Tuesday, November 25, 2014

BPL’s Bklyn BookMatch- A Match For The Human Race’s Book Future?: Electronic Books and Robot Librarians?

Brooklyn Public Library president Linda E. Johnson envisions staff reductions if her idea of a “new” state-of-the-art Brooklyn Library is ever built, not surprising since the “new” library she wants to “replace” the exiting one would be a mere fraction of the current library’s size.  Such staff reductions would follow on the heels of staff reductions at the BPL and a switching away from professional library staff that has been going on for a long time now. Librarians who once ran libraries have been replaced with “site managers” which sounds more like a real estate term. The BPL has also shifted away, in general, from hiring professional trained librarians, replacing them with lower-level clerks.

Ms. Johnson said that she did not know exactly how many fewer librarians would work at a smaller Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, that “the numbers have yet to be determined," but that her hope is that when built the "new building will be a model of efficiency" with a reduced staff that would not have to compensate for the drawbacks of dealing with a library that was of an "improperly" large size.

But does Ms. Johnson (problematically not a librarian herself) even know what a librarian should be, what functions they perform by being on site?  At the BPL’s September 16, 2014 trustees meeting, Ms. Johnson and her staff proudly unveiled a way to replace on-site reference librarians with an electronic service substitute, a sort of virtual reference librarian system that can respond to a patron's inquiry, and by virtue of calculating "appeal factors" (BPL’s terminology to describe the service) will tell e-mailers what books they want to read with a week's turnaround time.

Here is a quote from the presentation given the trustees:
You don't usually get this chance to have such a conversation with someone at the reference library desk.
Of course, as you are not face to face with a live person this won't be exactly such a chance either, but it goes along with how we shrink libraries for real estate deals.  The  BPL says it's recommended that the responding e-librarians try to make these responses "as personable as possible."

How will this work?  You might stroll into your local library to begin this computerized interaction to help find and discover what books you want to read.  Linda Johnson’s vision of any library into which you might stroll is a place from which physical books will soon almost entirely disappear. Books take up space and, when they disappear, libraries can be made much smaller, facilitating selling off their real estate, like with the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Donnell Library or the NYPL’s Central Library Plan (derailed at the moment).

If you stroll into a bookless library for your computerized interaction you won’t have the other ways of selecting books available to you.  You won’t be able to browse the shelves or discover that a book you really want but didn’t know about is adjacent to the book you thought you wanted to find (“it’s never the book you want, it’s the book beside the book.”). You won’t find the book you didn’t yet know you wanted because it luckily attracted your attention by being  unusually and promisingly fat sitting on the shelf, because it was unusually thin, because it was lovingly worn out, and unusually old.  You won't find it because it was in sparkling just-arrived condition, or because it caught your eye on the reshelving cart or as a librarian reshelved it because somebody else hot on the trail of the same kinds of things you might be looking for might just have used it.  You won’t start up a conversation because you have bumped into someone else with your interests wandering in the same section.  There will be none of this kind of `serendipity’ (if that’s what one should call it). And it's unlikely you’ll take home a book home from that bookless library that same day.

You might not choose to go into the library at all for your computerized interaction, the benefit of ever visiting that physical library perhaps being minimal, unless you are one of the 27% of New Yorkers that the NYPL estimates are currently on the other side of the digital divide and are without broadband internet access.  If you don't have your own internet access you may still be impelled to visit a physical library.

But where does this vaporous e-relationship go from here (even as we might have to struggle to describe what “here” is):
    •    Maybe, the beginning is that the e-responding “reference librarian” is in some (central?) Brooklyn location from which all such inquiries from Brooklynites get answered.
    •    The three New York City library systems, the BPL covering Brooklyn, the Queens Library covering Queens, and the NYPL covering Manhattan the Bronx and Staten Island too, have been in talks to coordinate and consolidate operations.  Would this electronic service not seem a service high on the list for such consolidation of operations?  Where will the e-responses be generated from then?
    •    At the BPL trustees meeting it was noted that the BPL was only one such library in the country launching such a system now, that other library systems are doing similar things.  Maybe then, very soon, all these systems can consolidate.  Then the e-responses to Brooklynites can come from someplace in the Mid-West where the cost of living is cheaper and salaries lower.
     •    But we have seen such out-sourcing in the past and what has ultimately happened often is that the work has been outsourced to foreign countries like India where, while many people still speak and read English, the salaries are still even markedly lower.
     •    But, would our libraries still want to continue to run these contracted-out services themselves at all?  The New York City’s library system administrators are clearly bowing to the influence of money and money-influenced politics and elected officials when they plan to sell public libraries to benefit private real estate developers.  Isn't it likely that library system administrators of such a mind set would be convinced to simply contract out these services to the private sector?  Doesn’t Amazon have an an algorithmic advice infrastructure already set up to assist people in deciding what they want to read?  Wouldn’t Amazon be the perfect candidate to take over the whole system?  If that happened, the Washington Post, now owned by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who acquired that newspaper at a premium, could then write in the paper's style section a clever and cheeky little article about how state-of-the art and efficient this new Amazon service was.  Truly, mightn't Amazon know best that “Customers Who Read This Item Also Read. . . .”
     •      New York library administrators continue to push to overcome public resistance as they seek to shift patrons away from physical books and over to the electronic books.  Amazon can supply those books and that way Amazon can keep track of each page you read on your Kindle and how long you spend reading it and. . . . that way Amazon can make very good recommendations.
   •    Will it be actual professional reference librarians who provide these services in the future?   . . . Or will there be shortcuts?  Maybe even the obvious ultimate shortcut: Perhaps, after the system has made do for a time with workers in India (that did or, like Ms. Johnson, didn’t spend time in school to claim library degrees), the system will progress to what could be the inevitable next step. . .  the e-responders need not be human beings at all!  With a few of those Amazon-copyrighted algorithms mashed up with some Artificial Intelligence programs there could be a set-up that works beautifully with the “bots” that these days roam our virtual universe without our being able to tell the difference.
Is there anything wrong with all this?  Can’t we simply hail it as the marvel of efficiency that it probably and most certainly is?

