Friday, March 29, 2013

Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On? - Letter To The New York Times Editor (From Citizens Defending Libraries)

Delivering a hard copy of Citizens Defending Libraries letter to the editor, in addition to a previously emailed copy, for extra good measure did not work to get that letter published in the New York Times
This is about how news does, or does not, get out to the public in this city if the subject of a news story is the real estate industry.  In this case, the subject was a very big story about real estate and libraries.

Two Sunday nights ago the New York Times published an article confirming what most readers of New York already know: New York City libraries are being sold off to developers, implementing a new public policy.  The next day that story was on the front page of Monday’s print edition.  See: Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On, by Joseph Berger and Al Baker, March 17, 2013.

The one good thing about the article is that it clued people into the fact that (whether or not library officials were denying it) these sales were happening across the city. . .

. .  The article took almost a month to get written and get published.*  The fact that the practice was unfolding city-wide was something that reporter Joseph Berger didn’t know and that Citizens Defending Libraries informed him of when he met with me and CDL’s organizer in chief, Carolyn McIntyre (also my wife) nearly a month before its publication.  We also pointed out that, as was noted in the title of the Times article, what was going on with libraries was similar to what was going on with schools.  It’s all part of an across-the-board fire sale as Bloomberg city officials get ready to finish up Bloomberg’s third term.
(* I predicted in advance, and turned out to be correct, that the story, posing difficulty for the Times, would take a long time to come out and be converted to a multiple byline.)
Revelation of the city-wide nature of what was going was the main good thing about the article.  In virtually all other respects the article was simply a compilation of real estate industry talking points about why selling city libraries is supposedly a good thing.

Here is what the article did not include, expressed in a Citizens Defending Libraries letter to the Times editor from Carolyn McIntyre. The Times did not publish this letter.  Mind you, a letter to the New York Times editor cannot exceed 150 words so the unpublished letter boils down to 149 words its statement of what the Times article left out:
    * * * *

March 22, 2013

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, New York 10018

Re:    Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On (March 17, 213)
To The Editor:

Your front page article (March 17th) on selling libraries describes the policy "increasingly . . used" in the city to sell libraries on land "developers crave."

The article doesn't say these sales, since 2008's Donnell closing, involve shrinking the system.  The Central Library Plan is a consolidating shrinkage, including effectively decommissioning 42nd Street's Central Reference Library.  Brooklyn Heights' library sale closely clones Donnell's shrinkage.   

Unreported is that Brooklyn Public Library's CEO admitted (Daily News) that money from the Brooklyn sales doesn't go to the libraries or that the BPL, not prioritizing public benefit, fixed upon selling properties without arranging for money to return.

Underfunding of libraries, the excuse to sell them, is Mayor Bloomberg's program.  Funding our libraries less than Detroit when libraries are one of the highest priorities of community boards and usage is way up?

Citizens Defending Libraries has a new petition (8,500+ signatures) protesting this unjust, shortsighted policy.


Carolyn E. McIntyre
Citizens Defending Libraries

    * * * *
If you presume that the Times article omitted all of the above despite the fact that Citizens Defending Libraries called all of these things to the reporter’s attention at the outset, you would be absolutely correct.  Furthermore, it was not just what the Times left out; it was also what the Times wrote that was inaccurate and misleading.

When we met with Mr. Berger I carefully explained that these real estate deals don’t ensure that they will be to the highest bidder or provide the best return for the public.  That’s because they propose to use a RFP “Request For Proposals” process (side-stepping a simple “request for bid” process) to enter into “public-private partnerships.”  Forest City Ratner, a firm library officials say they expect could be among those they will do business with in connection with the library Mr. Berger arrived to report about, is notorious for its history of and expertise in abusing developer-driven partnerships.  Nevertheless, without indicating that there might be any other point of view, the Times article flatly states in the opening paragraphs that properties will be offered  “to the best bidder.”  (Was some careful thought given when that sentence was structured to say “best” rather than “highest”?)

This assuring pronouncement from the Times was notwithstanding that I had explained to Mr. Berger that I used to run the legal department of the state finance authorities. I did not explain to him that I was a principal author of their procurement guidelines. Had I done so I doubt that it would have resulted in a difference in his copy.

Inclusion of what was significantly left out of the Times story would have turned the Times story virtually on its head since the story’s essential points were that the sell-offs of the libraries a.) could not be helped, and b.) were for the public’s benefit.  Neither is the case.

Getting word out about the Times omissions presented a daunting proposition.  Even though the library story was a front page story of intense local interest the Times did not open that article up to public comment from its readers.  Had the article been open for public comment Citizens Defending Libraries and other New Yorkers could have pointed out the many flaws in the article, its bias and the dismal underlying flaws of the policy that article was supporting.  Comments could also have corrected the failure of the Times to mention to the campaign Citizens Defending Libraries is waging against the new policy and its petition now approaching 9,000 signatures both online and hard copy.  (Here is a link to the petition: Save New York City Libraries From Bloomberg Developer Destruction.)

The Times has likely learned from past experience and comment pages that opened up the subject of the Donnell Library closing that comments critical of selling off libraries come fast and furious.

Under the circumstances, the only way to correct the "paper of record" was to get a letter to the editor published.   The unpublished letter to the editor that appears above had to be withheld from public view until right now.  It had to be withheld until it was known that the Times wouldn’t publish it because the Times Letters to The Editor policy states (emphasis supplied): “Letters to the editor should only be sent to The Times, and not to other publications. We do not publish open letters or third-party letters.”  (See: How to Submit a Letter to the Editor - The New York Times.)

Meanwhile, the uncorrected Times story was having what is described as “The Times Effect.” The story was suddenly deemed to be news.  As soon as the Times story ran a slew of other publications and media published the same story, often repeating it in very much the same terms as in the Times.  For instance, Joe Berger was interviewed on WNYC, where he said much the same thing written in the story: Libraries Eyed as Ripe for Development,  by WNYC Newsroom, Monday, March 18, 2013. Similarly, an unbylined article appeared that day in Business Journal: Can New York's libraries and public housing be saved by private developers? March 18, 2013.

The most recent problematic echo of the Times article occurred on today's Brian Lehrer show where a misinformed moderator substituting for Brian Lehrer at the very end of the segment  puts out as a `correction’ her misimpression that sale of the libraries is not about eliminating library real estate, telling the audience with treacherous authoritativeness that the libraries (as opposed to shrunken libraries) `are being put back.’  See: The Brian Lehrer Show: Funding Public Services Through Real Estate Development, Friday, March 29, 2013.

The most thoughtful article in the slew of articles appearing, one that intuited that something was wrong with the Times reporting and followed up with some independent investigation that cast doubt on the Times narrative appeared in The Observer: Is the Public Getting Swindled By the City’s Short-Sighted School and Library Sell-Offs? By Kim Velsey, March 18, 2013.  (“Is the city is making bad—or at least short-sighted—deals in exchange for a little cash right now? . . . when private, rather than public interest dictates the city’s real estate decisions, that’s a real cause for concern. .  The Brooklyn Public Library. . does not dispute that the value of the real estate is a huge factor in the decision. “ etc.)

