been supporting the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library and how the Brooklyn Heights Association has used that "Friends" group’s support to rationalize its similarly condoning the sale.  See: Saturday, April 13, 2013, Condoning The Sale and Shrinkage Of The Brooklyn Heights Library, Does The Brooklyn Heights Associations Think Of Friends Group As A Fig Leaf? It Should Think AgainThe Friends group, the Brooklyn Heights Association, Urban Librarians Unite?: It is worth taking the time to ask why there are a few groups like these that, surprisingly, support or won’t oppose the sell-off of new York City Libraries.

Since Noticing New York’s April 13th examination of Hallen’s "Friends" group I have provided little Noticing New York follow up about that group's activities, although a fair amount has happened in terms of Ms. Hallen’s efforts to purge from that group any alternative points of view about saving the Heights library.  We’d like to think that the very small group is relatively inconsequential in the broader scheme of things.  Indeed, it has certainly been less so after the revelations of the April 13th Noticing New York article.  After that the membership of the so-called “Community Advisory Committee” (set up to provide the appearance of a public process as the Brooklyn Heights Library is sold) was expanded to include other more credible groups to “represent” the community.  Nevertheless, Ms. Hallen on behalf of her group condoning the library sale, still "chairs" its meetings with the BPL's Josh Nachowitz, formerly of the mayor's real estate development agency.

After the April 13th article Ms. Hallen contacted us to urge us to believe the following distinction: That while the “Friends” group she is leading is going along with the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, she says she personally opposes seeing the library sold.

Here is a transcript of the voicemail Ms Hallen left on the 12th, the first of her communications attempting to discredit Ms. James' position on libraries.  Click on the video below to listen to the actual message itself:
Hi Martha it's Deborah Hallen, calling you,  The Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library-  and Obama. of course.  I noticed that the Citizens in Defense of Libraries [sic, actually Citizens Defending Libraries*] are supporting Tish James against Daniel Squadron. And I thought that you should know that ten years, when she was in City Council, she gave no money to the support of the Brooklyn Public Library, though she represented Central, Clinton Hill and Walt Whitman libraries and they needed tens of millions of funding requests or they made tens of millions of funding request and she gave nothing to the libraries. So I find it a little odd that the Citizens are supporting her and I thought you should know this.

Thanks and bye for now.
(* Note: We have observed that Squadron supporters exchanging information concerning how to attack Ms. James about libraries, tend to refer to Citizens Defending Libraries incorrectly as “Citizens in Defense of Libraries.”  Tish James got under Mayor Bloomberg’s skin by opposing real estate projects like Atlantic Yards, and she likes to tell stories about how Bloomberg kept calling her “Trish” full well knowing her nickname was as actually “Tish.”)

Library Sell-off Group Smears Tish, Backs Squadron  - From Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.

Deborah Hallen of the 501(c)(3) Library "Friends" Group Enters Political Fray of Public Advocate Race Attacking Tish James 

Was it appropriate for Ms. Hallen to be invoking her status as the head of a 501(c)(3), theoretically “charitable” organization as she leads into this campaign communication?  Citizens Defending Libraries, by contrast, has not organized itself as a 501(c)(3) specifically so as not to be hampered by restrictions that might, as a result, apply on speech of a political nature.

Previously, Ms. Hallen has communicated with her Friends group trustees asserting that they are restricted vis-à-vis their possible opposition to a sale of the Brooklyn Heights library. Here is what Ms. Hallen previously emailed her 501(c)(3) “Friends of the Library” Trustees when she was telling them they could not oppose the sale of the libraries:
I have been told that as a representative of the Friends (by our attorney and accountant) that we cannot oppose the impending sale 

    * * *

ALSO PLEASE UNDERSTAND that we are not in the position of trying to stop the sale. We are a 501(c) 3 Organization and have to adhere to our by-laws. Recall that our position is to have continuity of library service no matter what happens to the building.
 More Such Linkages: Into the Weeds on Funding Allegations

Mr. Squadron’s kickoff event was scheduled for Noon at Borough Hall on Sunday September 15, 2013.  At 12:09 PM, virtually the moment Squadron was supposed to start speaking and 39 minutes after Squadron had issued his press release with his new statement on libraries Ms. Hallen followed up with an email attack on Tish James and her position on saving the libraries from sale.  Perhaps awkwardly for Squadron (whose campaign seems to be feeding Hallen her information-- perhaps with additional coordination from BPL officials wanting to sell libraries) she weaves into her email statements in which she is supportive of the Brooklyn Heights Library sale:  
Letitia James was elected to the City Council in 2003; her district includes the Central Library at GAP, Walt Whitman (a historic Carnegie primarily serving the lower income community in the Whitman-Ingersoll Houses), and Clinton Hill.

BPL has met with Ms. James several times and fully briefed her on the Pacific Street project. Ms. James has claimed that she was never briefed and had no information about the project.

Clinton Hill requires over $3M in capital work and Walt Whitman over $6.5M. BPL has asked Ms. James for millions over ten years and received absolutely nothing in discretionary (called “Reso A” in Council bureaucratic language) funds. The Council (at least since 2006) has published all of their capital and expense grants ( This year, for instance, BPL received discretionary capital funding from CMs Dilan, Greenfield, Lander, Gentile and Reyna. CM Dilan generously gave BPL $1M. Ms. James? Nothing.

Ms. James will claim that BPL “never asked her for money” or “didn’t ask aggressively.” This is also not true, and BPL can get you copies of letters they've sent to her asking for funds.

Ms. James will claim the current Brooklyn Heights project is being “rushed” through the approval process before the Mayor leaves office. This is demonstrably false. As you know BPL won’t even be close to starting the public approval process until mid-late next year, and this is far from a “done deal” until the extensive public review is complete. BPL has gone out of their way to be as transparent as possible and have started a dialogue with the public long before the RFP was even drafted.

The branches in James' district illustrate perfectly why BPL's project in Brooklyn Heights makes sense for the borough as a whole. The Walt Whitman Library has over $6.5M in capital needs. It’s a historic Carnegie building serving a high need population isolated in an increasingly gentrified community. BPL will generate capital revenue from Brooklyn Heights that can be plowed back into Walt Whitman and other branches just like it, borough wide. BPL strategy at Brooklyn Heights allows them to build a brand new branch in Brooklyn Heights and generate desperately needed money to pay for projects at branches like Walt Whitman.

BPL is currently using Mayoral money to fund a small renovation project at Clinton Hill. Doing what  Letitia James wants them to do would mean cancelling that project, and many like it borough wide, and pouring that money into Brooklyn Heights. BPL just can’t do that.

BPL receives two types of funding from the City Council. Usually each year they get 5M from the Brooklyn Delegation/Speaker's office that they use for projects borough wide. They then also receive additional funding from individual members. This is really where Brooklyn does worse than other boroughs.

Letitia James will say she has awarded millions in grants for BPL and take credit for the Delegation money. Beyond raising her hand in a meeting, she has done nothing to support the library.

Please note that the Brooklyn Heights building will not be sold unless there is a meaningful bid.
As for Ms. Hallen’s assertion the sale of the library is not being “rushed,” pushed through suddenly at the last minute, the library is even now being emptied of books and Ms. Hallen has herself acknowledges that the BPL made and kept secret its decision to sell the library from at least 2008 when it decided to evict the Business and Career Library until 2013 when it started moving forward fast to sign a contract before the end of Bloomberg's term.

That lack of transparency on BPL's part (even if Ms. Hallen asserts “BPL has gone out of their way to be as transparent as possible”) presents a problem in retroactively analyzing what City Council members who were kept in the dark should have done with respect to providing funds to libraries.  City Council members knew nothing about planned sales or how funds being provided to the BPL and NYPL were actually being used.

At the times in question, Ms. James was chair of Brooklyn delegation, and negotiated with the mayor for money for Clinton Hill, but she didn’t have the information the BPL was keeping secret and which she needed to be fully effective to have that delegation seek and procure funds.

Ms. Hallen is also, essentially, criticizing Ms. James for not having gotten sucked into a funding charade that Noticing New York has criticized in the past.  I wrote the following back in March:
What’s wrong with this picture is that none of it should be going on the first place and that in the end, despite the pleasing happy-ending show of heroism, it still leaves the libraries underfunded.  So underfunded, in fact, that now at the end of the Bloomberg era as part of an overall bigger end-of-term fire sale to the real estate industry* Bloomberg is getting ready to sell off libraries and shrink the system.

        (* Mid-town rezoning anyone?)

