Sunday, April 1, 2018

Reimagining Our Library Spaces: Where Once There Were Books There Will Now Be “Maker Rooms” To Be Named Appropriately After A Famous Hedge Funder and Presidential Candidate

"Major" changes are coming to Brooklyn's Gran Army Plaza Library with name changes to reflect the future and sponsorship
Do you know about the “Major” changes they are making to our libraries, perhaps particularly as exemplified by the changes in the works at Brooklyn’s last central destination the library, known up to this point in time as the Grand Army Plaza (“GAP”) Library?  The changes being made are so extensive that everything is getting renamed.  The library won’t be called a “library” anymore, but an “Information Center.” Inside, all the rooms will be renamed after a hedge funder acclaimed for creating value through corporate restructurings who may yet run again successfully for president.

But first, speaking of holding elected office, did you know that Brooklyn Public Library is making a big thing about its announcement via BPL president Linda Johnson that the GAP Library is being renamed after Major R. Owens a librarian who went on to become a prominent, revered black congressman representing Brooklyn.  Major Owens died in 2013.  That was that the year that the BPL announced that it was starting to sell shrink and sacrifice libraries for real estate deals, “the most valuable ones first,” like the Pacific Street Library next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards and Brooklyn’s second-biggest library the central destination Brooklyn Height Library in Downtown Brooklyn also adjacent to Forest City Ratner's property.
The changes being made at the formerly named GAP Library and the plans to now name it after Major Owens are the reason that the New York Times just ran an article descriptive of many of the changes (In Brooklyn, Modernizing a Library for Downloads and Robots, by James Barron, March 25, 2018) that begins by recounting a dream Major Owens is said to have once had:
Major R. Owens once dreamed that an alien spaceship had landed and that the creature that clambered out told the first person it encountered, “Take me to your librarian.”  When the alien was brought to the library [“information center”?], his human guide pointed up and said, “look up in the sky, it’s a librarian, it’s a robot, it’s a . . . 
Why should a dream about librarian-seeking aliens and robots commence a New York Times article about the how libraries are changing?  It may seem far out, but good explanations will come to those who wait.

First, let’s talk about the rest of the visionary renaming of the spaces within the library.  Lest the Major Owens renaming seem too populist or bookish, other spaces in the library will be renamed for achievements that more customarily get recognition in our society.  The 42nd Street Library has now been renamed by the NYPL the “Stephen A. Schwarzman Building” (or the sassy sounding “SASB” for short).  Mr. Schwarzman, still very much alive, is for anyone who doesn’t know, the head of the Blackstone Group and now the first Corporate CEO to pull in an annual income exceeding $1 billion.  Naming the “building” after Mr. Schwarzman is not only good for the burnishment of his brand, it inspires democracy by helping to encourage everyone else to follow in his footsteps in being alert for ways to achieve similar wealth . .  . And so that they too may have their exploits chronicled by the likes of such famous authors as Jane Mayer.

The sassy SASB is the central jewel of the NYPL system.  The renaming of the spaces at the BPL’s central jewel, spaces at the GAP Library will be in a similar vein and may help another recognized financial wizard to burnish his brand, which means perhaps also helping him politically in the future.  The name change will also help the BPL get across what it has to offer and the message it intends to send to its clients.

The BPL is focused on how to repurpose its library spaces for the 21st Century and the 22nd Century.  “We are looking to the future,” says BPL president Ms. Johnson hardly suppressing her glee as she borrows the Buzz Lightyear phrase to say that with our library information centers we are headed “To Infinity and Beyond!”  What does this mean?  It means the new repurposed spaces will all meet the standards of what is called in the new jargon for transforming libraries, “Makerspaces.”
Here is more to let you know how exciting information center makerspaces can be if they are for young adults (from the Young Adult Library Services Association):
Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY [“Do It Yourself”- exciting!] spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. The focus, actually, is on the type of learning that goes on, not the stuff.  Making is about learning that is: interest-driven and hands-on and often supported by peer-to-peer learning.  This is often referred to as connected learning.  Also, you don’t need a set space to facilitate this type of learning.  You can have pop up makerspaces at various library branches, afterschool programs, community centers, etc.  Or you can set up a ‘maker cart’ that can travel anywhere in the library.  Perhaps what your teens need most are maker backpacks that are stuffed with resources and activities they can do at home.*
(* NOTE: "At home"- No expensive library space needed!)
Of course, makerspaces are flexible spaces so they can be a lot of things, and they don’t have to be for the youth.  They are also intended for adults.  Going back a few years, the BPL has already converted much of its space at the future Major R. Owens Information Center (MROIC “pronounce it `More-ick’,” suggests BPL PR officer  David Woloch) into conference rooms that can be used by “makers” starting new businesses or needing “gateways to technological tinkering” for their work.