The problem for The Observer in making its assessments is that it wasn’t working with any hint of the information Citizens Defending Libraries had supplied the Times, which could have helped sharpen its assessments still further.

While it wasn’t possible to comment on the Time library sell-off story directly, it was typically possible to comment on these echoing stories.  Which should come first: Writing a letter to the Times Editor, or commenting with speed to correct the echoing stories (birds in the hand) but taking care not to use the same language as, and thus disqualify, a letter to the Times editor?  Additionally, it was altogether a very busy week for libraries with several public meetings that needed to be attended, something I will be writing about in another piece.
Citizens Defending Libraries probably should have gotten its corrective letter into the Times more promptly: It got its letter in within five days and the Times prescribed period is to get letters in within seven.

But getting a letter to the editor published in the Times doesn’t mean that the letter will say what you want it to say instead of what the Times wants that letter to say.

Three letters opposing the library sell-offs appeared in the print edition of the New York Times Saturday published Saturday morning.  See: Letters - A Plan to Demolish Libraries to Save Them, March 22, 2013.

I repeat them in full below.  One of them, which I have set forth as the first below (it actually appeared last), was from Martha Rowen from our Citizens Defending Libraries team.  Her letter was edited by the Times.  I have included in bold and brackets what the Times edited out and didn’t print from her original letter.  The Times editor screening her letter also indicated to her that if she had been prompted to write her letter by virtue of a website they would be disinclined to print it:
    * * * *

To the Editor:

[Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On (March 17, 213), quotes a claim that “people don’t want to raise taxes” and characterizes the sale of our public property as an “intelligent investment”.   At a time when polling shows Americans consistently in favor of higher taxes on the rich, I question the premise and ask, “Who are the people who do not want to raise taxes?”]  Any plans to sell our public resources to private developers should be voted on by residents of New York City — stakeholders at least as important as developers.

I believe that with full disclosure of the facts and figures, including statistics on rising library use and the modest cost of consistent guaranteed funding, ordinary New Yorkers are quite capable of making intelligent decisions on issues that will profoundly affect them for generations to come.

    Brooklyn, March 18, 2013

[The writer is a member of Citizens Defending Libraries.]*

(* NOTE: This edit made it impossible for Times readers to find out about either Citizens Defending Libraries or its petition.)

    * * * *

To the Editor:

The front-page picture of a Brooklyn public library building that may be torn down (“Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On,” March 18) brought me grief. My childhood and professional life were partly lived in that borough.

That a building so rich in its beauty, character and connection to the past is now on the chopping block to make money for apartment house developers is a shameful comment on the city. I have traveled to places worldwide that treasure their history and do all they can preserve it. It’s what gives a city and a nation its identity.

I’m hoping to see demonstrations imploring the city to let that Brooklyn library, and historic reminders like it, remain standing.

Rockville Centre, N.Y., March 18, 2013

    * * * *

To the Editor:

It is the siren song of money, no matter the public interest and cost.

The Brooklyn Heights library may not be a New York City-designated landmark, but it is a landmark to our families. When our children enter this easily recognized building, they feel that they are entering a special place of learning, connecting with centuries of “great books” and their own history. In doing so, they start on a unique adventure, a lifelong journey.

In placing the library as a minor part of a high-rise building, more than the original library building is lost.

A part of us is lost.

Brooklyn, March 19, 2013

The writer is a former chairwoman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
As you see from all of the above, the Times with its editing out of facts from its articles, and even the editing of the Letters to the Editor opposing that edited article’s point of view, has tightly controlled the framing of the public’s dialogue about the disposal of these vastly valuable, precious public assets.

Why is it that the Times needed to edit from Martha Rowen’s letter her astute observation that, contrary to Times reporting, the public is actually interested in seeing the libraries properly funded, something that was also indicated in the unpublished Citizens Defending Libraries McIntyre letter?  Unfortunately, in only 150 words you can’t add that libraries are a pittance to fund in terms of the city’s overall budget or that their funding is typically one of the highest priorities of the city’s 59 community boards.

The choices the Times made with respect to what to include can be interesting. . .

. .  Meeting with Joseph Berger in February we referred him to the new Center For An Urban Future Report released in January about usage and funding of the libraries.  The Times article actually included a quote from David Giles, the research director of the Center, who authored that report, getting a blessing from Mr. Giles that “there was wisdom to the approach” of selling off the libraries.  But, in doing so the Times made no reference to the existence of the report itself or its principal conclusions, the main reasons we said it was important to refer to it: That library usage is way up (40% programmatically, 59% in terms of circulation), that the underfunding of libraries by the mayor is aberrant and unwise and that the annual budget dance in which New York City libraries wind up being underfunded is simply a “kabuki dance,” the kind of political theater that ought to be dispensed with.

We’ve talked and communicated with Mr. Giles.  His report and its principal conclusions were, no doubt, an unexpected upset for those intent on converting libraries into real estate inventory.  I expect the upset generated difficult discomfort.  Mr. Giles tells us he agrees with efforts of Citizens Defending Libraries to obtain the funding for libraries that they deserve.  He doesn’t agree with us on everything.  What he believes, and we don’t agree with him on, is that the significant people now in charge at the libraries, who are intent on selling them off while shrinking the system, are people who are earnestly looking for `creative solutions’ the primary purpose of which will be to benefit the libraries.

Once again: The Times has tightly controlled the framing of the public’s dialogue about the disposal of these vastly valuable, precious public assets.  Why is that and is that how it should be?  Could it be that real estate advertising is very important to the financially beleaguered Times?  I am sure that others will have explanations to offer although they may not be radically different. 

Citizens Defending Libraries has added a web page to its collected web page where all the responses to the Times article promoting the idea that libraries should be sold can be published to correct the record and balance the dialogue no matter what the Times would edit out.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Community Alert! Community Alert! The Brooklyn Heights Association’s New Community Alert Says The BHA Favors The Sale And Shrinkage Of The Neighborhood’s Library!

With little fanfare the Brooklyn Heights Association posted a “Community Alert” on March 14th that says it is in favor of the sale and shrinkage of the neighborhood’s Brooklyn Heights library with a more than 50% shutdown of that library starting in just a few months.  It should, indeed, be a matter of neighborhood alert and it looks as if, for some reason, the board of the BHA has voted to sell the community out.  (It is also a sell-out of all the citizens of New York City).

The sale of the library to create a developer deal culminating in a huge new tower on the border of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn is still a matter of breaking headlines but those who know what’s going on will be aware that this is just one in of a number of proposed real estate deals where libraries are being sold, the library system shrunk and the whole system intentionally underfunded to promote the sell-off of these public assets.  In response, there is a petition in opposition to these practices and Citizens Defending Liberties has scrambled to organize and lead the resistance.  Here is a link to the petition: Save New York City Libraries From Bloomberg Developer Destruction

As you will see, every word of the BHA’s March 14th Community Alert is set forth sequentially below in italics with ensuing analysis of what exactly those words mean in terms of selling out the community.  You may want to contact the BHA, especially if you are a member, to let them know that the positions the board has taken are absurd.  Making sure that everyone you know signs the petition will also help serve as a rebuke to the BHA’s cavalier attitude about protecting the community. 