This is not what City Council or Borough President discretionary funds are for.  And if the City Council and Borough Presidents have the imagination for how those funds ought to be better used (and they indeed should) they ought to be screaming their heads off about the intentional underfunding of libraries, not content that "saving libraries" is an easy way to use the funds while looking as if they are riding to the rescue on a white horse.
See: Thursday, March 7, 2013, Tossing Dwarfs?: It’s Time To Demand That We Change The Way We Fund Libraries . . End The False Political Theater.

Here are some factors that complicate maters greatly when City Council members (or even the donating public) attempt to send money to the libraries in the midst of this charade:
    •    Not all City Council members have equal access to discretionary funds.  Speaker Christine Quinn was less generous in giving Tish James discretionary funds than others because the speaker has used the handouts of those funds for the purposes of reward and punishment, and Tish James stood up to Speaker Quinn more than most City Council members.
    •    As noted, until late January of this year nobody outside the Bloomberg administration and the BPL knew that those people would be selling off libraries using the lack of funds as an excuse- The plans to sell libraries go back at least to 2008, but were kept secret since that time.  Therefore, no council member could perceive urgency or could have put money into a library about to be under threat on condition that it not be sold.
    •    Discretionary funds coming from City Council members and Borough Presidents have been met with off-setting reductions on the other side from the Bloomberg administration, negating their effect.
    •    Funds provided to libraries have been used to pay for moving forward the real estate deals to sell libraries.
    •    Funds provided to libraries in very recent years have also been wasted as library assets paid for with them are sold off.  For example, within the time window roughly approximate to what Ms. Hallen is talking about, taxpayers paid $50 million for SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library, only to see it sold off for an apparent substantial loss, and in 2007 the Donnell Library renovated with a substantial amount of taxpayer funds was sold off at a fraction of its value to the public.
    •    City Council members who redirect their scarce discretionary funds into this library money pit can’t use those funds for other competing needs.
Under these circumstances, could and should a Council member have directed her concilmatic discretionary funds to libraries?  How would you know except in hindsight and with greater transparency than we have now.

What was James doing?  Here is a report in the Clinton Hill Blog about how James was fighting for restoration of library funds and library hours back on March 31, 2009: Our Local Reps React to the Proposed Budget Cuts.

Squadron Balks When Asked to Speak About His New Library Press Release

As Mr. Squadron wound up his campaign kickoff press conference I asked him to speak for the record about his position on libraries per his press release being handed out at that time.  He declined, dodging the opportunity, and the result is here on video on Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel:

Squadron Campaign Kickoff: Equivocation on Libraries? 

It is not as if people haven’t been after Squadron for the longest time on these issues.  It’s just that the responses have been inadequate.  Here is an open letter from “long time Brooklyn Heights resident and preservationist Martin L. Schneider” to Mr. Squadron on the subject that appeared in the Brooklyn Heights Blog March 28, 2013: Preservationist to Squadron: BPL Is Prepared To Sellout For A Mess Of Pottage

Similarly, Citizens Defending Libraries members were constantly reaching out to Mr. Squadron.

More Support For Squadron Coupled With Support For Sale Of Brooklyn Heights Library On Brooklyn Heights Blog

The Brooklyn Heights Blog put up the Citizens Defending Libraries Squadron video in a post and you get the feeling that, when they did so, they may have been intending some damage control for Squadron.  Unfortunately for everyone, what might have been intended as damage control extended to an apparent argument (a “forward thinking” one) for selling the Brooklyn Heights Library based on slurring those who patronize it:
So, is it so strange for us to be more focused on that sort of forward thinking than to fight for a building with broken air conditioning, nannies on cell phones, homeless men fighting and creeps surfing for porn?
Noticing New York previously wrote about how some see selling the Heights library as a welcome opportunity to evict those they see as not belonging in the Brooklyn Heights community: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded.

Most of the comments posted on the Brooklyn Heights Blog post were against any sale of the library but two commenters chimed with quotes (that can be added to the collection in my previous article) to the effect that those using the library were undesirables. 

“Lady in the Heights” who announced she was “voting for Squadron” and seemed intent on the idea that books can be replaced with Kindles said:
I used to spend time in the library until it was overrun with nannies IGNORING their charges. The children's room is appalling.
“HenryLoL,” reacting negatively to the support for keeping the library said:
Give it a rest already. Most of us here cant wait for that dump to be blown up. In its place will be nice housing and a new library. Cadman Plaza West and the hood in total will be better for it.
“HenryLoL” who seems to like selling off public assets to benefit developers at the expense of the public, similarly doesn’t like hospitals and wants to get rid of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) at the other end of Brooklyn Heights.  On another blog post he said about LICH:
Close this dump down! The City has NO RIGHT to tell this organization what to do. We have more hospitals in a few square miles than most cities have in 100. Getting to the point of ABSURD! And it is all because of unions!
(There are those involved in the fight to save LICH who think Squadron is doing the barest minimum in that regard- That's something else that’s relevant to running for Public Advocate.)

Here is my own comment to the post taking the issue with the implicit sympathy given Mr. Squadron by calling my requesting him for a statement “an ambush”:
“Ambush” connotes surprise. As for surprise: Citizens Defending Libraries was surprised that one half hour before his kickoff press conference Daniel Squadron issued a press release changing his position on the sell-off of New York City libraries, the Brooklyn Heights Library among them. I would say we were surprised and pleasantly gratified to have had an effect.

As for Mr. Squadron being surprised by us: Normally, when you issue a press release in connection with a press conference with your campaign staff handing out stacks of those releases at the conference, you expect to be asked about that statement you have released. Too bad Mr. Squadron did not use the opportunity to speak to NY1 about libraries and their sell-off if he truly wants the public to know his position.

If “ambush” means that the ambusher springs out from hiding; no one was hiding- We were standing in plain sight of Mr. Squadron with our protect-the-libraries signs for well over a half hour before we approached Mr. Squadron to ask him to speak about his written statement. Some would infer from the issuance of the Squadron library position statement a half hour before his kickoff (plus the fact that they emailed it to us at that time) that Squadron and his campaign managers were expecting Citizens Defending Libraries long before we ever showed up.

Well before the press conference started I spoke with one of Mr. Squadron’s campaign managers saying that we were hoping to get an oral statement that morning from Mr. Squadron based on his new release and I even used the contact phone number his campaign provided to initiate this conversation, meeting at the press conference site with his designated representative.

I politely waited to speak to Mr. Squadron until he had completed all other business and was not distracted by other matters.

Where the Brooklyn Heights Blog switches into “Point of View” it raises some interesting topics about libraries that are worth discussing. I think you will find that those topics are covered by the questions that Citizens Defending Libraries presented to Mr. Squadron in the form of a questionnaire and in connection with its Candidates Forum on libraries, questions about his position on libraries to which Mr. Squadron has not yet responded. I think you will find that those topics are amply discussed and debated by others on Citizens Defending Libraries web pages.

As for referring to the air conditioning at the Brooklyn Heights Library as “broken,” the better adjective would be “unfixed,” given the very strange documentation provided by the BPL attempting to explain what went wrong with the library’s air conditioning AFTER its decision to push this library onto the chopping block for real estate developer benefit. (cf: The Donnell Library.)

From using and canvassing the Brooklyn Heights Library I know that it is intensely used by a broad swath of society, including families such as our own that are definitely at the high end of the socioeconomic spectrum. I think it is unfortunate that in arguing for the sale and shrinkage of the library you offer a `profiling’ and, I think, false caricature of people using the library whose resources are not equal to ours. Sadly, you are not the first to suggest that selling the library would evict what you are portraying as a different and undesirable population. (Note that our last forum was co-sponsored by the NAACP.)

I am glad that Mr. Squadron’s press statement is now up on the web. When I last checked I had to inform his campaign people that it wasn’t.
A Matter of Proper Tone?

When Citizens Defending Libraries first met with Mr. Squadron as a state senator representing us to ask him to oppose the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library he used it as an opportunity to admonish us that he considered that Citizens Defending Libraries was using an inappropriate “tone” when it was decrying the sale, shrinkage and deliberate underfunding of the New York City’s libraries for the sake of creating real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.

What is an appropriate tone when Citizens Defending Libraries challenges a sell-off of public assets that is not for the public good?  Or the proper tone when the Public Advocate does its job by opposing such sell-offs?

An example of what Mr. Squadron meant by inappropriate tone?   He thought the cartoon (below) created by Mark Hurwitt was out of bounds.

From the pen of Mark Hurwitt: BPL officials say they want to sign a contract with a developer for the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library before the end of Bloomberg's term.  The NYPL also plans to demolish the research stacks of the 42nd Street on a similar time frame- On Bloomberg's own site, something he says he wants to accomplish (along with his Mid-town Rezoning!