The book collections of New York’s libraries used to be curated by librarians assigned to the different area libraries who got to know their communities and would attend book-fair events to assess, based on their familiarity with their patrons, what books should be added to that particular library’s collection.  More recently, decisions about what books will be made available in local libraries around the city are being made more `efficiently’ from a central administrative location. It's done based on call slip data that can be aggregated and then the frequency with which a book is borrowed stands in for its value.

When City Council member Ben Kallos met with Citizens Defending Libraries (as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries I was part of that meeting) he identified a pitfall with this approach: At one point he had been involved in efforts to substantially augment the supply of Japanese language books in the Roosevelt Island Library.  The library administration officials soon wanted to get rid of the books again. . .  Because there were no call slips showing that the community was borrowing the books.  The books were, in fact, being used, Kallos explained, but due to cultural difference they were being used by patrons visiting the library and reshelving the books after reading them, not thinking in terms of taking them out of the library.  The library was regarded as the place to do one’s reading of library books.

In what is now known as the slow food movement we speak increasingly and ever more universally of the importance of food being grown locally and as having a “terroir,” a term once more often used narrowly to describe how the taste of wine reflected the special characteristics infused by where the grapes used to make a wine were grown.  Is it possible that when it comes to the brain food of books and libraries that this concept applies as well? Could it apply to an even greater degree?   Or is the importance of `locality' reserved for other things?  As far as I know, location, location, location is still the motto of the real estate industry 

Let me drum up some gloom.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the first day of a two-day conference held at Cooper Union on the dystopian aspects and perfidious promises of technology (Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth).  The conference organizers managed to put together an impressive 24 hours worth of speakers (Bill McKibben and Ralph Nader were featured Saturday night) on subjects that were individually highly fascinating, but in the aggregate bleakly depressing, especially given the warnings being dispensed about everything from Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism strategies, to synthetic biology, to the Genetic Redesign of Human Beings. . 

.  Some of the themes and insights discussed were how techo-fixes are destined to disappoint and lead ever onward to the need for more techo-fixes (Michael Huesemann), and how illusory technicalprogress” has substituted as a distraction for what once was the goal of social progress (John M. Greer).

Many of the speakers came back to certain common refrains like how technology can lead to massive and rapid societal dislocations (corporate land grabs in Africa and third world countries- Anuradha Mittal- or replacing dairy farmers with factories that produce synthetic milk from vats of genetically altered yogurt- Jim Thomas) and how those in control and already at the pinnacles of power regularly forerun the game, steering the promise of technology (or often just masquerades of its promise- GMO’s that don’t really produce more food or are not close to being off the drawing board, “yellow rice” that does not actually supply vitamins better than alternatives) to seize and redistribute even more power and wealth to themselves.*  These two things, dislocations and increased imbalances of wealth and power, are often related.
(*  It is interesting to note that, according to one speaker at the conference, Clive Hamilton, the same companies that spend to heavily sponsor climate science denial are also investing in and promoting “geoengineering” schemes to artificially cool down a warmed-up planet like pumping sulfur into the upper atmosphere. . . Talk about the your techno-fixes coming with awful downsides and unforeseeable ramifications!-  You mean it's not just satire?)
The comparative superiority and reliability of the natural and organically evolved existing order of things was also frequently mentioned, together with observations of how technicians tend to ignore such superiorities with anthropocentric hubris.  Efforts to de-extinct the Passenger Pigeon, likely to be futile, are phenomenally expensive and resource-absorbing compared to preserving existing threatened species (David Ehrenfeld) . . .  Aquanautic swarming robots designed to chop up jellyfish that clog and shut down nuclear power plants around the world (Eileen Crist) are a side-show compared to the global warming and overfishing that cause these exploding populations that some fear may soon take over the oceans entirely.

As we ascend into the techosphere of an ethereal ethernet existence does the concept of place, physical existence and physical interactions fall by the wayside, no longer important?  That’s a hard question.

Last month I attended WNYC/WQXR’s Community Advisory Board meeting and Graham Parker, General Manager and Vice President of WQXR, spoke about his goal for WQXR, the New York classical music radio station, to succeed as a worldwide radio station:.  He referred to “grand ambitions” to be “the Number One brand in classical music” with many listeners already in Ireland, Japan, Korea and China.  He cited a recent 19% growth in international listeners, and a 34% growth in national users.  This is an example of “placelessness,” of, as Mr. Parker put it, succeeding “way beyond our terrestrial borders.” At the same time Mr. Parker expressed optimism about fulfilling that ambition because, based in New York (an example of “placeness”), WQXR was well-situated to do so:   "New York is the best place to launch yourself from, into a national or international market.  We’ve got the best of everything in this city, and we’ve got the access to it."
For better or worse, another aspect of this is that WQXR views itself as competing with every other classical music station in the world.  That competition may make for better quality and increase the variety of high-quality offerings that listeners who are able to roam an entire globe of offerings can choose from, but, conversely, it also can ultimately diminish who, on the other side of this equation, gets to participate in accessing the global audiences.  A classical listener listening to another classical music station is not listening to WQXR and, vice versa, a listener to WQXR elsewhere on some far away spot of the globe is not listening to their local station.

It is akin to the situation with what have been termed "Massive Open Online Courses" or "MOOCs"  These can be viewed as a tool for democratizing higher education, making the instruction of excellent university professors available to multitudes world-wide at little or virtually no seeming cost to the immediate beneficiaries.  But in “Who Owns the Future?” author Jaron Lanier raises concerns.  There are “qualms about mono-culture” tied in with the fact that you are playing a high-stakes winner-take-all star system game.  He also wonders whether:
. . .on-line efforts of this sort could create siren servers, even nonprofit ones, which could end up undermining the finances and security of academics. . .

. . .  Students at colleges ranked lower than Stanford would tune in to Stanford seminars, and gradually wonder why they’re paying their local, lower-ranked academics at all.  If locals are to remain valuable once a globalized star system comes into being over the ‘net, it can only be because they are present and interactive.

But online experts can also be made virtually present and interactive. . .  Artificial intelligence can animate a simulated tutor. . .
Why should we keep on paying for colleges?  Why pay [to support] a privileged class of middle-class people? . .
* * * * 
This is a pattern we’ll see over and over again. . . You get an incredible bargain up front. . , but in the long term you also face reduced job prospects.  In this case. .  fewer academic jobs. .
. . .Get educated for free. . But don’t plan on a job as an educator.
He also observes: "digital networks have thus far been mostly applied to reduce [the] benefits of locality," the ability to be a "local star" knowing, and locally serving with particularity a local neighborhood.