BHA’s Statements of Position (indented and in italics) Followed by Noticing New York’s Analysis

Like other cultural institutions, the Brooklyn Public Library has faced cuts in its City-provided funding in recent years.
This is extremely misleading: The libraries are not like other cultural institutions; they are a basic city service that are supposed to be funded by the city.  This is one reason why many libraries like the Brooklyn Heights library were actually put in city ownership with express agreements that they be city-funded and funded to a certain level of service.  What is true is that, especially since Bloomberg got his third term (immediately prior to which the mayor bumped up library funding in his run-up to the election), the libraries have been targeted by the Bloomberg administration for starvation.

The starvation was a calculated prelude to an intended fire sale of the real estate.  Even library spokesmen such as Josh Nachowitz (who transferred to the Brooklyn Public Library from the Mayor’s development agency, EDC, just in time to work these real estate sell-offs) says that there would be no need for these real estate sell-offs if the libraries were actually receiving the adequate funding they are supposed to.  It's just that Josh says that it is assured that the mayor is not going to provide this funding.  According to the recent Center for an Urban Future "Branches of Opportunity" report: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.”   Usage of the libraries is up 40 percent programatically and 59 percent increase in circulation.  And yet we are not funding them to the same degree we fund the heavily subsidized, privately-owned “Barclays” arena and we are not funding our libraries even at the level that Detroit, a city on the verge of bankruptcy, funds its libraries. 

Bottom line, Mayor Bloomberg is defunding New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth and the purpose is to force the sell-offs of these public assets.  The Brooklyn Heights Association’s complacent statement in the face of this reality is simply a flat out adoption and parroting of the BPL’s talking points designed to serve Bloomberg’s aim to have a fire sale handout of this building to a developer before December 31st, the conclusion of his third and now final term.   
The Brooklyn Heights branch library building is situated on an under-built City-owned plot outside of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.
The rather pat conclusion that Brooklyn Heights branch library building is on an under-built parcel of land is definitely subject to debate. In fact, the library was built in 1962 as part of an urban renewal rebuilding effort which was specifically intended at that time to reduce the density of what was replaced.  The Brooklyn Heights Association has not opened up for public discussion the question of whether the parcel is “under-built” or whether it should therefore be made a priority target for demolition, no matter the likely disruption and setbacks the public will experience with such a sale and demolition.  It is very possible the majority of residents in the neighborhood and the majority of Brooklyn Heights Association members would disagree with the assessment that the library needs to be torn down because the site is under-built.  The assessment that the site is under-built is simply the assessment of developers wanting to get control of the site.  Once again, the Brooklyn Heights Association has adopted the position of the BPL which is indistinguishable from that of the Bloomberg developers waiting in the wings.
The BPL sees demolition of the existing branch and redevelopment of the land as a way to provide money for the library system and a new, state-of-the-art branch for Brooklyn Heights.
This is wrong in two respects.  Because the city owns the property the funds from a sale would go to the city, NOT the library system. Linda Johnson the head of the BPL, herself previously acknowledged this to the Daily News.  There is no existing enforceable agreement that any money would go to the libraries. A decision was made to sell libraries BEFORE there was any basis to say that some or how much money might be given to the libraries. That’s an embarrassment to the Bloomberg/library officials flogging these deals because it means selling the real estate is their first and likely only real priority, not doing what is best for the libraries.

“State-of-the-art” is the BPL’s euphemistic substitute for saying that what the public should expect to get will be a library with far fewer books that will be significantly smaller.   As residents on Brooklyn Heights may be the best to know, new is frequently not better than old.  New often means flimsy and cheap by comparison.  The only way they can allege that a new smaller library will somehow be an acceptable replacement is to say that this version of new will be better than old is to say the it will theoretically be something generically referred to as “state-of-the-art.”

The library proposes to downsize from the 62,000 square feet of publicly owned space now available for use by the library to perhaps as little as 15,000 square feet.  There will be a long period of construction during which children growing up in the neighborhood will have to make do with an even smaller temporary library, that being perhaps as little as 5,000 square feet.  (In a similar situation, Manhattan’s Donnell Library closed in spring of 2008, promising replacement of a smaller library in 3 ½ years but is now not expected to be complete until at least some time in 2014.)  

Furthermore, the diminishment of the library would commence immediately, even before construction begins, and persist over a far longer period of time because the BPL has stated that it plans more than a 50% shutdown of the library starting in a just few months with a redeployment of library staff as soon as the whether gets warm.  The BPL further says that it plans to move the Business and Career library out of Brooklyn Heights, something that would likely occur concurrently with this 50% + shutdown.  To the extent the Business and Career would continue to exist at all it would be found crammed into the more remote Grand Army Plaza main branch where they plan to throw out books because of the insufficiency of available space.
The BPL states that the City has agreed that proceeds from the sale will go to the BPL, and that the BPL will use at least some of the funds to design and outfit a new branch.
Once again, this repeats a misleading talking point of the BPL.  Sale of the library was decided upon by the BPL without any such agreement being in place.  Because money is fungible it is actually impossible to structure such an agreement to effectively ensure any money come to the libraries.  What the city gives with one hand it takes with the other, and the city is intent on keeping the library system artificially starved to create these real estate deals.  Given that many more such deals are in the works we can expect the starvation of the system to justify them to continue for a long time.

As of last report the BPL, acting in haste after the fact to catch up with the already announced sale of the library said that they had come up with an agreement in principle to sign an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the city but no such agreement was signed.  The terms of that agreement have not been made public.  While BHA states here that BPL says that at least some of the funds would go to outfit the smaller library, the BPL’s own handout stated that the smaller library would actually be built at cost to the BPL that is, as yet, unspecified. 
The BPL has also stated that it is committed to providing interim service in a leased location (not a bookmobile) to Brooklyn Heights in the event that the sale and development move ahead.
The interim service in a leased location, at a currently proposed 5,000 square feet and without the continuation of the Business and Career library, will hardly e supportive of the neighborhood.      
The Brooklyn Heights Association board has voted that,  at this time, the BHA will not oppose redevelopment plans for the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library . . .
The Brooklyn Heights Association board voted without taking community input or holding community information sessions and charrettes to find out what was desired.  In fact, it was only just before the recent annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting that the public became aware of the possibility that the library would be sold off to a developer in a so-called ”public-private” partnership (a method of proceeding sure to jeopardize the protection of public interest). Nevertheless, when the topic of the library was brought up, the opportunity for public input and reaction was precluded.
    . . . .providing that: 1) there is continuity of library service in Brooklyn Heights throughout the development period; 2) the replacement Brooklyn Heights Branch Library is of adequate size; and 3) the proceeds from the transaction go to the Brooklyn Public Library.
The biggest, most startling news here is that the BHA is endorsing (although its language is subtle and not obvious) a much smaller library and the exile of the Business and Career library which will be part of that significant assured shrinkage.  BPL statements indicate that by expelling the Business and Career library it will be easier to have a differential where there will be relatively shorter hours for the Brooklyn Heights branch.  Previously, based on earlier statements of Judy Stanton, the BHA’s Executive Director, that questioned the wisdom of eliminating the Business and Career library from Brooklyn Heights, BHA members and the public expected the BHA would likely oppose this reduction in services.  Again, the BHA’s decision to accede to this reduction was done without public notice or input.