What about the similarly critical works of illustrator Simon Verity like the one below?
From the pen of Simon Verity: Is Bruce Ratner going to get the Brooklyn Heights Library?  Maybe.
Mr. Verity’s works illustrate the cover story in The Nation this month about the NYPL’s sell-offs of city libraries.
The Nation's current cover story by Scott Sherman reports on early (June of 2007) communications with the Bloomberg administration to sell off NYC libraries
Inside it is illustrated with drawings by Simon Verity like: "Not much of a civilization, they destroyed the library," and. . .
. . . Playing of the name of NYPL president Anthony W. Marx. . .
Giving Mr. Squadron the Last Word

The end of an article is considered a place of honor and, usually, it is considered that whoever gets the last word is favored by getting to top off the argument.  I’ll give Mr. Squadron the last word.  The following is his short press release statement on libraries.  It is just that without more that we have asked him for, including responses to questions presented by Citizens Defending Libraries, and, more important, actions, it is difficult to know what it really means.  In other words we are still waiting for Mr. Squadron’s last words:    
For Immediate Release: September 12, 2013 [Later corrected to the 15th, this incorrect date- the date of Deborah Hallen's morning voice message- is likely when it was first drafted]
Contact: Amy Spitalnick, 516-521-0128

        Statement from Daniel Squadron about New York City Libraries

I am opposed to the proposed plans by the city's library systems in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

As always, I believe that meaningful community input is absolutely necessary; when it comes to these proposed plans, transparency and responsiveness have been insufficient.

I also believe that it is simply unacceptable to sell or shrink libraries for profit.

And I am deeply opposed to cuts to library funding, which put our libraries in crisis.

I've been proud to work on these issues in the State Senate, receiving an 'A' from New Yorkers for Better Libraries on my voting record last year.

I continue to be focused on protecting funding and finding solutions that ensure strong, healthy libraries across the five boroughs.
Physical copy of press lease on new library position that Squadron was handing out at kickoff press conference

Friday, September 20, 2013

Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold

Above: The EDC and BPL RFP for sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, a few photos of the library overlaid-  There were no photos of the library in the RFP.
I am about to tell you story about how much more benefit will be going to Forest City Ratner than the public has officially been told, if and when the Brooklyn Heights Public Library is ever sold for shrinkage as library and city administration officials are still working hard to make happen.

It is a story that has been hiding in plain sight.  You would know it by now if our press were more diligent or if library and city administration officials were more forthright about conveying information about what they are actually up to in pushing the Brooklyn Heights Library sale.  I guess that’s where the blogs have a special and important role in this new, out-of-kilter world we live in.

I have been holding off on this story to see what else might fall into place before I reported it.  I will say this: I don’t have all the answers to go along with the many facts reported here, but I’ve got plenty of really good questions that people should be asking.

Hang in for some surprising revelations about how much benefit stands to go to Forest City Ratner and how little benefit will go to the public with a sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library while we first review some background.

Early Suspicions About Forest City Ratner And The Libraries

Most people who have already been following the story of the library sell-offs have been suspicious of Forest City Ratner.  Although, the Brooklyn Public Library’s strategic plan calls for `leveraging’ all of the real estate on which its libraries sit (in other words monkeying around like this with real estate sales), the first two library sell-offs it has been trying to push out the door are two libraries, the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch, that are right next to property Forest City Ratner owns, acquired from the city on a no-bid basis.

Further, as reported here before, when the Brooklyn Public Library was announcing the sale of Brooklyn Heights Library and Josh Nachowitz, spokesperson for the Brooklyn Public Library, was asked about what would be done, he immediately, and without even having to think about it, refused to entertain the possibility that the BPL might disqualify or blackball Ratner as a future owner of the Brooklyn library property it was selling off.  That reflexive refusal was notwithstanding the fact that Forest City Ratner already has a very dangerously large government-assisted monopoly in Brooklyn and a record of failing to deliver on public benefit promises, with a history of blackmailing the public to change terms of agreements.  See: Sunday, February 3, 2013, What Could We Expect Forest City Ratner Would Do With Two Library Sites On Sale For The Sake Of Creating Real Estate Deals?   

Mr. Nachowitz moved to the library system from the Bloomberg administration’s city real estate development agency the New York City Economic Development Corp. (EDC) just in time to preside over these sell-offs and, as you will see as we proceed, EDC is involved in selling off the Brooklyn Heights Library.

Plans To Sell Libraries With Money Not Coming To The Libraries

From the beginning it has seemed odd that library administration officials would have decided that is it beneficial to be selling off a valuable library property like the Brooklyn Heights Library (or the Pacific Branch) if the money from that sale wasn’t going to the library.  The money from any sale goes to the city that, in turn, under Bloomberg, has decided that the libraries should be underfunded (at a time of skyrocketing use) and there is plenty of reason to believe city conduct would continue in this vein as libraries were sold. 

When BPL president Linda Johnson first publicly discussed the selling of libraries with the Daily News in October 2011, she admitted that the BPL was making plans to sell the libraries even though the rules meant that “the library wouldn't see a dime” of the sale proceeds money because it would go into the city's general fund.  (See: Sunday, March 3, 2013, The Petition To Save The Libraries Is Working: Confirming Petition Points BPL Head Linda Johnson, Library Officials Trip Up Defending Plans.)

Johnson did not mention in her interview with the Daily News that an important library like the Brooklyn Heights Library was one of the ones that would be put on the sales block.  Plans were in place.  We now know for certain that, even though the information was being withheld from the public, the BPL had decided to shrink and sell the Brooklyn Heights Library long before this.  Mr. Nachowitz told one reporter preparing a story about the library sell-offs that the decision had been made back in 2008.  Although we do not vouch for her reliability, Deborah Hallen of the Friends of the Brooklyn Library group has also asserted that she discovered from Mr. Nachowitz that this decision was secretly made by library administration officials at least as far back as 2008.
The Nation's current cover story by Scott Sherman reports on early communications with the Bloomberg administration to sell off NYC libraries
In fact, it may have been made much sooner.  The Donnell Library sale that the sale-for-shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library is largely modeled after was announced by the NYPL in 2007 after a secretive process that netted the NYPL less than $39 million, far less than it was worth and a faction of what it would cost to replace.  (See: Monday, May 27, 2013, More Thoughts On Valuation And What The NYPL Should Have Received As Recompense For The Public When It Sold The Donnell Library.)  And, we know from the development community that in the summer of 2007 the BPL had a long list of libraries that were being looked at for similar sale and redevelopment. In 2007 the NYPL met with Mayor Bloomberg and his First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris about library sales with Ms. Harris expressing "initial enthusiasm" in June of that year.

It was not until late May of 2013, long after these library sales were planned, and long after Noticing New York was shining a spotlight on the way those deals weren’t for public benefit, did the BPL unveil an eyewash MOU ("Memorandum of Understanding")  (Dated May 21, 2013) for the purpose of making it appear as if the city might send some of the library sale proceeds to help make up for its pattern of deliberate funding deficiencies.

There is something called a "Community Advisory Committee" that is meeting to be informed about the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library for the sake of having a colorable public process.  The BPL has made an effort to stack that committee predominantly with community representatives it has previously vetted as favoring or condoning the library sale, like the Brooklyn Heights Association and the (now deceptively named) Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  Partly through the efforts of Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) this “CAC” group also has local electives representative on it.   At the May 23rd CAC meeting, in connection with which the MOU was unveiled, elected representatives expressed dismay and consternation that the agreement made little pretense of being truly enforceable or otherwise being effective in ensuring that the BPL would actually garner proceeds from a library sale.

One-page library MOU: Cause for consternation and joking
In response, BPL spokesman Josh Nachowitz dismissed the important of the ineffectiveness of the MOU, saying that some MOUs get honored and some don't (they just "get thrown out") and that with an upcoming change of many elected officials throughout the city (he cited: new Mayor, new City Council, new Speaker of the City Council, new Borough President, new Planning Commissioner, new Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, new Economic Development Corporation President, new head of Council Finance, new head of committee for Fine Arts, even new library officials such as himself) it was a "fluid environment" and there was "no assurance" the MOU would be honored, saying "we are not going to do something that is completely and totally irrevocable that can't be changed by a new administration."

More Bad News About Why The Public Won’t Get Money Expected From The Library Sale

Now here is something even more startling about how the public won’t benefit from sale proceeds if the Brooklyn Heights Library is sold.  It is something we are hearing about, with some consternation, from real estate professionals working on responses to the so-called “Request For Proposals” (RFP) that the City and the BPL have issued to sell the Brooklyn Heights Library and build a much smaller replacement and, like Donnell, shift above-ground library space underground.