Notwithstanding, I have a certain love of technology so I don't want to be overly negative.

And It would be unfair of me to present theories about where the future of electronically accessed off-site reference librarians might take us without first finding out the experience that this service presents now.  Accordingly, I decided to try it out.

The Bklyn BookMatch site presents a form with the questions (bolded below) to which I responded as set forth below:
Are you looking for any specific reading recommendations? If so, please explain below. Otherwise, please share the titles, authors and/or types of books you enjoy, and why: *

I have found extremely enlightening books about how we collectively create value in society, culturally, economically, technologically, and politically, largely through what we share and the ways we interact, how the multiplicity and variety of those interactions accelerate and contribute to advancement, essentially why "civilization" and "city" as words share the same route.

I seek out books for insight about the world that will, hopefully, improve my instincts (escaping or countering pulls in wrong directions) and equip me with tools for my own participation in that dynamic, hopefully responsibly and justly. Reiterating somewhat, I am attracted to ideas about the importance of the public realm, the public commons, the need to respect and protect it, and the rules humankind makes up, democracy included, in efforts to shape our shared society even as the world organically self-organizes itself.

Though civilization may represent what humankind complexly unites to create, I have found terrifically consonant edification in books reminding us that the natural realm is foundationally shared too, communally by all the planet's species, with convincing analysis that economics and ecology, functioning with similar overlapping principles, ultimately meld to erase dividing lines when it comes to establishing the interactive balances essential to thrive or survive.

Topics of particular interest: Communications industry, concepts of property and forms of ownership, money in politics and reforms to address it, organic development, and checks and balances on power, hubris and imbalanced dominions.

        Titles and authors I enjoy:

"The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires," by Tim Wu. I enjoy its brilliant illustration of how, without corrective intervention, the communications industries bend toward monopoly or monopsony with probably detrimental cultural, political and societal consequence.

"Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership," by Lewis Hyde. It convincingly makes the case for the societal advancement and organic benefits that derive from knowledge that's shared as part of a broad and extensive commons.

All of Jane Jacobs' books, including the most obscure, "The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty." Jacobs is more famous for a single book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," but I especially like most of her more developed work: "The Economy of Cities," "Cities and the Wealth of Nations," "Systems of Survival" and "The Nature of Economies." I enjoy Jacobs' rigor and preference to learn from the closely observed rather than through the received prisms of the theories of experts.

As more elucidation about Jacobs, I enjoyed the book by Jacobs' protege, Roberta Brandes Gratz: "The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs."

"The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," by Robert A. Caro. Caro's perpetual preoccupation with the intricate working of power was first addressed to this era of urban change.

"Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (The History of New York City)," by Mike Wallace. I live in New York, so knowing about its history informs what I observe around me.

"The Federalist Papers," by assorted Founding Fathers, John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton. How important the understanding and thinking about the need for checks and balances on human faults and frailty and what mechanisms will work.

"Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It," by Lawrence Lessig. A study of how money in politics delivers bad decisions and outcomes and how the problem of that money can be counteracted.

"Who Owns the Future?" By Jaron Lanier. This book fascinatingly grapples with the anomaly of how wealth in the technological era is created, in a broad-based way, via the contributions of all of us, and yet technology concentrates wealth in a few, economically squeezing the middle class to an ever greater degree economically and in humanistic terms.

Examples: Accelerating technological improvements mean "that more and more things can be done practically for free . . . When machines get incredible cheep to run, people seem correspondingly expensive." and "If observation of you yields data that makes it easier for a robot to seem [like you and replace you] then you ought to be owed money for [that]. This is such a simple starting point that I find it credible, and I hope to persuade you about that as well."

"The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution," by Francis Fukuyama. Looking at how we evolve better, stable governance.

"The Wealth of Nations," by Adam Smith. A seminal work on how capitalism works all on its own and, also, how it doesn't.

"The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City," by Richard Sennett. Sennett builds on Jane Jacobs' theme that humankind's attraction to ordering the world can be unhealthy and stifle growth.

I also like books that provide insight into real people exercising important influences today, often finding them of increased interest when they are older and overlooked, perhaps written for a different intended purpose. In that category I would put-

"Bloomberg by Bloomberg," by Michael R. Bloomberg with help from Matthew Winkler. The book, released as Bloomberg prepared to launch into politics, contains an intriguing admission that when giving money to "charities" Bloomberg always considered what he was getting back in exchange.

"More Than They Bargained For- The Rise and Fall of Korvettes," by Isadore Barmash. A postmortem of how the once-successful Korvettes' chain devolved into the failure of a sell off of its substantial well-located real estate assets. Important because one of the characters in the saga is Marshal Rose, current NYC real estate magnate and simultaneously a trustee of the NYPL that is now looking to sell-off and shrink libraries as real estate deals.

Are there any authors and/or types of books that you don't like? Why?

“Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York,” by Hilary Ballon.  This “reexamination of Moses” comes across as too conveniently aligned with a suspect agenda to justify a return to large scale top-down planning.*

(*  Submitting this particular response was difficult.  The answer to the question had to be limited in length and I kept getting back messages I had to shorten it to be under the "maximum 255 characters long" even when I was under that character.  When I got down to 196 characters the program accepted my answer.)
Here is the response I got from the electronically available reference librarian.  Portions of it, as you likely can tell, were cut and pasted from elsewhere (usually text available in multiple locations on the internet including publishers websites) and I have highlighted those sections hyper-linking back to such other locations where the text can be found. Only one book description could not be found on Amazon, the one about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor.  Amazon's description was, in this case, a somewhat customized version.  I did not, as predicted, have to wait a whole week to get my response back from email address: `AskALibrarian@oclc.org'.  I sent in my request middle of the day Friday and the response came back to me at the end of the day the following Monday.
Greetings from Brooklyn Public Library