Not only is the BHA in this language acceding to the shrinkage and reduction of services associated with deporting the Business and Career library out of the neighborhood; it is also acceding to the idea that the “Branch Library” that remains in the neighborhood may also be shrunk down to an unspecified “adequate size.”   . . . The city is growing. . .  If this site is redeveloped (internally the BPL has talked about a 40-story building replacing it) it will be an example of how the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood itself is growing more dense, together with immediately bordering Downtown Brooklyn that is also intended to be served by this library.  Accordingly, instead of consenting to a shrinkage of the library the BHA should be asking for a bigger library with more services.

The obvious insufficiency of interim service that is to begin with the more than 50% shutdown of and redeployment of library staff in just a few months and banishment of the Business and Career library has already been discussed above.  Once again, this will be multi-year insufficiency, likely to outlast quite a few childhoods.

When the BHA implies that it is bargaining for the proposition that “the proceeds from the transaction go to the Brooklyn Public Library” it is participating in a ruse designed by BPL officials working in conjunction with Bloomberg development officials (some of them like Josh Nachowitz, who began as a development official and is now nominally a library official, are indistinguishable from each other).  Aiding and abetting in the promulgation of this ruse does not serve the community.  The BHA would serve the community and the needs of the city as a whole, if, like Citizens Defending Libraries, it called for the immediate (and very affordable) restoration of adequate funding to the library system which would also mean that no forced sell-offs  the library system’s irreplaceable assets would be considered necessary.  There should be a moratorium on deals like these designed to serve developers until adequate funding is restored and until the deals sought to be implemented do not manifest such an an obvious and obsequious willingness to sacrifice the public good to the dictates of crony capitalism.
All on the BHA Board agree that the library is an important part of our community and that the BHA should be part of the planning process.
The BHA can either represent the community in this planning process or fail to do so, but if the BHA is not representing the community and the “part of the planning process” the BHA plays is simply to adopt the BPL’s position then the BHA is being turned into a tool, being used simply to squelch the community’s voice and opposition to the sale, shrinkage and underfunding of the libraries.  At the very least the BHA should be protesting (not acquiescing to) the BPL’s exclusion of Citizens Defending Libraries from the planning process discussion.  The BHA is said to have suggested the recent community meeting but they have so far operated as a tightly-controlled charade dominated by the BPL as it tells participants the goal is to set up the sale of the library at a “fast trot.”
Through our membership in the Community Advisory Group, and by working in tandem with the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch, we expect to be strong advocates for a new library that meets the needs of our community.
At the moment, in this statement, the BHA has advocated for nothing other than 100% acceptance of the developer deal the BPL says it wants to push out the door, signing the library over to a developer before December 31st, the last day of Bloomberg’s term, with the almost immediate more than 50% shutdown of the library.  The BHA is accepting that BPL wants both the shutdown and the hand-off to the developers to occur before the required public reviews.  In other words the BHA has advocated for nothing.  It is, in fact, as if the BHA’s statement was written by the BPL (as it may have been). And the BPL’s statements are as if they were written by the development community (which they probably are).  Therefore for the BHA to say in their community alert that they “expect to be strong advocates for a new library that meets the needs of our community” is a very strange statement indeed, unsupported by the evidence.

Below is a chart showing how the BHA’s so far stated positions are almost exactly identical to the BPL’s and to the position one can infer is that of any developer wanting take over the site.  It also shows how the Citizens Defending Libraries positions representing the community differs pretty much across the board.

Click to enlarge: Chart comparing positions of BHA, BPL, and inferred developer and Citizens Defending Libraries
The Brooklyn Heights Association should, if nothing else, be learning from the lessons of the Donnell debacle, the development model for which has essentially been imported lock, stock and barrel into Brooklyn Heights. 

Here are additional positions that Citizens Defending Libraries has asked the Brooklyn Heights Association to take, which the BHA has, after discussions, been unwilling to do:
    •    “Air Conditioning problems,” the excuse being used to start shutting down the Brooklyn Height library so soon are very suspicious in a number of respects.  The absurd and escalating numbers given for repair.  The BPL’s refusal to let Councilman Stephen Levin pay for the repair last summer.  That the air conditioning repair became a problem only several months after BPL head Linda Johnson said she had some real estate deals like this in mind.  That every time library officials decide they want to sell off a library they questionably cite air conditioning problems and conjure up extraordinary costs: Donnell, the research stacks at the Central Reference Library at 42nd Street in Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, the Pacific Branch.  And now when they saw they want to “leverage”/sell all the real estate in the BPL’s portfolio they put out a long list of libraries with insurmountable air conditioning problems.  As suspicious as this is, the BHA refuses to ask for evidence that the BPL’s claims are supportable.

    •    The BHA won’t ask for an audit of the library system or these sales.

    •    Deed restrictions could, among other things, impose a limitation on the height, size and bulk of any new building that replaces the library.  Since the land proposed to be sold is public land and given that it was also part of an urban renewal plan, the imposition of such deed restrictions would be a fairly conventional request.  Nevertheless, the BHA is not seeking to negotiate any such restrictions on height or building size although now would be the time to do so.

    •    The BHA is refusing to take a position on the larger question of the underfunding and sale of libraries throughout the city and throughout the Borough of Brooklyn.

    •    The BHA is not opposing a developer-driven “public-private/private-public”partnership hand-off to a developer.

    •    The BHA is refusing to request that developers with a history of (and expertise in) abusing such developer-driven “partnerships,” such as Forest City Ratner, be disqualified from buying the library property and building the smaller library for the public.

    •    The BHA has not requested assurance that normal construction rules should apply (as opposed to what happened with the Atlantic Yards Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena).  There shouldn’t be special permissions for the developer to engage in loud and brightly illuminated construction 24/7.   The Brooklyn Heights Association should be enabled to enforce compliance.
One last thing: The position the BHA is taking on libraries is seriously undermining the position it is taking about preserving Long Island College Hospital.  Given how similar each situation is with proposed deals to seel off public assets being driven by the craving of the real estate industry it sends a weak and inconsistent message not to oppose both.  Also, once upon a time, a very long while ago, the Brooklyn Heights Association did fight to save the library. You don’t want to send the message that all it takes is for the real estate industry to keep circling back for a second or third try until it finally does co-opt the local protectors or find them off guard.  That just invites future attacks on all our public assets.