There was one problem with our makerspace efforts,” said Ms. Johnson, “but we have the solution now.  The term `makerspace’ has been around far too long, since 2006 when we were first telling the public of big changes for our libraries.  The term has lost its pizzazz.  We like to keep mixing up the terminology so when we use so it always sounds fresh and convincing when we say we are doing future oriented things nobody has yet been able to conceptually grasp.  `Makerspaces’ was the term back when we first introduced in alongside `STEM’ education. For excitement purposes we now often mix it up now by referring to `STEM’ a lot of the time to ‘STEAM’ education.”

Ms. Johnson then presented her big news: “We have a brand new name for these makerspaces, and we do mean `brand.’  We will now be calling them `Romney spaces.’  That is honor of Mitt Romney when he was a presidential candidate so memorably differentiating for us that our society is composed of `makers’ and ‘takers.’” Ms. Johnson continued on to say that they had further refined to term that would usually be used to clearly indicate that upscale clientele they hoped to attract to the spaces should have fun in them by calling the spaces: “Romney Romping Rooms.”

Ms. Johnson explained that affixing the Romney name to these spaces to highlight the maker/taker dichotomy would help her and the library in its mission a great deal.  For instance, Johnson said that people often reacted negatively when articles like the one in the Times wrote sentences like “among many other things, the plan for the central library calls for replacing two levels of old-fashioned `stacks,’” Ms. Johnson said that if she could just more succinctly say they were doing away with all the “taker” spaces in the library she would get a better reaction.  Henceforth all the space in the library not devoted to the Romney Romping Rooms will be designated and described as “taker” spaces.

Similarly, while doing a presentation for Open House New York the other day, architect Francine Houben, working for the NYPL to remove books from both the 42nd Street Central SASB library and the Mid-Manhattan Library (in a consolidating shrinkage) got flack for saying that “stacks” that could not be easily removed from the libraries and done away with at the whim of the trustees were “problematic.”  Not surprisingly, the NYPL, in sync with the BPL and Queens Library, will also be dividing up their spaces into Romping Room spaces and “taker” spaces.
Much of the former GAP Library will be closed for many years to create the Romney Romping Rooms, but the BPL already has plans to ensure that they are a success when they open.  The BPL will open them with a special overnight event.  The BPL has already had several all night 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM nights of Philosophy and Ideas.”  Repeating this wonderful idea, the “makers” of Brooklyn will be invited to fill the Romney Romping Rooms for an all night inauguration.
Coverage of a previous BPL philosophy night when attendees were not required to walk the tightrope of Bain Capital's prescribed philosophy  
“Previously, we didn’t steer the ideas under discussion so much,” said BPL spokesperson David Woloch, “but in honor of bequeathment of the Romney name we will provide a focus this time.”  Mr. Woloch said that libraries are about “information,” and that being “a `maker’ in a DIY, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society is about capitalism” so that putting the two together the focus for the evening would be virtues of “information capitalism.”

Click to enlarge
Mitt Romney’s own Bain Capital has been gathering together some of the suggested reading material.  Included is a selection from John E. Buschman’s Dismantling the Public Sphere- Situating and Sustaining Librarianship In the Age of the New Public Philosophy where he summarizes an overview of thinking from Frank Webster setting forth what he sees as the tenets of “Information Capitalism.”  Although what was presented was intended by both those authors to be a critique of “Information Capitalism,” the executives at Bain thought it was a spectacularly well put description of what they believed in and ought to promulgate.  Those tenets were summarized as follows:   
    •    The ability to pay is now a major criterion determining provision of high-quality information.
    •    Provision is made on the basis of private rather than public supply.
    •    Market criteria are the primary factors in deciding what is made available.
    •    Competition for funding (as opposed to a steady tax or tuition basis) is coming to be regarded as the appropriate mechanism for organizing the economics of librarianship.
    •    Commodification of information is the norm.
    •    Private information vs. public is favored.
Makers coming to spend the night to discuss “information capitalism” will be invited to bring and change into their pajamas.  “We think this will help us corral a lot more young people,” says Woloch, “something that’s very important to us.”   In addition, following its new principles the BPL now holds no events without partnering with private sector partners.  In this case it will be partnering with Victoria's Secret and Flap Happy, another pajama manufacturer.  Models from  Victoria's Secret will stroll through the Romping Rooms modeling night lingerie, “which should certainly help with our young male attendance” says Woloch.  The BPL is not breaking any new ground here: Britney Spears unveiled her new lingerie collection in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the NYPL’s sassy SASB in 2014.
In 2014 Britney Spears howed off her new lingerie (right) in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the NYPL’s sassy SASB (center) while the SASB stacks (left) were empty of books
Flap Happy will be donating free pajamas for those who don’t bring their own.  What kind? Rompers with feet of course.  The Rompers will have the Bain Capital Logo embroidered above a (not so vintage?) Romney presidential campaign buttons.  Bain is also partnering in the event and Flap Happy is one of the companies, now manufacturing in China, that has been through a Bain restructuring that stripped out excess value.