Dear Mr. White,

Thank you for using Bklyn BookMatch! Based on your interests, I’ve created a customized reading list for you. The books I've selected cover a wide range of topics and interests, much like your impeccable reading taste.  In the list below you will find titles focused on technology, economics, the natural world, and more.  Please feel free to respond with any feedback.  Enjoy!
Based on your interest in economics and politics:

1.  Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy
Based on your interest in economics and technology:
2.  Too Big To Know by David Weinberger
Based on your interest in important people and their impact in today's world:
3.  My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

With startling candor and intimacy, Sonia Sotomayor recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a progress that is testament to her extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself. She writes of her precarious childhood and the refuge she took with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. She describes her resolve as a young girl to become a lawyer, and how she made this dream become reality: valedictorian of her high school class, summa cum laude at Princeton, Yale Law, prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, private practice, federal district judge before the age of forty. She writes about her deeply valued mentors, about her failed marriage, about her cherished family of friends. Through her still-astonished eyes, America's infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-discovery and self-invention, alongside Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father.
Based on your interest in economics and technology:
4.  Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig
Based on your interest in the natural world and its connection to man and humankind:
5.  The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates by Frans de Waal
In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution...Rich with cultural references and anecdotes of primate behavior, The Bonobo and the Atheist engagingly builds a unique argument grounded in evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. Ever a pioneering thinker, de Waal delivers a heartening and inclusive new perspective on human nature and our struggle to find purpose in our lives.

I've also made a booklist for you in our online catalog: http://bit.ly/1xy8Zek.  You'll notice a few more titles not mentioned above - these are just a few more recommendations.  Once you sign in to your account, you can easily place holds on any or all of these books. 

Please don't hesitate to reply to this message letting us know what you think about my suggestions and this service. Happy reading!
My response?  It's below.  I had to be honest:
I love these recommendations.  Thank you.

Interestingly, Sonya Sotomayor was a board member at one of the government agencies where I once worked, and, at one point, I wrote an article in the form of an "open letter" to her about eminent domain abuse.

As for the bonobos, that is relevant to some of Francis Fukuyama's discussion.  I recall, we currently believe that chimps and bonobos are both more closely related to humans than they are to each other-  Hmm.  Figure that out.  (Link below.) Francis Fukuyama focused in on the behavior of chimps and might have gone in a somewhat different direction in his thoughts if he'd focused on bonobos.
This librarian sounds like a nice and interesting person.  Wouldn't you like to meet her in person?
The email I got back gave her name and specified her title as "Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library."  Here are some other things I learned about her.  Her email told me something that I had not gleaned from BPL president Linda Johnson's presentation to the BPL trustees: She was responding using an OCLC ("Online Computer Library Center, Inc.") email address, not a BPL email address.  On the web page that popped up for OCLC it says about OCLC: "The world's libraries connected. . . . OCLC members make a collective impact, worldwide."

Disappointed, I thought that maybe my friendly assigned reference librarian wasn't a New Yorker and didn't work for the BPL.  But on Facebook I learned hearteningly that she lives in New York City (likely even in Brooklyn!- Williamsburg to be exact), came from Chicago, Illinois after studying Library Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  From Twitter I learned she is a poet.  A real person living in my city doing real things!  She is even a trained librarian working as a librarian, but apparently she doesn't work on staff for the BPL.  She works at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Maybe my quick response from her was by reason of her weekend moonlighting.

In promoting a just announced (but, like many others, very long in the works) plan to to redevelop the Sunset Park Branch Library into a "Mixed Use Real Estate Opportunity" the BPL is having conversations directed at the local community promoting this proposed redevelopment by telling people, in part, that the the development can be viewed as a jobs program (30-35 construction jobs during an estimated two years of construction) because construction means jobs.  But, think, if the administration of libraries can be conceived as a jobs program as the BPL was making the case, why not consider that the jobs that librarians do are important jobs to keep and provide. . . worth publicly paying for even when that means setting aside worship of technical efficiencies?

During the Great Depression the WPA (the Works Progress Administration) hired artists and theatrical performers to ply their trade, essentially almost to be themselves.  Mightn't it, in this day's challenging economy, make sense for the government to hire and pay people just to be smart, well read, informed and, without an agenda, informatively out and about and intermingling with our local communities, particularly with the goal of being in service to others, those most intent on self-educating themselves?

Would it be important to insist that these people focus on being "efficient" in their interactions, doing as much as possible with as few bodies as possibe?  Did we/should we have demanded this of the WPA artists and performers?

`Efficiency' may not be all that it's cracked up to be.  The great urbanist thinker Jane Jacobs, a proponent of the benefits if diverse, differentiating and naturally evolving development in books like "The Nature of Economies" looked askance at the "supposed efficiency" of monopolies and, with Detriot being one of her examples, she denounced specialized efficiency at the expense of diversity, considering it a prelude to economic stagnation.  Economies that sacrifice ample diversity, like ecosystems that do so, are less adaptable, less stable, less resourceful, less able to improvise, less able to develop and evolve.  To Jacobs, an economy with few sorts of niches for people's different skills, however efficient, is one that suffers impoverishment.

The proposed redevelopment of the Sunset Park Library weeks ago is the first time such an announced redevelopment of a library by the BPL has involved a proposed increase of library space rather than another shrinkage since Citizens Defending Libraries has been on the scene shedding light on the BPL's real estate ambitions.  It would be flattering to think that the increase in size as part of the proposal is even a reaction to knowing that Citizens Defending Libraries is on the scene.

Ironically, the BPL is hinting that it may give the Sunset Park community what it wants, a library that might well wind up being larger than the small size down to which the BPL is concurrently proposing to shrink the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library.  The Sunset Park community wants a new library that is two stories above ground, and for that space to be more than the 17,000 square feet the BPL initially proposed.  The folks in Sunset Park say they miss the two-story, above-ground Carnegie library the neighborhood once had that was larger than the box that has replaced it there now.  The BPL is responding that it sees the sense of what the community is requesting and is looking to accede if it can secure some increased funds.  By contrast the BPL is planning that the Brooklyn Heights Library would consist of only 15,000 square feet of such above-ground space with 6,000 square of ancillary below-ground space.