Why is the Brooklyn Heights Association refusing to take positions that protect the community?  It’s a mystery but more background can be found here: Saturday, March 16, 2013, Read All About It: Library System Burglars Are Getting Inside Help - AND - The Mystery Of The Brooklyn Heights Association.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Read All About It: Library System Burglars Are Getting Inside Help - AND - The Mystery Of The Brooklyn Heights Association

Citizens Defending Libraries rally outside City Hall Offices on March 8th to protest the selling off of libraries to benefit real estate developers
What if your home was burglarized?
     . . . .  You’d probably suffer a loss.

What if your home was burglarized by someone who was working closely together with someone inside your household in a position of trust?
    . . . .    You’d probably suffer a loss that was much greater.  

What if the person of trust in the household expected and planned to help the burglar get away with everything (and they along with the burglar) by leaving “receipt” lying in the moonlight in place of the items absconded with that purported to be evidence that you had been “paid” for the items that would no longer be in your possession when, in fact, you would never receive any money for them of any kind?
    . . . . .  You’d probably think that was adding insult to injury and be very much annoyed.
What if your home hadn’t yet been burglarized but you knew that the above scheme was about to unfold and furthermore you knew that the plan when they looted your home was to direct their attention on quickly seizing as many valuable items as they could, starting with the most valuable first.  What if you knew they intended, so that their acts would be as irreversible as possible and would leave as little trace as possible, to melt into bullion the gold watch inherited from your grandfather and to break up the heirloom jewel necklace that came down through your grandmother, recutting its renowned and remarkably large one-of-a-kind stones into smaller unrecognizable fragments?
    . . . . . You might feel an extraordinary sense of urgency about the need to make sure that none of this actually happened.
This then, by analogy, is roughly where we stand with respect to the libraries of New York City which are about to be sold off in a shrinkage of the system intended to create real estate deals to benefit real estate developers.  Insiders within the library systems of New York have been studying the real estate assets they hold on behalf of the public and they are planning to hand them off to developers in deals that haven’t been adequately described or consented to by the public even though it is the public to which these often one-of-a-kind assets truly belong.

That’s why Citizens Defending Libraries, in which I am participating, gave testimony and held a rally a week ago Friday about budget issues related to New York City's libraries at the March 8, 2013 hearings on: New York City Council Fiscal Year 2014 Preliminary Budget, Mayor’s FY ‘13 Preliminary Management Report and Agency Oversight.  (See the picture above.)  Citizens Defending Libraries was joined in giving testimony by representatives from the Committee to Save The New York Public Libraries.  A report on all the testimony is available from Citizens Defending Libraries here: Testimony By Citizens Defending Libraries At March 8, 2013 City Council Committee Hearing On Library Budget Issues.

The prototype deal representing this sort of metaphorical burglary was the sudden 2008 closing of midtown Manhattan’s Donnell Library, for decades one of the city’s main central libraries across from the Museum of Modern Art.  “One of the most heavily used branches,” (according to the New York Times) it was closed suddenly and without warning in the spring of that year for sale and shrinkage and its collections were disbursed.  The sale came not long after the library had undergone a series of significant and expensive renovations which we may consider, were, in the end, publicly paid for.  The initial announcement of the sale, which largely escaped public notice, was in early November of 2007.
50-story Baccarat Hotel and luxury residence tower from the Daily News.  Click to enlarge (if you dare).
There is a 50-story building now going up on the site that was once home to Donnell.  The building, just beginning construction, is expected to be completed in 2014 and will be high-end hotel combined with luxury condominiums.  The huge building will also contain a library vastly reduced in size, what some are calling a rump library.”  The original Donnell library was 88,000 square feet with 43,000 square feet of public space.  (Numbers reported in Library Journal when library officials were giving out information about the sale said that Donnell was only 84,000 square feet.)  In total area the new library at 28,000 square feet will be only one third the size of what it is replacing.  There are varying figures for the reduced amount of public space, between 19,000 square feet (44% of the previous public space) and 23,000 square feet (53% but that would leave even less pace for the kind of books and media previously available at the library.)

Was this creation of a huge, vastly larger building with such significantly shrunk library intended to benefit the library system and the public?  That hardly seems a supportable proposition. 

For those watching with interest as other deals unfold using the Donnell prototype as a model there are some lessons to be learned:
    •    When the Donnell sale was first and suddenly announced the information was given out that it would be replaced by a much smaller building than has actually turned out to be the case.  It was announced that the building that would replace the library would be am eleven-story hotel, not a 50-story building.
(* When the sale was announced, one piece of information that was marshaled to the fore was the almost reassuring cozy detail that the new hotel would have a connecting entrance through “The 21 Club” on 52nd Street in the somewhat precious low-rise townhouse on the other side of the block, a restaurant full of memorabilia, evoking its speakeasy history and, off course certain elite and clubby associations, a place of renowned familiarity to go to get a very expensive hamburger where they traditionally insisted all the men wear a tie and jacket.  It's the building outside of which you see the line of painted cast iron lawn jockeys.)
    •    When the Donnell sale was announced the public was told that the library would close in a year, in the fall of 2008, but instead they closed it suddenly almost six months sooner.

    •    The public was told that the new library to replace the Donnell would be “completed in no more than three-and-one-half years” which means it should have opened in the fall of 2011.  Now more than a year after that projected date the replacement library is still not expected to arrive on the scene until at least 2014.

    •    The real estate deal and closing of the library was being rushed.  Consequently, the real estate transaction for which the library was closed was not adequately locked up with signatures, documented and assured, and it did not consummate.  Taking such risks may have potentially benefitted those involved in putting together the real estate transaction. Taking those risks did not benefit the public.

    •    When Donnell was closed the public (and Manhattan’s Community Board 5) was promised a temporary library in the same vicinity.  That promise was also not fulfilled.

    •    Despite all the city funding going into Donnell and to the New York Public Library, library officials chose to sell off Donnell without informing public officials, including the City Council, about it and without input from the public or librarian professionals.

    •    When Donnell was closed the public was told that Donnell was in serious need of repairs even though it had just been renovated.  It should be a warning (see Citizens Defending Libraries testimony) that among the repairs presenting insurmountable problems was an “outdated air-conditioning” system.  It now seems guaranteed that when library officials want to sell libraries for real estate deals they will reflexively cite air conditioning as a problem and conjure up amazing estimates of the costs that would be involved in dealing with the problem, thereby justifying demolition of public assets.
This past Tuesday I testified before the budget committee of Manhattan’s Community Board 5. The annual cycle of reviewing and advocating for adequate city funding of the libraries is upon us again so this issue was before them. I told them that what had not been stopped with respect to the Donnell debacle within the Community Board 5 boundary lines was now being continued with a similar shrinkages of other main libraries with the Central Library Plan, and once again it was being done in obeisance to real estate industry priorities.  (The Central Library Plan involves the shrinkage and consolidating sell-offs of the Mid-Manhattan Library, the Science Library (SIBL) and the Tilden Astor 42nd Street Central Reference Library with a ripping out of the research stacks at the Central Reference Library, effectively decommissioning it as the research library it was meant to be and has functioned as since 1910.  I also pointed out how the Donnell prototype was being exported with similar deals now being proposed in my own home borough of Brooklyn.
Community Board 5 Committee Agenda
My message was that because the line had not held at Donnell, because there had been no successful insistence on redress and rectification of the plundering, that now all libraries in the city were in jeopardy.  And I told them that if we can’t hold the line at libraries, we won’t be able to hold the line at anything in this city.