On July 17th EDC, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Josh Nachowitz’s former agency, held developer information sessions in connection with the RFP.  I attended one of them and would have gone to both if that had been permitted. Mr. Nachowitz was there to participate in the presentation.
Provision in recorded document transferring development rights to the Ratner property
The developeablility of the library site was discussed.  An EDC official informed those attending that they should make their own calculations, but that the EDC measured the library site to be a conservative 26,600 square feet, just possibly a little more, maybe up to 27,000 square feet.  This is important for determining the size of the permitted building envelope for any replacement building using FAR (Floor to Area Ratio calculations).  The library property is in a C6-4 district, with an FAR of 10, the highest permitted residential FAR in the city (with bonuses, allowing it to go to 12).  In other words, the 26,600 square foot library site multiplied by an FAR of 10 allows for  266,000 buildable square feet.  But here is the thing (and the information was stated in a very matter-of-fact way at the developers information session, almost as if its importance was insignificant): in 1986, 140,919 square feet of those buildable rights, 53% (or 52.977% to be ultra-exact), were conveyed to Forest City Ratner.
Shaded area on the city tax map above is the Brooklyn Heights Library site from which substantial development rights were transferred away to  Forest City Ratner
That means that if they allow the Brooklyn Heights Library to be demolished, city officials and the BPL have significantly less to sell than the public might be inclined to presume.  It goes far beyond a 50% reduction in potential net sales proceeds.  It is much more than that because demolition and reconstruction of new facilities are expensive and must count for a significant percentage against the net benefit of any possible rebuilding.  That is why property owners don’t often tear down and build new buildings when the zoning permits them to build only a little bit bigger.  Similarly, it is why most homeowners would not tear down their home to rebuild a replacement if the new structure would/could only be a little bit bigger.  But if the homeowner's new building was going to be a lot bigger that would be a different story.  Do you go to the trouble of tearing down a two-story library with underground space when all that you can sell is the right to build a five-story library in which there must be a replacement library?  How much cash can you rake in for the public doing that?                           

End of story?  Does this comport with the reports that we were getting that library officials were internally talking about how the new, probably residential, building replacing the library might be 40 stories?  No, and no.

We are hearing that architects looking at the site for purposes of RFP are thinking about the need for a zoning change.  That might chagrin the Brooklyn Heights Association if they are telling people not to worry and that they shouldn’t expect a zoning change.  That is probably not the answer, or at least probably the whole of it.
Bruce Ratner's signature on one of the set of documents where development rights were transferred from the library site to his

Expectation Of A Tall Building, Taller Than Its Surroundings

EDC and library officials at the developers meeting were clearly selling the idea that when the library building site was redeveloped the new building would be at tall one.   The following statements came right at the beginning of the EDC’s official’s oral presentation (it’s cute how it traffics in selling the supremacy of a potential project by emphasizing how it won't be subject to the same restrictions as its neighbors):
The views around the area are fantastic.  So, that particular location has on the west side, it has a low height district.  So it’s zoned on the west side, that residential area, is zoned to have a height no more than 50 feet [essentially five stories].  That’s on one side of the project.  On the other side is Cadman Plaza so that’s a beautiful park.  There’s another beautiful park that you have views over.  So really, you have fantastic views all around.

    * * * *.

It’s located outside the Brooklyn Heights Historic District and the limited height district, so that’s the limited height district I was talking about earlier. .  So this is outside of that.
The written portion of the RFP is similar, if a tad more cautiously phrased:
The site. . .overlooks the picturesque Cadman Plaza Park in the heart of Brooklyn’s Civic Center . .  The site enjoys park views to the east with the prospect of achieving views of Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines, as well as of the New York Harbor and bridges.
What would be the advantage of developing a project for its western views over toward the harbor over neighboring buildings that are limited to a five-story height restriction if your own new building, with 50%+ development rights transferred out, can only be about five stories or a little bit taller.  Conforming to the FAR  restrictions, one way to make building taller is to stack up the floors in a more needle-like fashion, using a smaller building footprint.  The library building footprint is small enough that the building built there will probably be squatter, taking up a fair portion of the site.

What Forest City Ratner Has To Sell

But where will the development rights come from to build the taller building seemingly presumed?  Normally, they would have to come form an adjacent building on the same block.  The only property adjacent to the library is the Forest City Ratner building, One Pierrepont Plaza (also know by its original address of 159 Pierrepont Street). . .

. . . Is it possible that Forest City Ratner still has those buildable rights unused to transfer back?  It would seem unlike a developer let acquired development rights go unused.*  And one would think that we should not expect city officials to transfer city-owned development rights to a developer when they were not needed.   Steve Spinola, now President of REBNY (the Real Estate Board of New York), was the city official handling the transaction with Ratner at the time.
(* Although, we have to remember that Forest City Ratner threatened to stop construction and build only a portion of its Gehry-designed 8 Spruce Street Beekman Tower building.- See: Downtown Housing Complex May Downsize, Thursday, March 19, 2009.)  
I checked, and, as far as I can discern, there has been no upzoning of the properties since the rights were transferred to Forest City Ratner that would now make those rights surplus so they could be transferred back.  Nevertheless, it is not clear that the Ratner property actually needs those rights that the city officials transferred to it in 1986.

Public records put the size of the Forest City Ratner One Pierrepont Plaza site at about 45,780 square feet.  Those numbers should never be complacently relied upon, but when I worked to do my own calculations the slightly larger figure I got was very close to this number.   The Forest City Ratner building is a commercial building so the permitted FAR is 15 under the zoning.  That would come to a permitted buildable FAR of about 691,845.00 square feet.
Shaded area on city tax map above is One Pierrepont Plaza/135 Pierrepont Street site owned by Forest City Ratner.  Rectangular shape at south wrapped around by it is 153/157 Pierrepont Street owned by Saint Ann's School
How much of the permitted amount has Forest City Ratner actually used in building its building?  The merger of zoning lots document, on the public records, refers to the Ratner building as having a permitted 601,079 square foot building floor area figure.      

Forest City Ratner’s own website boasts that the building is built on the One Pierrepont Plaza site is only 659,000 square feet; that makes it look like Forest City Ratner might be able to transfer all of the library's rights back if somebody wanted to pay the right price.

Beforehand, in 1985, the New York Times reported that Ratner was only going to build a 600,000-square-foot building.  One real estate website has the Ratner building figured at 725,991 square feet and with an FAR that is a little over what is permitted (same thing with Property Shark) but which would still not use up the 140,919 square feet that was transferred from the library to Forest City Ratner in 1986.

So Ratner may actually have the development rights to send back for a price.  But here is another important thing to consider: There’s another way to bring more development rights to the site, so long as Forest City Ratner remains the gateway for the transaction: There is another property on the block using less than its permitted development rights, 153/157 Pierrepont Street owned by Saint Ann’s School.
The entire block, Ratner Property highlighted, showing what, with Ratner cooperation, could be treated as a single merged zoning lot to transfer development rights from Saint Ann's School to the library site
Above, Saint Ann School building with development rights that are not yet utilized.  Ratner property is in the background, literally and metaphorically
The Saint Ann’s property on the block is about 3,979 square feet (these calculations seem to approximately check) and the building is reported to be 27,680 square feet which probably leaves it with about 32,005 square feet of rights to transfer to the library site which could be easily done if it merges zoning lots with the Forest City Ratner property.  Both developer information sessions that day were attended by Matthew Bloom, Director of Finance and Administration for Saint Ann’s School.  (At one point, during the meeting I was at, Mr. Bloom introduced himself to the room and the EDC representative suggested that the developers in the room be in touch with him, but that was about providing space for a temporary library, the subject Mr. Bloom raised, not about development rights.) 
Are there other ways that Rater could be the conduit of additional development rights to further increase the height of the library building?  Indeed there might be, but that a gets into a level of zoning arcana mixed with speculative guessing I am not willing to take on in this article: Ways of connecting Saint Ann's buildings, Bank vaults, tunnels, street condemnations, whether cultural space like the library space (or even Saint Ann's) counts against the permitted heights on the merged zoning lots.  Interesting to note: Those working on the recent creation of the nearby Downtown Brooklyn skyscraper district said that the Brooklyn Heights Library block was intentional excluded from it. 

The Sale Gets Pitched: Public Officials Working for Forest City Ratner’s Benefit?
Neighborhood Amenities in the RFP

Whether or not Forest City Ratner becomes the library site developer in order to profit, all of this is likely to mean that:
    a.)  a lot, or most of the development rights for the building to be built to replace the library are coming from or through Ratner and Ratner gets to keep the lion’s share of the proceeds for these development rights, while

    b.) at the same time the net proceeds going in any way to the public are much reduced because of the demolition and rebuilding costs together with what the public loses as it tries to operate with a smaller temporary replacement library for some number of years.
If so, then any city-paid public or library administration official making the sales pitch hawking library development rights are actually working more for the benefit of Forest City Ratner than for the public.