While the Sunset Park library is proposed to have more space, the BPL has not fully updated its sales pitch and is using many of the same words to describe why its hurried priority must be redevelopment of the Sunset Park library to make it `work better.'  (The BPL currently now rents out space in the library to Workforce1 that it could easily reclaim to expand without redevelopment.)   If you know the code words, the same words and overlapping phrases may hint at the same kind of staff and librarian reductions for Sunset Park as the BPL envisions for Brooklyn Heights:  "probably the most important issue . . .  this current layout. .  is not adequate to the services that are needed in the community today. . .  we need more technology."  The BPL spokesperson also again referred cryptically to existing space that "is not usable."  That phrase, used quite frequently in PR promotions for shrinking libraries, seems to refer often to space used by librarians and for them to exist in.

Said BPLs spokesperson to the community (emphasis supplied):
This branch isn't laid out in an ideal fashion.  I don't want to. . .  [He then named two Librarians by name], they deserve lot's of space, but unfortunately, in this branch right now, there's probably more staff space than is ideal.  So if we can start from scratch we can get that mixture, that balance of staff space and public space.  We can probably get a little closer to where we should be.  Again, we have the opportunity to create a modern, technology rich and welcoming library.
Well now that I have my book recommendations from my email pen pal of a librarian I'll have to plan to get the books.  But since books, like librarians, are disappearing from the library and are not available at the library until ordered (like Amazon), I'll have to order them to come in to my library from where the BPL now keeps its much smaller collection that mysteriously `floats.'  The BPL administration says the `floating' books not at the libraries you visit can be available with “usually a week’s turnaround”  (that's a week after the previous week's expected turnaround with the email reference librarian).  The time might even be less, but reports are coming in that it often takes nine to eleven days to get ordered books.

I'll try to wait as efficiently as possible.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is Forest City Ratner, As Victor, Writing Our History?- WNYC's Press Release on Appointing Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin to Its Board of Trustees

“History is written by the victors.”   That's certainly the old adage that reflexively gets accepted as true by so many of us even without knowing who first said it.

But first the victor must wrest the pen that writes history into its own grasp. . .  That’s what Forest City Ratner seems to be trying to do when it comes to Atlantic Yards and its exploits in New York City.

In October Forest City Ratner’s Chief Executive Officer MaryAnne Gilmartin was appointed to the board of trustees of the board of New York Public Radio, better known as WNYC and its sister station WQXR, according to the press release appointing Gilmartin, “America's most listened-to AM/FM news and talk public radio stations.”  How did that happen?. . .

. . . Certainly not without a lot of maneuvering and purposeful intent on the part of Forest City Ratner.

The WNYC public radio stations are not are not only the “most listened-to” stations; there is also an implicit agreement with their listeners that, because they are listener financed, they can be trusted as a much more reliable source of earnest news reporting, an alternative free from the corrupting influence that saturates commercially owned and operated news media.  Accordingly, for instance, the idea that the WNYC family of stations provides in-depth news and information that is vastly superior to the kind of press release-conduit journalism that commercial stations put out was propounded again and in the sales pitches made during WNYC’s last fund-raising drive, just as that idea has been highlighted in the many years of fund-raisers before.  This most recent WNYC fund-raiser was subsequent to Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to the WNYC board.

Ms. Gilmartin’s arrival at her policy-making trustee’s position on the WNYC board is reminiscent of another board’s takeover and ensuing 180-degree policy changes seen most clearly with respect to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards: That of the once venerated Municipal Art Society.

The Municipal Art Society was once thought of as representing the public and standing up to developers in the face of abusive development.  Kent Barwick, when he was the head of MAS, called Atlantic Yards “the poster child for what goes wrong when process is ignored. . . a poorly designed project that has polarized the community and that squanders both opportunity and public trust.”   Not so long ago, MAS had scores of forums about development in the city invoking the name and principles of Jane Jacobs in which, while the moderators kept civil order, the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly was excoriated by expert panelists and attending public alike, for a zillion villainous transgressions against the public interest.
More recently, after an orchestrated reconstituting of the board, essentially, as it was disclosed to me, happening as something of a coup, MAS has reversed itself to the extent that many no longer regard it as representing the public.  This new version of MAS has given not one, but two, awards the to the Atlantic Yards mega-development, essentially praising Forest City Ratner for the kind of neighborhood destruction that was previously decried, an absurdity that’s siren for satire, essentially an award for “preserving a swath of Prospect Heights by tearing it down to build the Ratner Prokhorov Barclays arena while letting the rest of the destroyed neighborhood acreage lie fallow for a few decades.”   (See: Monday, June 16, 2014, Ratner, Gilmartin & the MAS Onassis Medal: selective memory, glitzy gala, and enduring dismay.)

Just a few days ago I ran into a woman who was a new resident of New York who, without knowing any of the history of how MAS’s mission has been recently redirected, told me that she had attended a MAS event and unexpectedly found it an almost unbelievably depressing pro-development spectacle.  I don’t know. .  I wasn’t there, but I do know that there has been a massive exile of those who used to be involved with MAS, including its former president, Kent Barwick, to resurrect The City Club of New York.  What’s left of the former Municipal Art Society seems to have gobs of money, but its soul is and moral compass are lost.  In its place, the new, leaner City Club is shaping up credibly to fill in the void of what MAS once was.

There are, of course, other well-worn sayings about history.  One of the best known is George Santayana’s “When experience (which is history) is not retained...infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which may be viewed as something of a retread of Cicero’s “Those who have no knowledge of what has gone before them must forever remain children.”  Malcolm X took a crack at essentially the same sentiment with: “History is a people's memory, and without a memory man is demoted to the lower animals.”

It provokes thought and fright to consider that when history is written by the victors it will be rewritten so that those things that should never have happened in the first place will happen again virtually by design.  In other words George Orwell’s, “Whoever controls the past controls the future.” 

This brings to mind another adage about victors and victory: “To the victor go the spoils.”  Getting to write history, the ability to control the past and thereby own the future too, may be viewed as just a subset of the spoils that the victors get to walk away with.

It is not then surprising that at the groundbreaking for the Ratner Atlantic Yards arena, Ratner and Atlantic Yards supporter Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed to focus wishfully about his expectation of public forgetfulness to cement the highly controversial victories: “nobody's going to remember how long it took. They're only going to look and see that it was done.”  Such ablution via deficient memory extends to the cleansing almost any means-to-an-end in public debate and governance if only results matter.”  