At this point I should probably deal with the metaphor of the home burglar and the insider trusted within the householder expecting that they can somehow get away with their theft by leaving a “receipt” that says the burglarized homeowner is being paid for the stolen items.  What the public is being told as these properties belonging to the public are plundered is that they can expect to be “paid” for whatever is sold, that somehow money will go into the library system as a result.  In fact, because money is fungible (so that the money does not go to the libraries), the situation is quite the reverse: Whatever money might somehow with a theatrical flourish be earmarked as theoretically going to libraries as a result of any of these transactions, the city, under Bloomberg, is pursuing a plan of cutting library funding to the bone, engaging in an absolute starvation of the system.  And because Bloomberg’s incentive is to underfund the libraries, to “demolish" them "by neglect” with the goal of pushing through these fire sales benefitting buddies in the real estate industry, the pursuit of these pending sales is actually bringing library funding to an unprecedented all-time low.
Chart from Center For An Urban For Future report showing sharp decline in funding against escalating use.   That bump in blue funding line is the third term elections.  The steep decline is implementation of the plan to sell libraries.
In the scheme of things it is important to remember that library funding is a relative pittance.  Here from my Friday Citizens Defending Libraries testimony:
    That libraries are underfunded is without doubt: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.” . .

    . . .. . . Libraries are the little guys.  They are a pittance that should be easy to include in the city budget, especially given that the money goes far since libraries are so well used.
So I made the point to the Community Board 5 board members at the Tuesday committee meeting that not only is the Donnell Library real estate deal being exported outside the boundaries of their community district, this has also resulted in an underfunding of the library system being exported to every borough of the city.  I called upon them to rectify the Donnell situation and also to examine and stop the Central Library Plan that, although it is impossible to know exactly how much it will cost (and figures and designs keep changing), will be very expensive in a foolhardy way.  The reason that plan calls for money to be used so stupidly, rather than in the much better ways in which it could be used,  is that it concentrates on generating the still under wraps real estate deals the public presently has very little consciousness of.
Michael Leslie of Citiznes Defending Libraries and Veronika Conant of the Committee to Save The New York Public Library waiting to testify before the committee
Eric Stern, the head of the Community Board 5 Committee, told those of us who were there to testify against the planned real estate sell-offs that he and others on the board were in favor of the Central Library Plan and had previously committed to it because they had listened to a presentation of it by the New York Public Library President Anthony Marx and they believed him.  I told them that they had ample reason to reconsider any commitments to the plan given that the numbers, not yet defined, keep changing and, that as Veronika Conant from the Committee To Save The New York Public Library was about to testify, her committee has promulgated a valuable new truth document (press release here) providing ample reason not to believe what was in President Marx's presentation.

President George W. Bush may have had a problem conceptualizing what exact rules are supposed to apply about allowing the same people to fool you twice: I would expect a lot more from Community Board 5.

Has Community Board 5 really taken all those bullet-pointed lessons from Donnell appearing above and applied them to the Central Library Plan?  Have they considered how tall a building will be put up when Mid-Manhattan is sold?  What about SIBL?  What exactly is the public being told at this point and what should the public be told?  Are there new behemoths the size of the Chrysler Buildings in the making- The bulk but not the beauty- looking like the hotel going up where the Donnell stood?
Still from video NYPL has produced to promote the Central Library Plan's consolidation and shrinkage
In one respect the week-ago-Friday City Council budget hearings before the Committee chaired by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer provided an interesting additional connection between the libraries of Manhattan and the sales in Brooklyn that are being modeled after the Donnell sale.  In Brooklyn one of the two first deals the Brooklyn Public Library is trying to push out the door is a sale of a central library at 280 Cdman Plaza on the border of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and crew hearing testimony
The three heads of the three library systems all testified at Van Bramer's hearing: Dr. Anthony W. Marx, head of the NYPL, Linda E. Johnson head of the BPL and Thomas W. Galante head of the Queens Library System.  (These separate library systems cover all of New York City.  As they all receive the lion's share of their funding from the city they effectively function as one overall system in this regard.)

As President Marx answered questions it could be observed that he was constantly being fed information by Chief Operating Officer David G. Offensend.

Mr. Offensend is a resident of Brooklyn Heights living on Monroe Street just a few very short blocks from the Brooklyn Heights library now proposed to be sold off in a rushed hand-off to a developer before the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s term and before the required public reviews take place.  Neighbors have complained to me that he has been prodevelopement in the neighborhood and at the same time not sufficiently open about things he is moving forward.  Mr. Offensend was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2010 as a board member to (in the words of Bloomberg’s own press release) “the new Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, the new City-controlled entity that will guide the future of the park.”  ("City-controlled" in that press release was a euphemism for mayor-controlled, unlike a typical city park: Monday, May 24, 2010, Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? An Examination of Brooklyn Bridge Park in Terms of the Politics of DevelopmentAnd pay particular attention to Part 2.)

Mr.Offensend, who hails originally from the world of investment banking, is also a “past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association.”   More recently, he was just a Brooklyn Heights Association board member.  He isn’t any longer, but the possibility that people in the neighborhood like Mr. Offensend might still have influence with members of the Brooklyn Heights Association board is a matter of serious alert particularly in that the BHA is showing a perplexing lack of concern about the attack and elimination of the neighborhood’s library and seems also to care very little about how this attack is part of a system-wide plundering of library resources.  More on this in a moment. Without organizations such as the BHA rising to join ranks with others facing similar jeopardy throughout the city we can expect that the city’s real estate industry will get its way in decimating the system.
David G. Offensend
There is a very long, thoughtful two-part article about the Central Library Plan and the future of libraries in this city, including why the bruited `digital future' in very problematic terms hasn’t really arrived (if it ever will).  I commend it to everyone: Lions in Winter, by Charles Petersen, May 9, 2012.  In Part Two of that article, Mr. Petersen spends some time focusing on Mr. Offensend as being representative of the new regime that the new breed of Wall Street/hedge fund manager trustees has installed at the New York Public Library:
Many conversations returned to the figure of David Offensend, co-founder of Evercore Partners, a private equity firm with a market capitalization of a billion dollars. Offensend joined the library in 2004, in part because the trustees felt that the institution’s money was not being handled with due care; he now serves as chief operating officer. According to staffers, Offensend has been instrumental in the shift toward a “business and metrics” sort of thinking. He told the Princeton alumni website in 2009, “If an organization is receptive, the application of business world experiences can have a huge positive impact.” But what kind of business and what kind of metrics? It was under Offensend that Booz Allen was brought in; it was under Offensend, and in the wake of the Schwarzman gift [$100 million in March 2008, a date that coincides with the Donnell sale], that the ambitious plan to fundamentally reconfigure the library took shape. Offensend described the plan to me this way: “We did not think that putting the central library in [the main building] was an investment per se in the branch libraries versus the research libraries. It was rather one plus one will equal significantly more than two.” We can see here the familiar arithmetic of corporate downsizing.
Mr. Offensend started with the NYPL in 2004 so he was working for the library when the Donnell sell-off plan was fabricated.