The city EDC and library administration officials were, indeed, hawking the value of the development rights big time at the July 17th developers information session:
    . . I’m going to discuss the highlights of Brooklyn Heights, and you know, more than most people, what those entail I’m sure.  But, to talk about the prime location here: I’ve said this before, we do talk about prime development opportunities a lot at EDC; we use that phrase, we bandy it about fairly frequently-- This particular project really is a prime development opportunity. [appreciative developer laughter] It’s located at the heart of Brooklyn Heights.  So it’s really the nexus between Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn, so we have the residential neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights to the west and then you have the financial hub of Downtown Brooklyn to the east and it really is the nexus, the apex of both of those locations, both of those districts.

    The residential neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights is among the most desirable in New York City, and that’s New York City, not Brooklyn.  The sales comps that we are seeing in that area, whilst we are not brokers, and we wouldn’t want to tell you how to write your pro formas, are ahead of $1000 per square foot in that location.  It’s a beautiful residential area and we want to be able to service that community as well as the surrounding downtown neighborhood.

    It’s accessible to numerous transit lines.  So you have the Jay Street hub, you have the Borough Hall hub, the subway lines.  You have Clark Street, Court Street, High Street, all of these different subway lines are serviced at this location. There are parts of Manhattan that are not as well serviced as this particular site and you’re able to get to downtown Manhattan within minutes.  I live on the Upper West Side and it takes me over half an hour to get to work here and it takes anyone else from Brooklyn heights or that neighborhood less than five minutes.
To reiterate, the sales pitch, like the sale of the library itself, is more for the benefit of a developer, Ratner, than the public, the kind of thing that Citizens Defending Libraries has been pointing out since it was created in February to challenge these real estate deals.

Libraries And Their Relationship To Public Transit Benefits
From the RFP- The ease of access transportation from which the library site benefits- Click to enlarge
The sales pitch that easy accessability by public transportation is a good thing is correct.  Easily accessible transit is also desirable to consider when locating libraries.  When Citizens Defending Libraries met with the NYPL’s Chief Operating Officer, David Offensend, explained that one reason that the NYPL sold the Donnell Library to shrink it was that its services could be relocated, “better located,” to places that “would better serve the patrons, so the Central Children’s Room, for example, came here [the 42nd Street library], a far more convenient location for children and families, frankly, than 53rd Street, there’s more public transportation.”

Was Donnell in central Manhattan really that ill-served by subway lines?  Whether that may have been so, moving library services out of the superbly accessible Brooklyn Heights and downtown neighborhood is certain to significantly diminish public services.

Gatekeeping vs. Owning To Make a Profit

There has been a lot of speculation about whether Forest City Ratner, with the inside track (and certainly all these factors help put it on the inside track), will ultimately become the actual developer of the library site, but what should be discernable from the discussion above is that it is not necessary for Forest City Ratner to itself become the owner or developer of the library site in order for it to profit greatly from the transaction.  Ownership of real estate is not a prerequisite to making a profit; sometimes it is enough to be the gatekeeper of development.  One way we see this now is with very recent events with Atlantic Yards, a mega-monopoly bequeathed Forest City Ratner, by our government officials. . .

. . .  It has been recently reported that Forest City Ratner is trying to sell the substantial majority of its interest in that mega-project to an investor.  (See: Thursday, August 22, 2013, Times: Forest City's trying to sell up to 80% of Atlantic Yards (and didn't extended deadlines help Ratner gain "layup"?).)  This divestiture would be in lieu of complying with suggestions from the community that the government break up the mega-project to bid it out amongst multiple developers (something necessarily now legally under consideration as part of the new environmental assessment that is being done).  With Forest City Ratner selling out to an investor this way instead, Forest City Ratner retains its development gatekeeper function.  That gatekeeping function would arguably be better held by the government.  Additionally, any big investor brought in is likely to help Ratner lobby against any proposed break up the mega-monopoly.

Another factor giving Forest City Ratner another inside track with respect to the development of the library site is that the developers at the information meeting were told that, aside from the zoning:
    . . . this particular site is subject to a special permit, which you may have read in the RFP, that was awarded to the One Pierrepont Plaza lot next door [to Ratner] so the FAR and the height and setbacks are specified in the special permit, in fact, not in general C6-4 zoning so please bear that in mind, and if you want to look into this further you should buy a site file which has a special permit. .
The “site file” was being made available on CDs EDC was producing.  Although those CDs must cost mere pennies to burn and are probably also obtainable through a freedom of information at request, EDC was only making them available to those paying $50.00 for the privilege of getting one.

At the meeting, I also asked about the garage currently existing under the Ratner property and the possibility for a combined garage which would give Ratner yet another inside track.  You can see if you can spot my questions in the paraphrased questions and answers from the two information session EDC has published at its website.

Will the RFP award the library property to the highest bidder?  Not necessarily, and there are conundrums to be hurdled about how the final results will be achieved.  Part of this ties in with how the tangles involved in so-called public-private partnerships are manipulable (too frequently for what turns out to be  private benefit).  In the end, outside the outlines of formal RFP, the BPL will be negotiating with the developers for them to do the “outfitting,” or the build-out of the `replacement’ library.  It seems as if it will probably be done in such a way that the developer works with the BPL to avoid application of the city’s Wicks minimum wage law.  This will be a big-ticket item despite the planned shrinkage of the library.  The negotiation presents a way of swinging the contract outside of the formal bidding.
"Zoning Calculation" requirement from RFP
The contract doesn’t necessarily go to the highest bidder anyway.  Feasibility will be judged.  One thing affecting both potential for achieving a high bid price and the ability to present a convincing “zoning calculation” for feasibility sake is, according to the RFP language “Zoning calculations and analysis should reflect the entire zoing lot (including Lt 1) and address the special permits and zoning requirements referenced in the Declarations and Approved Plans.’  In other words: `Deal with Forest City Ratner.'

The BPL won't announce any details about the bids and bidders when they come in.  We'll all wait in suspense as the negotiate behind the scenes.

City Officials Represent They Have Not Been Dealing With Ratner

Near the end of the information session there was a question about whether there were issues with One Pierrepont Plaza that might not be showing up, whether there was, for instance, any granting of easements for light or air, that might not show up.  The question evoked this denial that there had been any previous communications with Forest City Ratner:
    Well, we haven’t spoken with, uhm, Forest City, ah, yet about this particular project since it’s not really underway.  What we can tell you, uhm, is that, ah, we believe that during the ULURP process, ah, because they were co-applicants, uhm, on the special permit they may need to consent to a modification of the special permit.  Uhm, but that’s the only, ah, thing that we foresee, uhm, we can’t foresee any other issues with Forest City.
So, without talking to Forest City Ratner, a decision was made to sell the library when half of its development rights were sold off and the only way to get back development rights for the project expected to be built would be to get them through Forest City Ratner?  Really?

A Lock On Value Where Ratner Holds The Key

The perspicacity of that question is greater if you consider that one reason that the Donnell Library was theoretically sold for such a very odd low price is because the owners of 666 Fifth Avenue had a light and air easement from the library, potentially interfering with the development.  It didn’t decrease Donnell’s value to the public as a library, but it did make getting value from any sale more complex.  What the questioner didn’t seem to realize was that the answer to his question was staring him in the face: In a fashion essentially similar to Donnell, the development rights to the Heights library had been conveyed out to Ratner so that anyone will have to deal with Ratner to get them back.

The introduction to EDC’s RFP says the RFP “presents a unique opportunity to . .  unlock economic development prospects in an increasingly valued  location,”; it just doesn’t say that Forest City Ratner has the key to the lock or is the one probably going to get the lion’s share of the benefit.

Public Officials Must Stand Guard

In the end, it's all going to come down to our politicians and elected representatives to prevent these absurdities for which only the public in the end pays.  Particularly important are those who may come into office in this current election cycle.  Over the years, Forest City Ratner has been a long-standing and certified nemesis for many.  One of them, City Council member Tish James, is now engaged in a campaign for Public Advocate in a Democratic primary now headed for final determination in an October 1st runoff election between Ms. James and state Senator Daniel Squadron.  The Forest City Ratner involvement in spearheading the sale of our libraries could wind up being a boon to Tish James' campaign. . .