The sad thing, if Forest City Ratner gets to write the history of Atlantic Yards, is that such writing of our history will not just be the consequence of victory, but another victory unto itself.  Although Forest City Ratner overpowered the public interest and the community to achieve many things it ought never to have achieved, I think it is quite fair to say that the community won a good share of the battles.  The most important was the laying bare of Forest City Ratner’s deceptive practices. That's more important even than the successful adjudication respecting such practices when the community won its environmental lawsuit.  These victories helped ensconce a public understanding of the abuses in the competing narratives of what happened.  In this way, the predatory Forest City Ratner cat was belled to warn those mice who might appeal to the cat as its future meals.

Evisceration of WNYC and the Municipal Art Society is a way of silencing that bell on the cat.  The “Braveheart” quote about writing history, put in the mouth of Robert the Bruce, is “history is written by those who have hanged heroes” with a concordant implication that those dead heroes and their deeds are then written out of our pasts.  That saps the spirit of resistance even further.  The heroes of the Atlantic Yards fight and other community battles may now be largely exhausted, having worked unpaid against well-financed minions.  They may have paid the price of many wounds, made many sacrifices.  We may even now think of some of them as the equivalent of the dead on the battlefield, but it’s truly grievous to think that all their hard work and truth that was brought to light by, for instance, the “No Land Grab” team or the “Battle For Brooklyn” documentary would be forgotten.

Maybe history will be rewritten so that WNYC’s future listeners or those going to next year’s MAS functions devolve, uninformed, into the feckless, perpetual infants or children of Cicero’s and Santayana’s admonitions, but on its own side of the fence Forest City Ratner is not going to forget its perfected playbook.  Similarly, other developers seeing what Ratner got away with will remember and emulate.  Which is to say that whatever battles have been won or lost it is still an ongoing war.

That brings us to what should be a number of critical realizations about the road we are not yet at the end of.  Yes, there is a question as to whether other developers will use, throughout the city, tactics Forest City Ratner used with respect to Atlantic Yards and its other New York City exploits going back to at least 2002, and there is the likelihood that Forest City Ratner’s tactics on future projects will resemble those its used on Atlantic Yards, but. . . .

. . .  Anyone who thinks that Forest City Ratner has won the Atlantic Yards war thinks in very circumscribed terms.

Completion of the Atlantic Yards mega-development from this point on could still take as much as another forty years.*  Even now, twelve years after Forest City Ratner started moving in to take over a swath of Prospect Heights with the threat of eminent domain, it has built only the arena (that's not even technically finished at this point as a corrective new secondary green roof is being built).  It has not built any housing.  It has not replaced any of the residential units it destroyed, including the low-income units it will never actually replace.  It has not replaced the businesses it evicted.  The one attempt Ratner has made to build a residential building stands halted, mired in a lawsuit about incompetence and may have to be torn down to be built again from scratch, its original estimated cost of $155 million now rising to perhaps $215 million or even $265 million.
(*  Even though the new, most recent, contractual deadline now theoretically stands as 2025, with the deal subject to perpetual negotiation with Forest City Ratner in the position of a politically muscular monopoly, no future terms can be assured.)
Forty years, or however many decades it actually takes to complete Atlantic Yards, affords ample opportunity for the community, albeit exhausted, to insist, as it should, that the mega-project be divided up and bid out to multiple developers, restoring the streets, sidewalks and avenues that Forest City Ratner has privatized.  Conversely, it affords opportunities galore for Forest City Ratner to reenact more times than we will be able to count what it has done at juncture after juncture, renegotiate repeatedly the terms of its monopoly to shift benefits increasingly in its favor.

In fact, as an example of how easily things can go one way or another, just recently in June, hardly anytime at all before the residential constructions problems and ensuing litigation about it was to be disclosed in August, something that would have made Ratner extremely vulnerable to finally losing monopoly control over the project especially given the community's litigation victory, Ratner slickly maneuvered, taking advantage of a new administration under the incoming mayor to renegotiate new terms for its deal (and more subsidy), once again more to its advantage.  Not knowing how how income eligibility bands were being rejiggered in the background, the representatives who ventured to negotiate for the community were snookered in the deal they'd probably have been better off never making no matter how good it was made to sound. Without cinching this deal, Ratner might have failed in his desperate deal selling a portion of the mega-project to the Chinese government. 

Consequently, Forest City Ratner is not presently the victor seeking to write history.  Still not yet the victor, it is simply doing what it has done from the start, seeking control of the news media and those who write the news in order control the narrative, in order to be the victor when all is said and done. . . .

If ever a definitive tale is told about the still-ongoing Atlantic Yards saga it is virtually certain to be in the form of the book on the subject that Norman Oder is writing.  Mr. Oder writes Atlantic Yards Report (currently retitled “Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report” in view of the fact that the Ratner firm euphemistically rechristened its project to divorce its self from years of bad press).  Atlantic Yards Report originally began as the “Times Ratner Report” much of its earliest focus being about how irresponsible and misleading the coverage of Atlantic Yards by the New York Times was. 

Conception of the Atlantic Yards project goes back to the summer of 2002.  In February of 2001 an eminent domain land deal was reached that turned Forest City Ratner into a real estate partner with the New York Times to construct its new headquarters.  For more about how the questionable reporting by the Times undoubtedly assisted Ratner’s Atlantic Yards to advance and ultimately succeed as far as it has, see:  Sunday, June 26, 2011, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” Reviewed; Plus The “New York Times Effect” on New York’s Biggest Real Estate Development Swindle.

This means that rather than being anything new, Forest City Ratner's encroachment into the theoretical bastion of public radio and public broadcasting is just a shifting of the previous line of influence, a pushing forward to dominate more completely by extending tactics previously used successfully by Ratner.  In fact, while public radio has done better in the past to escape the influence of Ratner and the real estate industry, the same cannot be said of New York City’s WNET public television station where criticism of the city’s real estate is never heard, but Forest City Ratner has gotten great promotion on Charlie Rose.  (See:  Monday, April 2, 2012, Charlie Rose Does Infomercial For Forest City Ratner and Tuesday, April 3, 2012, Channel 13, New York's Premier Public Television Station, Provides Promotion For The Ratner/Prokhorov Barclays Basketball Arena: What To Do About It?)