Mr. Petersen’s article is full of detailed observations based on interviews of those within the system about how the “public has been consulted only very minimally on the library’s decisions,” how preparatory to the machinations going on many of the skilled librarians who might have spoken up for and advocated for the books and collections and for the library as a research institution were forced out, required to sign agreements not to “disparage or encourage or induce others to disparage” the library, how the people now running the library “doesn’t care about research.”

Mr. Petersen ends his article by pointing out that while those pressing for the Central Library Plan (and its associated real estate sell-offs and shrinkage of the library system say they are `democratizng’ the library, that is not the case:
More than anything, this rhetoric reveals the fundamentally anti-democratic worldview that has taken hold at the library. It is of a piece with what the new Masters of the Universe have accomplished in the public schools, where hedge funders have provided the lion’s share of the backing for privatization, and in the so-called reforms to our financial system, where technocrats meet behind closed doors to decide what will be best for the rest of us. Oligarchs acting in the people’s name (with the people’s money) is not democratic; selling off New York’s cultural patrimony to out-of-town heiresses, closing down treasured divisions and branches, pushing out expert staff, and shipping books to a warehouse in the suburbs, all without consulting the public, is not democratic. If the reconstruction goes through, scholarly research will be more, not less, concentrated in the handful of inordinately wealthy and exclusive colleges and universities. The renovation is elitism garbed in populist rhetoric, ultimately condescending to the very people the library’s board thinks they’re serving. . . .
New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman has made the same observation and in Noticing New York, building on Kimmelman’s observation, I pointed out the bigger picture truth: The effect of these cutbacks and shrinkages of service is going to fall very heavily on those of lower income and the less advantaged in our society.  See: Saturday, February 9, 2013, Libraries That Are Now Supposedly “Dilapidated” Were Just Renovated: And Are Developers’ Real Estate Deals More Important Than Bryant Park?

As Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has said, public libraries are a “great equalizer.”

Every year for more than two decades I have gone on the Brooklyn Height House Tour, the annual mainstay fund raiser for the Brooklyn Heights Association, where the showcase houses of the wealthy and well-off in Brooklyn Heights are put on display.  What I have noticed, true to this day, is that those homes, with a lot of space to fill and a lot of money to fill up that space up with are, more often than not, full of books everywhere, lots of shelves, sometimes stacked, almost always by the bedside and in the master bedrooms.  The owners of one house recently showcased ripped out a floor to devote space to a beautiful multi-level personal library with balconies ringing the upper level.

It’s not that these home don’t also have computers.  They do.  And CDs and internet access.  They have everything.  What this means is that the underfunding and shrinkage of libraries isn’t only failing to address what David Giles calls the “digital divide” in his Center For An Urban Future report, Branches of Opportunity, that growing separation of opportunity between those who have computers and access to the internet.  We are opening up a brand new chasm, those with access to books and those without.

The Brooklyn Heights Association recently posted (3/14/'13) its position on the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights library in an untitled, undated, Community Alert.  Aside from its appalling inclusion of many grossly misleading and inaccurate statements (so many I will have to deal with it at length elsewhere) the statement of position is frightening in how closely it parallels the position of the Brooklyn Public Library itself.  It adopts inaccurate speaking points hewed to by the BPL and doesn't advocate to oppose the shrinkage and sale the BPL wants.  That is notwithstanding that it ends with the statement that the BHA we expects “to be strong advocates for a new library that meets the needs of our community.”

By comparison, the BHA is asking for far less with respect to the Brooklyn Heights library than Community Board 5 was asking for when it was opposing the Donnell Library closing in its community.  Community Board 5 didn’t get what it asked for and it has since lapsed in addressing the issue but the BHA isn’t putting up a fight at all.  It may consequently expect to achieve even less than Manhattan's Community Board 5 achieved.

One could have supposed that Anthony Marx as president of the NYPL might not have needed to have been fed so many basic figures by his chief operating officer, David Offensend given, that Marx is, most assuredly, a very handsomely paid individual.  Exactly what he is paid does not seem to have been made a matter of public record yet, but a 2006 New York Times article commented on how Mr. Marx's predecessor in office, Paul LeClerc, was paid $800,000 (plus an unneeded $136,110 as a housing allowance) according to the most recent NYPL tax return filed that year, which the article noted was a jump of more than $221,000 from the year prior.  See: November 19, 2006, New York Library Officials’ Pay? Shhh, by Serge F. Kovaleski.

The article was noting how the NYPL was paying these high-escalating salaries to the president and others at a time when it had “declared itself in some financial distress” and was selling off assets like the “Kindred Spirits” 1849 Hudson River School landscape by Asher B. Durand, some of them at prices “less than their estimated value.”

The most recent return filed by the NYPL for 2011, the year Marx was appointed to replace LeClerc, does not show Mark’s salary but shows that the all-in annual compensation for LeClerc at that point (including some minimal deferred compensation) was $1,408,757.  That's right: well over one million dollars annually. (See the chart from the tax form.)
From Federal tax return, top NYPL salaries in 2011.  Click to enlarge
David Offensend’s all-in annual compensation for that year was $372,712. (Also in the chart.)

The Times article about these rising management salaries ends with a statement from Mayor Bloomberg via a spokesman endorsing the stupendous salaries:
“The mayor through his experience on about 20 nonprofit boards and as chairman of Johns Hopkins University believes that the public and nonprofit sectors need strong management, and they should pay for it.”
In his Lions In Winter article (Part 1) about changes at the NYPL Charles Petersen discusses salaries in a concluding footnote where he analyses library budget figures to note that a flow of additional funds into the NYPL were not going into:
    •    collections (“the amount of linear feet of archives being taken in at the New York Public Library is now a tenth of what it was in the 1990s”)

    •    traditional research library staff salaries (“whose numbers. .  dropped from 703 in 1990 to 454 in 2010, and whose total salaries and benefits remained stagnant for much of this time at around $30 million.”)

    •    Nor for computers or access to the internet.
He observes the that part “of the increase has been due to a rise in pay for the library’s senior management, whose total budget went from $9.8 million to $14.1 million between 1991 and 2010" but makes an even more interesting observation about how increasing baseline library costs are associated with the hiring somewhat mysterious staff that are not traditional library workers:
    . . . bringing together all of the publicly available data on the library’s budget shows that much of the increase in baseline costs has gone to pay the salaries and benefits of staff members whom the library, in the data it provides to the ARL, has not reported as part of its traditional staff. In 2010, these staff members received $28 million a year in salaries and benefits; the research library’s more traditional staff received only $26 million.