. . . Tish James has not only been fighting against the sale of New York City libraries since these plans were unveiled, she led the fight against Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly.  Squadron, her opponent in the race, was condoning the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, with the moving of its Business and Career Library out of the business district and away from the vaunted subway access and mass transportation access it now enjoys.  Squadron has also been taking campaign money from the NYPL’s David Offensend, a key player in formulating and pushing deals for the sell-off of public libraries.

Noticing New York previously wrote about how the public funds infused into Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena to create private profit for Ratner are likely now coming to help finance and push the behind-the-scenes drive for things like the sell-off of our libraries and hospitals like Long Island College Hospital (LICH) at the other end of Brooklyn Heights.   See: Tuesday, April 30, 2013, Relevance of Mayoral Debate Discussion About Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards Misconduct To The Sale and Underfunding of NYC Libraries.

One half hour before the kickoff of his runoff campaign Mr. Squadron issued a press statement his campaign handed out at the kickoff press conference, saying that he now opposes the library sales.   Mr. Squadron’s new position needs to be amplified and clarified, but it is evident that the Citizens Defending Libraries campaign is having its effects.

Because the Public Advocate’s job is to serve as check and balance, keeping the Mayor’s office on track in terms of serving the public good, who gets elected as Public Advocate will be significant for the libraries.

The Mayor And The Library Sell-offs

How important is it who becomes Mayor?  It is the Mayor who largely determines the budget for libraries, but because the city’s libraries are technically run by three not for the profit corporations, the NYPL, the BPL and the Queens Library, people every now and then request Citizens Defending Libraries provide extra convincing evidence that it is Mayor Bloomberg, underfunding the libraries, who is behind these sales and is trying to push them through before he leaves office.

Last week, WNET’s Metrofocus put up this slide of information (below) provided by Mayor Bloomberg about what he wants to accomplish before leaving office.  It says he wants to push through the NYPL’s Central Library Plan, and (something potentially related to its real estate sell-off plans) he wants to push through the extreme upzoning of Mid-Manhattan around Grand Central Terminal. 
The information from Michael Bloomberg’s website engages in the deceptive characterization of the Central Library Plan’s as creating the “largest circulating and research library in the world” when it is actually a shrinkage and sale of libraries, reducing more than 380,000 square feet of library space to just 80,000 square feet.   (Examined at length here: Saturday, July 13, 2013, Deceptive Representations By New York Public Library On Its Central Library Plan: We’re NOT Shrinking Library Space, We Are Making MORE Library Space!)  What Bloomberg is talking about is selling two of NYC’s most important Manhattan libraries and destroying a third.

Respecting the Brooklyn Heights Library, BPL spokesman Josh Nachowitz has said that it is the goal of library and city officials to have a contract for its sale executed with a developer before December 31st, the last day of Bloomberg’s final term.

Meanwhile, as all these transactions are benefitting the wealthy at the expense of the public, money is flowing uphill in this city to the wealthiest.  Bloomberg’s annually increasing wealth just jumped again, this time from $27 billion to $31 billion in the last six months.  In 1979, the year he declared his interest in politics in his  biography, shortly before running for mayor his wealth (the digits reverse and a decimal point shifted)  was $1.3 billion.

Thankfully, Bloomberg will soon be out of office and Citizens Defending Libraries has brought Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio to the cause of opposing the sale of the cities libraries, including the Central Library Plan and the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  It is interesting to note that New York Times martini glass graph of de Blasio’s support shows his support fanning out to grow terrifically as of the July date when he held a press conference to oppose these library sales with Citizens Defending Libraries and the Committee to Save the New York Public Library on the steps of the 42nd Street library.  All library-related support?  Probably not, still the library issues are emblematic of other "Tale of Two Cities" issues where public assets are being sold off for other than public benefit, issues that went far to earn de Blasio his support.

But it is going to require more stories like this one that shine light on these transactions to keep our elected representatives on track protecting the public.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Empty Bookshelves As Library Officials Formulate A New Vision of Libraries: A Vision Where The Real Estate Will Be Sold Off

Aren’t libraries supposed to be places that contain books for us?

The following American Heritage Dictionary definitions of “library” would seem to make that clear:
    a. A place in which reading materials, such as books, periodicals, and newspapers, and often other materials such as musical and video recordings, are kept for use or lending.
    b. A collection of such materials, especially when systematically arranged.
    c. A room in a private home for such a collection.
    d. An institution or foundation maintaining such a collection.
Here are Merriam Webster Dictionary’s principal definitions for “library.”
    a : a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale
    b : a collection of such materials supplies about the same:
    1. a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed.
    2. a public body organizing and maintaining such an establishment.
    3. a collection of manuscripts, publications, and other materials for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference.
    4. a collection of any materials for study and enjoyment, as films, musical recordings, or maps.
    5. a commercial establishment lending books for a fixed charge; a lending library.
So it would seem that, by definition, a library ought to be a place where books are kept.  Oh, sure, there is more to it than that: There is the idea the place where the books are kept should be a place where people can have ready access to them, the ease of access being a central purpose of having gathered the books together in one place . .  Per that proverbial tree-falling-in-a-forest question: Would a collection of books kept on the moon where nobody could ever visit them still be a library?   It’s doubtful, even if the books constituted the greatest collection of books ever assembled.

Books being being brought together in a “collection,” “systematically arranged,” goes to the notion that an inherently valued goal is to have depth to the collection, the idea that presenting a multiplicity of choices for the reading patron is desirable, probably the more books to select from the better.

What about librarians?  Are they an essential part of a library?  We’ll get to that before we conclude.

Haven’t our visions of libraries always considered that we would find them filled with books, a wonderful wealth of books waiting to be discovered on their shelves?

Here are some stills of libraries from famous movie scenes that feature libraries.

Marian, the librarian with "The Music Man."  Marian's library had books!  Plenty of them.

Two floors of shelves full of books!
In Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" just how many books are in the Beast's library impresses the beautiful Belle
Very impressive, indeed!

In "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly reads more than one book at a time, not so uncommon when you are doing research
In the magical world of Harry Potter, the gifts and ease that magic can confer doesn't replace the importance of a library with well-stocked shelves full of secrets to be discovered by determined adventurers
In Harry Potter, a ghostly exploration of the libraries for that one book containing an essential fact needed to make sense of the world the young protagonists must conquer.
More that is ghostly: In "Ghostbusters." The ghost in the stacks of 42nd Street's Central Reference Library, like Audrey Hepburn, also seems t like to read more than one book at at time.
To jump ahead, we will be getting to the way that librarians are disappearing from the libraries under the tenure of the current library administration officials who prefer to pay real estate people instead.
The fictional "Ghostbusters"
The imagined stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library in the big budget, special effects "Ghostbusters" film are a good deal less fantastic than the real thing.  By comparison, though full of books, they are quite pedestrian.

The real stacks beneath the Central Reference Library's Rose Reading room are a seven-story book-delivery machine designed to the height of perfection.   
A sectional view of the research stacks as they appeared on the cover of "Scientific American". 

In 1966 Francis Ford Coppola directed "You're a Big Boy Now", his first film for a major studio, much of which was shot at the 42nd Street Central Reference library.  In it Bernard Chanticleer, the young protagonist of the coming of age film, played by Peter Kastner, works as a book-delivering stackboy outfitted with roller skates to speed the books to library patrons with the greatest possible efficiency.  
The roller skates might seem like one of this Coppola film's several surreal touches that, like "Ghostbusters" set this film at a remove or two from reality.  Coppola was enough in love with the idea of roller skating stackboys to put it in the film even though it wasn't in the book the film derives from, but it is a myth that the pages in the stacks scoot around on roller skates.  It is not, however, an unreasonably baseless myth.  According to the New York Times, in March of 1938, NYU put the pages in its basement stockroom on roller skates to reduce the time for delivery of volumes to just "55 seconds."  See: Pages on Roller Skates, ("A novel way to cope with unusual book delivery problems has been started at the New York University Washington Square College Library at the university's downtown center.") March 13, 1938.

Actually, Coppola had previously been mainly a script writer and because he was given permission to direct on condition that the film's budget be kept extremely low, the film is rich in its delivery of sights of authentic New York circa 1966 and an authentic 42nd Street library.  Indeed, the opening sequence over which the film's credits appear, depicts the genuine and superb efficiency of the research library's pneumatic tubes delivering book slip requests and the book elevator sending books up from the stacks.
In the film, the research stacks are full of books.

What about real life?  What about real life today?  More ghostly than the scenes in "Ghostbusters" the NYPL, the library administration officials in charge of the New York Public Library, have removed all the books from the 42nd Street Central Reference Library's fabled stacks.  See pictures below.