Ratner is also well infiltrated into the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Brooklyn Museum.

Ms. Gilmartin’s first WNYC trustees meeting is scheduled to be Wednesday, December 3, 2014.  Before that, Tuesday November 18, 2014, the WNYC Community Advisory Board is meeting at 7:00 PM at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights.  The Community Advisory Board is supposed to take comment from the public about the station’s operations.  At their last meeting the CAB groused that far too few members of the public come to their meetings.  (With Gilmartin's appointment  they may be on the verge of ironic solution.) 

The WNYC Community Advisory Board was established to comply with the Public Telecommunications Act the purpose of which extends to providing “a source of alternative telecommunications” that will be “responsive to the interests of people.”  To receive public funds public broadcasters must have Community Advisory Boards to review the “programming goals established by the station, the service provided by the station, and the significant policy decisions rendered by the station.”  (emphasis supplied)

Under that rubric, it would seem that Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to her policy-setting position on the WNYC board should be of vital concern to the CAB.  To argue, contrarily, that it is only a board appointment and that the CAB should wait and be concerned only when station policy actually changes after enough board members of Ms. Gilmartin’s ilk have been appointed would be to say the CAB should react to close the barn door only after there has already been an irreversible escape of the horse.

CAB members face a conundrum in regard to whether they will screw their courage to the sticking point and object to Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment.  According to the by-laws of the Community Advisory Board: “CAB members are subject to the approval of the [WNYC Board of Trustees] or its designees, including members re-nominated for a second term.”- . . .

. . . . That means that, by getting appointed to the WNYC Board of Trustees, Forest City Ratner head MaryAnne Gilmartin now has a say-so about who is on the Community Advisory Board supposedly watch-dogging her implementation of station policy.

Although the Community Advisory Board should probably be recommending Gilmartin's removal from the board and holding up her appointment as an example of what never ought to be done again, if they do, it could subject their members to her vengeance.

Although WNYC is keeping confidential more specifics and the deliberations that were involved, we know that the Trusteeship Committee (comprised of the following Trustees: Tom Bernstein, Martha Fleischman, Anton Levy, Herb Scannell, Lauren Seikaly, Peter Shapiro, Susan Solomon, Nicki Tanner, Andrea Taylor, Keith Thomas, Cynthia King Vance, Laura Walker and Alan Weiler) nominated Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin for trusteeship after an evaluation they were supposed to make of her qualifications and suitability for service and probably someone on the committee identified Ms. Gilmartin as a potential candidate for trustee.

Since WNYC is not telling us we have to guess while noting that it could even have been WNYC president Laura Walker who pushed Gilmartin's nomination forward.

A hint that Ms. Gilmartin might have been coming to the WNYC board involved her bizarre appearance back in July accompanied by WNYC president Laura Walker fluffing up a Brian Lehrer show segment about how to get `a good night’s sleep,' something, as commented by me at the time, it's questionable that Ms. Gilmartin actually deserves.  Giving a burnishing heft to Ms. Gilmartin's credentials though not necessarily making her being there seem less odd, Arianna Huffington was also a part of this surreal segment. Oh, Oh, WNYC!  Oh Brian!  See: Wednesday, July 16, 2014, On Brian Lehrer, FCR's Gilmartin reports on CEO Sleep Experiment.

If and when WNYC policies begin to change subsequent to this Gilmartin appointment it is doubtful that we see that change manifest in Brian Lehrer losing his prominent morning slot in the near future: He is expert at what he does, beloved by his audience, young enough to be around for a long time and, although moderating with reasonable fairness, he has never expressed hostility toward Atlantic Yards.  We would be more likely to see change creep in with a replacement of a retiring Leonard Lopate, an older broadcaster who has more regularly acknowledged the legitimate basis for the community's dissatisfactions with the megadevelopment.  It would be nice if Mr. Lopate were around to interview Mr. Oder when his awaited book comes out, but who knows when that will be as the Atlantic Yards saga continues to lumber forward in surprising ways frustratingly postponing any neat point at which to wrap up.  Mr. Lopate could likely be replaced by someone who, on the spectrum, is more more likely to be confused with a corporate lapdog than Brian Lehrer, perhaps friendlier to developers like Ratner than even Charlie Rose.

In pertinent part the press release announcing the appointment of Ms. Gilmartin to its board reads in cheery PR speak as follows:

Richard Brail, MaryAnne Gilmartin, Loretta Brennan Glucksman, and Brad Whitman Named to the New York Public Radio Board of Trustees

(New York, NY – October 9, 2014) – New York Public Radio today announced that Richard Brail, Managing Director and Head of the Media, Entertainment, Communications and Technology Group at Peter J. Solomon Company, and MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, have been elected to its Board of Trustees. Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Chairman Emeritus of the American Ireland Fund, and Brad Whitman, Vice Chairman in the Financial Institutions Group at Morgan Stanley, were also recently elected to the Board at the Spring meeting of the Board of Trustees.
As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, New York Public Radio is governed by an independent Board of Trustees that meets regularly throughout the year. There are currently 35 NYPR Trustees, headed by Cynthia King Vance, Chair. Information on all Trustees can be found here.

“Rich, MaryAnne, Loretta, and Brad bring vast experience in business, media and non-profit governance that will advance both the work of the Board and the mission of New York Public Radio,” said Laura R. Walker, President and CEO, New York Public Radio. “I look forward to collaborating with them to keep New York Public Radio at the forefront of digital innovation, award-winning content creation and enterprise journalism that enriches the lives of New Yorkers and audiences around the world.”

“I am delighted to welcome Rich, MaryAnne, Loretta, and Brad to New York Public Radio’s Board of Trustees,” said Cynthia King Vance, Chair, Board of Trustees, New York Public Radio. “These accomplished leaders bring a passion for public radio and new and valuable perspectives to a highly engaged Board of Trustees. We are lucky to have them join us as we reach for even more ambitious heights at New York Public Radio.”