    What exactly do these people do? They’re not senior management, and they’re not fundraisers. I asked the PR department repeatedly for more information and never received a definitive answer. Some of these staff members work for the digital department; others could be traditional catalogers who, since the research cataloging department was recently merged with the circulating cataloging department, may perhaps not be reported to the ARL. Many of the former staff members with whom I spoke suggested that a notable portion of these funds may be going to the library’s internal strategy department. A single department couldn’t account for such a large increase, but when asked about the current budget for the strategy department a library spokesperson could not provide a figure. Considering the amount of money going to these and other staff members, this is a subject more journalists may want to investigate.
The heads of the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library are not quite so well paid although many an average citizen would be jealous of their salaries.  Linda E. Johnson of the BPL gets an all-in compensation figure of $333,109 according to the most recent tax filing by the BPL (see below).  Thomas W. Galante of the Queens systems gets an all-in compensation figure of $488,503 according to the most recent tax filing by the Queens system (see next chart extracted below).
From last filed Federal tax return, top BPL salaries.  Click to enlarge
From last filed Federal tax return, top Queens Library salaries.  Click to enlarge
Meanwhile, librarians themselves are fighting lay-offs, shorter hours and cuts to the system.

Union rally on steps of City Hall held last Wednesday by DC 37 asking for baseline funding for libraries as insulation against political funding games, "dwarf tossing" (and shenanigans to had off the system's public real estate to insiders)  
What are these salaries about?  High salaries for senior administrators and people in the NYPL “strategy department”? What about the relatively higher and skyrocketing of salaries in Manhattan vs. Brooklyn and Queens?  Isn’t it all about real estate?  Aren’t these the salaries of people who play high-stakes real estate shell games and engage in the high-stakes finances and behind-the-scenes arrangements, partnerships and syndications that power it?   People who are more in the class of Stephen Allen Schwarzman, the head of chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group?  Mr. Schwarzman's Blackstone is a huge private investment, real estate and mergers and acquisition and hedge fund investment firm with interests, among other things, in hotels (a very early focus of its investments in real estate). 
Redundant, or undeserved, acknowledgment?
Mr. Schwarzman is the trustee on the board of the NYPL who is understood to be driving the NYPL Central Library consolidation, shrinkage and sell-off plan the hardest.  He is also the trustee whose name has now been placed on the Central Reference Library where these highly-paid administrators are now proposing to demolish the research stacks in preparation for this system shrinkage.  His name was placed upon the building as a result of his $100 million  “gift” to the library in March 2008, contemporaneous with the announcement of the closing and sell-off of Donnell to create a hotel and the inauguration of the Central Library Plan that he champions.

As noted, the sell-off and shrinkage of Donnell was announced in early November 2007.  Only a few years before, in February 2004, the library was celebratorily announcing a $275,000 renovation in Donnell of the “teen center,” the Nathan Straus Young Adult Center aka, Teen Central.  The NYPL described it as a “state-of-the-art facility,” a “teen room featuring hip-hop music, teen-friendly furniture, and Wi-Fi access.”   The NYPL also said, “With a collection of over 10,000 books, Teen Central has been the central collection for teenagers for The New York Public Library since the Donnell Library Center opened in 1955.”  The renovation involved a “complete redesign of the interior public service areas.”
The beginning of the NYPL press release announcing the 2003 renovation of the teen center, the Nathan Straus Young Adult Center
With the demolition of Donnell, so went the teen center and everything that had been put into it.  Funding for the renovation was said to have been made possible, in part, with funds from the Estate of Charlotte H. Porter, and while that gift is thereby lost it was what was supposed to have been a gift to the public, so the public lost something and whatever other funds paid for the renovation whether they came from the city (as is often the case) or not, this was public property and therefore a waste for the public.

There was another recent renovation of the Donnell that was similarly jettisoned to history's dust heap. There was a relatively new auditorium and media center.  My understanding is that they were the product of a renovation completed in 2000-2001.  I was told, but I don't have verification, that the cost involved over a million and a half dollars provided by the city.  Whatever the case I am sure that the cost of the renovation was significant and in the end the loss of these things is a loss to the public.

I was in the Donnell auditorium October 3, 2007, just one month before announcement of the Donnell sale so I remember that the condition of the auditorium was excellent and it looked relatively new.  I was there for a well-attended (sold out), well-reported event held by the Municipal Art Society. The event was “Is New York Losing Its Soul?,” the first of a series of panel discussions MAS was holding with respect to its then- running Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York exhibit. The panelists were New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman, Alison Tocci of Time Out New York, author Tama Janowitz,  Darren Walker, a VP of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn Theaters.  (See: Thursday, October 4, 2007, Is New York Losing Its Soul?, Thursday, October 04, 2007, Is New York losing its soul? Sort of, panelists say (and one targets AY), Sunday, October 07, 2007, New York's soul lost? 'New York Calling' fills in some gaps, Coverage of Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, the exhibit, public programs and walking tours, Panel Discussion: Is New York Losing Its Soul?)

The event is available to watch in a video (inserted below) which I recommend if you have the time.  Here is an image of the event from that video in which you can get some sort of sense of the auditorium.  (Another image is available here.)  
Donnell auditorium being used for Jane Jacobs event in 2007, just before its announced destruction.  Less than ten years after its expensive renovation? 

You can also see pictures of the destroyed Donnell as it was being gutted in a series of images from Driven By Boredom at The Donnell Library Center: A Eulogy In Pictures, December 11th 2008, (and here) three of which are below.

Again, the cavalier sacrifice of these new and recently publicly paid for renovations to the deities of real estate help accentuate our recognition of how senselessly galling these losses are, but it is important to remember that, in the end, it isn't just the recent renovation work that is being scrapped: It is also most importantly the irreplaceable underlying assets.  For those who remember it, the Donnell was made of the same Indiana limestone as Rockefeller Center, two blocks away, and shared in some of its stately graciousness.

The New York Times reporting on the “Is New York Losing Its Soul?” event finished with some resonating lines ending in a profound question.  (See: Panel Discussion: Has New York Lost Its Soul?, by Sewell Chan, October 4, 2007)

The discussion that evening addressed many of the uneasy ills confronting the city in terms of overdevelopement, the carelessness thereof, and the increasing disparities between conspicuous wealth lack of wealth.  One of the lines in the midst of the evening was Clyde Haberman's comment that Mayor Michael Bloomberg never met a developer he didn't like.  The concluding lines of the Times article actually came out of an exchange that concerned the privatization we are seeing as ever more ubiquitous “business improvement districts” (BIDs) are taking over and assuming what used to be government functions.   Nevertheless they have application to what is happening with the sell-off of libraries and the shrinkage and underfunding of the system that accompanies such a sacking of the public’s assets.

The resonating words were spoken by Darren Walker, a vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation:
There is something profoundly wrong when government cannot deliver basic services . . .
. . .  Where is the public commons? Who owns the public commons?”
So does it help that they say that when we sell off our irreplaceable libraries those theoretically trusted insiders on the inside who are assisting will be leaving a receipt, as if we have been adequately compensated for the loss?