Why have all the books been taken out of the 42nd Street library research stacks?  Because having books in a library takes up real estate and the NYPL wants to sell off a hefty portion of its most valuable real estate in central Manhattan.  Not by coincidence the same real estate comprises the sites of the best, most important and publicly valuable libraries in the city.  The NYPL already rushed to sell off one centrally located, crown-jewel library, the five-story, 97,000 square foot Donnell Library across from MoMA on 53rd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues).  Its sale (netting a paltry $39 million for the NYPL) was suddenly announced in 2007 after a secretive process.- Even as low as it is, that $39 million figure is not net of what the NYPL paid high-priced consultants. . .  the NYPL has paid consultants millions of dollars in connection with these sales.   (See:  Monday, May 27, 2013, More Thoughts On Valuation And What The NYPL Should Have Received As Recompense For The Public When It Sold The Donnell Library.)

Now, as part of what it calls the Central Library Plan, the NYPL plans to destroy the Central Reference Library's research stacks and sell off the heavily used Mid-Manhattan Library together with SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library recently built at substantial public expense in the old Atlman's Department store at 34th Street.  (See: Sunday, July 7, 2013, When (If?) The Mid-Manhattan Library Is Ultimately Sold As Part Of NYPL’s Central Library Plan, How Big A Building Would Replace It? and Saturday, June 15, 2013, SIBL, NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library Sold At An Unreported Loss To The Public (And an Elucidating Sideways Look At The BAM South Library Real Estate Games).

The end result of the Central Library Plan would be that well over 380,000 square feet of library space (Mid-Manhattan, SIBL and the research stacks to be destroyed) would be shrunk down to a mere 80,000 square feet.  (See: Saturday, July 13, 2013, Deceptive Representations By New York Public Library On Its Central Library Plan: We’re NOT Shrinking Library Space, We Are Making MORE Library Space!)
click to enlarge
If you choose to treat as countable in the calculations all of the floor space occupied by the bookshelves and being walked upon by the actors in "You're a Big Boy Now" (despite unusually low ceilings) it actually amounts to 460,000 square feet of library space being reduced to just 80,000 square feet.  This shrinkage is actually an about-face in terms of planning.  Previous to the current cast of real estate estate fixated executives now at the NYPL, library administration officials had planned to nearly double the size of the Mid-Manhattan Library.

All that is left of these then squeezed down and shrunken libraries will be accessed through just one small door near the back of the current 42nd Street library building.  (See: Tuesday, July 2, 2013, Startling Testimony at State Assembly Hearing on NYC Library Sales.)

Why is the NYPL getting rid of the books?  Because books take up space.  There is no way that you can squeeze down all that space to something as tiny as proposed without getting rid of the books.  Keeping books requires real estate and they only want to sell their real estate.

When Citizens Defending Libraries met with the NYPL's Chief Operating Officer David Offensend, Mr. Offensend confirmed that once the Central Library Plan is effectuated, shrinking down the space, there will be no option to expand the library space again to correct for any possible miscalculations and no way to accommodate future growth.  If growth of any kind needs to be accommodated in the future the only way to do that will be to get rid of even more books.  But Mr. Offensend also confirmed something else: That there were as yet no firm plans, no calculations about what quantity of books would be kept and accommodated in the new shrunken down space.  Yet the real estate plans to shrink the space were already firmly in place.

One may infer from this that the objective of selling the real estate came first and took precedence over decisions relating to keeping any books.  I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and was part of the meeting where Mr. Offensend informed us of these things.

It's inevitably going to be bad, but there might not be the total train wreck you might expect when all the books and library space is collapsed.  Why?  Because in preparation for this shrinkage it seems that books are disappearing from library shelves ahead of time.  They are disappearing now.  I suppose this prevents the scenerio where some wise-ass shows up and asks the obvious question: `How ya gonna fit all them books in such a tiny space?'   This way, library officials will, instead, be able to respond: `What books?  Where?'

Librarians have been telling Citizens Defending Libraries that books are being removed from the NYPL's bookshelves according to edicts issued by Anne Coriston, NYPL's vice president for public service, one of the NYPL's library senior executives in the library group in charge of "Strategy" and the Central Library Plan consisting of COO David Offensend, Andrew W. Mellon Director Ann Thornton, Anne Coriston, Vice President for Capital Planning and Construction Joanna Pestka, Vice President for Finance and Strategy Jeffrey Roth, and Director of Strategy Micah May.

On the NYPL trustee level, it is reportedly Stephen A. Schwarzman and Marshall Rose who are pushing the NYPL's real estate plans (both are in the real estate business), although apparently Mr. Offensend is now officially working on the Central Library Plan on a "task force" with two other trustees, David Remnick and Katharine J. Rayner.   Mr. Remnick, a journalist, has since 1998, been editor of The New Yorker, a magazine that, under other circumstance, might have been expected to investigate and report vigerously and critically about the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.

I thought I would go out to the libraries and see for myself if books were disappearing from the shelves.  Unfortunately, as I can't time travel back, I have no "before" pictures to go along with these many "after" pictures.

First, let's go to Barnes & Noble, just to remind ourselves what full bookshelves look like.  I paid special attention to the biography sections.
Closeup of books in the Barnes and Noble Biography section, in the center two copies of David Nasaw's "The Chief" about  publisher William Randolph Hearst.
Above, shown amongst a closeup of some of the biographies at Barnes and Noble, are two copies of the 2000 book, “The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst” by David Nasaw.  “The Chief” won the Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Bancroft Prize for American history. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.  It is one of two books by Mr. Nasaw, the other being a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy,” that contain information about my grandfather Thomas Justin White, who was president and general manager of the Hearst organization.

When I visited the Mid-Manhattan Library this 2002 award-winning book was not on its shelves and I was told that the library no longer had a copy in its collection.  I was told that if I wanted to read it I would have to go over to the Central Reference Library, currently a non-circulating library.

Mr. Nasaw, together with Citizens Defending Libraries, is one of a number of plaintiffs participating in a lawsuit against the NYPL seeking to halt the Central Library Plan’s destruction of the research stacks.  In total, nine recognized and award-winning scholars are joined with Citizens Defending Libraries in that lawsuit.  Mr. Nasaw is also the author of a 2006 biography of library philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie that was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography.  The Central Reference Library's research stacks are constructed of Carnegie steel.

Mr. Nasaw wrote his most recent biography about Joseph P. Kennedy after being invited to do so by the Kennedy family, based in the strength of his previous biographies.  Similarly, biographer Edmund Morris, another plaintiff with Citizens Defending Libraries in the lawsuit, wrote his 1999 biography of Ronald Reagan, “Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan,” when the Reagan family approached him based on his earlier Theodore Roosevelt biography work.  Mr. Morris won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his first book, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”

In an affidavit Mr. Morris provided in the lawsuit Mr. Morris described his current inability to get the research books he needs to do his writing at the Central Reference Library: 
7. Those individuals who support the Plan are prone to boast that books relegated to offsite storage are made available within two days of request. My experience is that requests for materials stored "off site" often takes much longer than the vaunted delivery time of 48 hours. And this does not include those situations in which the book requested cannot be found, ostensibly due to its having been transported back and forth.

8. Frustrating though this is for a researcher living in the New York area — particularly when one returns to the Library on the predicted delivery date, and finds the item still not available — it is worse for scholars from out of town or overseas, who have to pay hotel and other bills while waiting and waiting and waiting. . .
The Orwellian effect of these disappearing books is thus twofold: The materials needed to to write books such as historical biographies cannot be found in the library, and then, once those biographies written, those looking to read them cannot readily find them.  (We won’t, at this moment, get into the even worse Orwellian characteristics of digital books: Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle, by Brad Stone, July 17, 2009.)

In any event Barnes and Noble is still using its real estate to present us with physical books.

By contrast, the NYPL is not currently filling its precious library real estate with books.  The pictures of largely empty shelves below are from SIBL.  The emptiness does seem to substantiate the claim librarians are making that the NYPL wants its shelves no more than half full.

One reason it may be considered extra startling that the shelves at SIBL are so empty is that this library has already gone through a significant contraction, giving up a lot of space to the Episcopal Church’s Church Pension Group, sold at very low price given what the public paid to build SIBL not so long ago.  Coincidentally (or not?) the Church Pension Group moving into the SIBL space is freeing up real estate right next to the Mid-Manhattan library that the NYPL wants to sell off.
Entrance on 34th Street to the old Altman's Building to former SIBL space taken over by the Church Pension Fund
A lot of the valuable real estate of the Mid-Manhattan Library's shelves is also going unused, some of it startlingly so.