* * * *

MaryAnne Gilmartin is President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies. She has been point person in the development of some of the most high-profile real estate projects in New York City. Ms. Gilmartin led the efforts to build Barclays Center and Pacific Park Brooklyn, a 22-acre mixed-use development. Ms. Gilmartin also oversaw the development of The New York Times Building, designed by Renzo Piano and New York by Gehry, the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, designed by Frank Gehry. In addition to these projects, Ms. Gilmartin has managed the commercial portfolio at MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn, which consists of 6.7 million square feet of Class A office space. Ms. Gilmartin served proudly for over 7 years on the New York City Ballet Advisory Board. Currently, Ms. Gilmartin serves as a Board Trustee for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM); a Member of the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY); and as a Member of the Industry Advisory Board of the MS Real Estate Development Program at Columbia University.

* * * *

New York Public Radio is New York’s premier public radio franchise, comprising WNYC, WQXR, The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, and New Jersey Public Radio, as well as www.wnyc.org, www.wqxr.org, www.thegreenespace.org, and www.njpublicradio.org. As America's most listened-to AM/FM news and talk public radio stations, WNYC extends New York City's cultural riches to the entire country on-air and online, produces award-winning programming for local and national audiences, and curates the best offerings from networks NPR, Public Radio International, American Public Media, and the British Broadcasting Company. WQXR is New York City's sole 24-hour classical music station, presenting new and landmark classical recordings as well as live concerts from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and Carnegie Hall, among other New York City venues, immersing listeners in the city's rich musical life. In addition to its audio content, WNYC and WQXR produce content for live, radio and web audiences from The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, the station's street-level multipurpose, multiplatform broadcast studio and performance space. New Jersey Public Radio extends WNYC’s reach and service more deeply into New Jersey. For more information about New York Public Radio, visit www.nypublicradio.org.

# # #   
Press release about Gilmartin appointment, page one, click to enlarge
Press release about Gilmartin appointment, page two, click to enlarge
Ms. Gilmartin brings a "passion for public radio and new and valuable perspectives to a highly engaged Board of Trustees"?  And, we are lucky to have Ms. Gilmartin join WNYC "as we reach for even more ambitious heights at New York Public Radio.”  Really?  Plus there's that cleverly oblique reference that Ms. Gilmartin has been the "point person in the development of some of the most high-profile real estate projects in New York City."*
(*  Commenting on this article Norman Oder in Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report post 11/18/2014 writes:  "Forest City has a passion for shaping perception--such as the erasing-history effort to rename Atlantic Yards as Pacific Park. - So even the capsule biography of Gilmartin, surely supplied by her office for the press release, is part of that effort [incorporated in the WNYC Press Release!]. According to the press release, Gilmartin `led the efforts to build Barclays Center and Pacific Park Brooklyn, a 22-acre mixed-use development.'- Actually, Pacific Park Brooklyn hasn't been built yet. The first tower is stalled. The second break ground next month.")
Another item in the press release that's probably of interest in this context is that Brad Whitman also being appointed to the board, although now with Morgan Stanley, came from Barclays Bank just months before where he was head of mergers for financial institutions.  Barclays is the bank whose name is on the Ratner arena. That prominent public spot was sold to it as advertising, confusing what the public should think about its misconduct.  The world is too entirely too small, isn't it?
(click to enlarge) The kind of public interest advertising we might see in the subway if the public were coming up with funds for what's posted there.  Instead, the recidivist Barclays has the subway station and publicly paid for arena named after it to wash away thoughts of its misdeeds.
Forest City Ratner has never done a project without deep publicly paid for subsidy and it has never done a project where it was selected by competitive bid.  Its modus operandi in pursuing its usually large scale crony capitalistic deals is to get on the political inside, buying elected officials with campaign contributions and then misrepresent what is going on, that which the public is getting and what the public is losing. 

For a little more background on this and Ms. Gilmartin's appointment, see: Saturday, October 11, 2014, The Forest City Ratner Cafe, at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, and Gilmartin's new role on WNYC board, Atlantic Yards Report- Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Report- Atlantic Yards, Pacific Park, and the Culture of Cheating, Tuesday, December 1, 2009, Unfair Substitution of Fiction For Fact in the Atlantic Yards Dialogue and Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Noticing New York's Hearing Testimony Re New York City Housing Development Corporation's Subsidization of Ratner's Atlantic Yards Mega-Monopoly.

Am I being too inhospitable, too unwelcoming to Ms. Gilmartin's arrival at WNYC?  Should one's attitude be more of a civilized "live and let live" approach where commercial and noncommercial interests could cohabit in the public broadcasting space, exchanging ideas with he-said/she-said balances?  Would that be the right resolution?  Could we expect that cohabiting commercial interests in public broadcasting would restrain themselves and not use the usual tactics of superior financial resources to overwhelm? . .

. . I don't think so.   Public broadcasting is supposed to be the alternative to other broadcasting already steeped in and motivated by commercialism (dubbed the "vast wasteland" when public broadcasting was conceived- "endlessly screaming, cajoling commercials"), not another sandbox where commercialism can play in a different guise getting elevated to equal footing with the public interest and that which the public wants to pay for.

There are those reading what I write here who will say that public broadcasting is already too infected by and susceptible to the influences of commercialism.  Environmental Action has a current campaign against what are essentially bought and paid for pro-fracking advertisements on public radio:
"NPR has been accepting millions of dollars in "sponsorship" from the fracking front-group known as ANGA. In exchange for their support, NPR hosts like Steve Inskeep, Melissa Block and Audie Cornish routinely read messages that blatantly misrepresent the dangers of fracking to our planet and people.
(See: Fracking the signal.)
Indeed, too often NPR and APR's MarketPlace (we won't review the complicated pluralistic structure of public broadcasters here) have run one-sided stories about how good fracking will be for the economy that appear to have come straight from that industry's press department representatives.  But the fact that these inroads have been made is not a reason to let there be more.

No, Forest City Ratner and MaryAnne Gilmartin don't cohabit nicely in the sandbox with others and they don't share toys.  When they want the property that you have they take it for themselves by eminent domain, stealth, cheating, and dirty and brute politics.  And that is why MaryAnne Gilmartin should not be on the board of New York Public Radio setting policy, including news reporting and public dialogue policy, for the WNYC family of radio stations.