Mid-Manhattan has William Randolph Hearst biographies, but not "The Chief"
With the "extinction" of books at Mid-Manhattan, will readers find enough to teach themselves about global warming and mass extinctions of the past?  This library is supposed to provide science research resources at the high school, college and general research level. 
At Mid-Manhattan, it's not just the books that are scarce.  Shelves that could be holding DVD's and CDs (including great audio lectures) also look barren. I asked a librarian about finding DVDs of "The Avengers," the British television series from the 1960's with Patrick Mcnee's John Steed and Diana Rigg's Ema Peel.  These DVD's are expensive to go out and buy.  The program aired for most of the decade, but the library did not have enough copies to have any episode with Ema Peel available on the shelf that day.  All that was available was a DVD from an early series year with Honor Blackman playing Cathy Gale, predecessor of Ms. Peel.   That's not a scientific test by any means, but what are all those empty shelves about?

The strategies of selling off libraries and library space that were launched by Offensend and his cohorts with the Donnell Library sale are now being exported to Brooklyn with proposed sales of Brooklyn libraries like the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Branch libraries.

The sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, closely replicating the sale and shrinkage involved in the Donnell sell-off, involves a much smaller future Brooklyn Heights library.  Ostensibly, according to the library administration officials looking to justify its sale, the Brooklyn Heights Library will be smaller because half of its services, operations and programming, what is referred to as its Business and Career functions, will be moved out of the central downtown  Brooklyn business district.  To the extent that those operations actually carry forward and exist in the future (Brooklyn Public Library officials say they will still exist) they will be moved into the Grand Army Plaza main branch library beside Prospect Park.  In a consolidating shrinkage much like the NYPL's Central Library Plan, the physical space of the Grand Army Plaza branch is not being expanded to accommodate the arrival of these Brooklyn Heights Library's programs, functions, resources and books.

When Josh Nachowitz, spokesperson for the BPL (formerly, before the advent of library sales, at EDC, the Mayor's real estate development agency) was confronted about the fact that there wouldn't be room for the half of the Brooklyn Heights Library to be put into the Grand Army Plaza he countered with the assertion that there would be plenty of room.

At a community board committee meeting I challenged Mr. Nachowitz, saying that the only way they would have room would be because the administration was getting rid of books.  Mr. Nachowitz said that what the BPL is doing, “in no way means we are eliminating books . .  getting rid of books”  scoffing “We are a library; the whole point of a library is that we provide books for free.”  But, echoing the way that the Central Library Plan banishes books from 42nd Street Reference Library’s research stacks to southern New Jersey in Princeton, he explained how space can somehow become available without, in his opinion, actually “eliminating books.”  Says Nachowitz: “We’re taking a central book processing function” (also described by Mr. Nochowitz and his cohorts as a “back office opertaion”) from the Grand Army Plaza Library and “a lot of staff” and “moving that to a central processing facility that we are sharing with the New York Public Library.”  At that removed and shared location the staff will be “taking books in, books come in, they stamp them, they put them into their computer system and they send them out again.”

Mr. Nachowitz says this facilitates moving “books around the system” and that’s its “cheaper.”
No matter: The “cheaper” system means that the books won’t be at the libraries, and, despite the BPL’s claims of greater efficiency, things don’t always go well with the delivery systems.  Citizens Defending Libraries is getting complaints by users of the system like the following: After making a first visit to the library and then having to order a book not on the premises, patrons notified to make the second trek to pick up their book discover that the ordered book hasn’t actually arrived.  (At least one woman blamed the library staff and proclaimed the Brooklyn Heights Library an unsatisfactory library as a result.)

Are the books already beginning to disappear from the BPL's Grand Army Plaza library in preparation to absorb the Brooklyn Heights and/or other libraries in the future?  Here are some pictures.

Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Library does have a copy of "The Chief"
There are library patrons who are telling Citizens Defending Libraries that when they go to Grand Army Plaza to get books they need in connection with their business, librarians tell them that the books aren't there anymore and have been sent to the Brooklyn Heights Library.  That seems strangely on the verge of a shell game or runaround if the Brooklyn Heights Library's books are about to be sent to Grand Army Plaza.

What's happening at the Brooklyn Heights Library?  Are they paring down that library's book collections in preparation for a consolidating shrinkage?  The pictures tell the story.  As you look at them, it is important to remember that although the the BPL has expressed an intent to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library, it has, through Mr. Nachowitz, represented to the public that there won't be subtractions from its services before required public hearings about whether the real estate should be sold.
Business and Career Library shelves

Business and Career Library shelves

Business and Career Library shelves

Know your rights, know the law!  In this library you may think you've lost them all

Arrow to "Biographies"?

Children's Library

Children's Library

Children's Library

Trips to nowhere?

General library Biography section

Books on religion need to be culled down to this?


In the Biography section there is still one Copy of "Bloomberg by Bloomberg"
I was pleased to see that the library still had one copy of "Bloomberg by Bloomberg," the 1997 biography Bloomberg issued about himself  as he got ready to go into politics (and become substantially richer as mayor afterwards). When I wanted to review its content in the fall of 2009 (I was writing about how Bloomberg's "charity" isn't really charity), I went to the library for a copy because I neither wanted to buy the book nor give Bloomberg a royalty for it.  I see that the library has since added two copies of the adulatory Joyce Purnick biography of Bloomberg.

The Brooklyn Public Library has one copy of David Nasaw's "The Chief," but no other Hearst biographies of which there are many.
I checked to see whether the Brooklyn Heights Library, unlike the Mid-Manhattan, had a copy of  "The Chief."  It did, but unlike the Mid-Manhattan, it had none of the other many William Randolph Hearst biographies.  The library had no copies of the '60s television series "The Avengers," having never bought any, but I did have a good conversation with a librarian about what an outstanding role model the Mrs. Peel character is for girls.  It was noted that "The Avengers" can be watched on Netflix.  I haven't yet invested in a subscription.

I had one scare over which I would have been aghast.  I was told that library no longer had a copy of "The Federalist Papers."  I had quickly obtained a copy of the "The Federalist Papers" there in the fall of 2009.  I was told that the book, part of the libraries "floating collection," was not on site.  It turned out the information was wrong and a dedicated librarian, correcting himself, ran out to find me on the street and deliver it to me after realizing that "The Federalist Papers"could be found on premises.
Mistake corrected: The Heights Library did have a copy of "The Federalist Papers"
I'm told by librarians that a certain amount of annual culling of a library's collection is appropriate.  Certain books, like some kinds of science books, become out of of date over time, so unless you are researching how science has progressed from one point of view to another over the years, some older books should come off the shelves.   The librarians point out to me that if the budget is not sufficient to restock the shelves with newer replacement science books the collection could thereby dwindle.  As there is underfunding, that could provide explanation for some recent shrinkage.

Alternatively, some books don't lose their value over time and I am told that Anne Coriston's directives have included instructions to remove "shabby" (as well as duplicate) books from the shelves, something that doesn't make sense to librarians when you might be talking about rare or limited editions.

It is also true that that in certain instances, certain data publishers have gone digital. Phone books are used less often; instead we go to the internet and get the phone number we seek mixed with some advertising.
The absence of books in the library can be seen from the street at night when the library is closed.  If and when the library is actually sold off to a developer for development will we look in to see worse?
Are physical books unimportant to the library of the future?  See: Publishers Weekly-  Pew Survey Shows Power of Print, Jun 25, 2013.  The demand for physical books at the library is not going down or being replaced by digital books: Although the NYPL has 84,000 e-book titles available only 7.3% of the books being checked out are e-books.

The bigger subject of why digital books are not adequate substitutions for physical books is too big and complicated to get into here at this time, but suppose we set that subject aside long enough to ask whether we can have the kind of libraries we value without librarians, because we are getting rid of librarians also. Librarians, like library books, require space.  (Unless they are the ethereal, half-vanished librarian haunting the library in "Ghostbusters.")  Sometimes the space librarians use and require is back office space, the kind of space that isn’t necessarily accessible to the general public and which library administration officials cheerily tell us they can get rid of without consequence.

Maybe an even simpler question should be asked: Forget entirely about the space we are taking away from them for a minute. . . If we still truly value our libraries, would we be cutting their funding drastically at a time of greatly increasing use when the city is growing and wealthier than it has been in years?  If that answer is the self-evident negative I believe it must be, can’t we then intuit that all these other subtractions of library resources being thrust upon us by the same people who are underfunding our libraries are just as equally ill advised?
The bump up in blue line representing funding above corresponds to Bloomberg's pursuit of his third term.  The drastic decline while use is rising corresponds to his administration's pursuit of library sell-offs
One thing is certain: If we let library and city administration officials get rid of the libraries' book collections, then, by definition, what we are left with in the end won't actually be libraries at all.