“We expect we may start implementing modest charges to use the Romney Romping Rooms,” confessed Ms. Johnson. “Modest charges are a way of testing whether makers are really and truly real makers. . . plus it will serve to reduce the absurd cost and burden on society of maintaining libraries.”  Ms. Johnson says the charges, the kind of thing that was previewed by the BPL when it was turning over library space free of charge to Spaceworks, a private company with good intentions like Bain, “does not mean that we are privatizing the space.”

“Our libraries have always been a public commons,” says Ms. Johnson, “but we are talking about ushering in the future and while the libraries continue as a commons in that future we understand that commons in terms of having evolved and kept pace with the future to become the neo-commons that makes sense today.”

The Times article about the changes in the library tells us that Congressman and former librarian Major Owens was always referred to the “Librarian in Congress” a play on the “Library of Congress.”  The BPL’s David Woloch is frank when he is asked about why the library is being named after Major Owens:
Several reasons: There is the fact that Major Owens was black and we have to cover over and divert attention from how harmful what we are doing to the libraries is, most particularly to people of color and those who are not so very wealthy.  Then there is the felicity of the name `Major.’  When you are consolidating and shrinking libraries it makes those libraries seem bigger if you can call them `Major.’  In fact, where we used to call this particular library the `central’ library, we are revising it to call it the system’s `major’ library, so it will be a `Major Major Library.’
“I know that’s sort of Hellerish thing to do,” Woloch told the Times reporter making sure reporter was “Catch 22ing” that he was making a “literary allusion.”

Chris Owens, son of Major Owens, a musician, singer-song-writer, politically active as a District Leader, former candidate for political office himself, and an activist who fought Atlantic Yards says he is not going to be fooled by the BPL naming anything after his father.  He says:  
Anyone who accepts what they are doing to the libraries by turning them into real estate deals and eliminating books with space conversions is getting `booby prizes.’  It’s unacceptable.  My father was Democrat and nobody is going to allow his name to be wrapped around a bunch of Romney Romping Rooms named after a Republican looking to fleece the public.  Now that the BPL has announced the intention to use my father’s name they’ve booby-trapped this for themselves because come time to cut ceremonial ribbons we will call them out on this.
Chris Owens went on to link it into the Atlantic Yards fight:
We fought Atlantic Yards and we fought Bruce Ratner.  We know that the first two most valuable libraries the BPL wanted to sell, Pacific and Brooklyn Heights were both adjacent to Ratner’s Forest City sites.  We know that the person who prioritized those libraries for the BPL’s sale came from Forest City Ratner. We are not going along with any of this cover-up.
So why did the Times begin its article about what the modernization of a library by recounting a dream about librarian-seeking aliens and robots?  Why were “Robots” referred to in the Times headline for the article?

BPL robot librarians
It was possible to refer to “Robots” in the headline because the article explained how the library makerspaces could now be used by makers to build robots.  The BPL’s Woloch also bluntly explains there was another reason: “We asked the Times to put `robots’ in the title of their article. People were regularly Googling to find a Noticing New York article about how the BPL is on the cutting edge of introducing robot librarians to replace the real ones.  Putting`robots’ in the title of the Times article helps divert attention when people are looking to find out how soon we might really be shifting to robots librarians.”

But to be fair, there is real talk about using library `Romping’ spaces for various sorts of robots to roam.   Architect Francine Houben, working for the NYPL, has suggested that the new central atrium of the soon to be renovated Mid-Manhattan Library will be an excellent place to test fly robotic drones before procuring a license to fly them outside, especially if sight lines are improved by the oft suggested removal of bookstacks.  Such robot drone flying includes test flying swarms of new nano-robotic bees.
New Mid-Manhattan atrium space- According to architect Architect Francine Houben a perfect place to fly drones, even better if the book stacks are removed as suggested.
Yes, it is possible to imagine a future where, when you visit a library, you will be met by a flying drone and, surprise, it will be your librarian ready to serve you.  (Such flying robotic librarians would also solve surveillance challenges in keeping track of what patrons read.)

But why aliens?  Does it seem creepy that everyone these days is suddenly always bringing up extraterrestrial aliens?  Fox News, New York Magazine, Saturday Night Live, even on the front page of the New York Times?  Is everyone having the same dream?  Like in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”?

Here is the creepy thing.  The NYPL is selling the biggest science library in New York City (SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library) to the son of a librarian, a man who became wealthy beyond belief through his knowledge of science.  The man leads a life like he is hell-bent desperate to be written into a James Bond novel, a feet of the world’s largest yachts, a fleet of vintage warplanes, building the largest airplane in the world, building a plane to go into space.  His name is Paul Allen.  Mr. Allen also had a sci-fi sort of dream that could relate to what a landing alien in the future might find if they land: A dying or threatened civilization that can only save itself t it can find the trove of knowledge it needs.

What, additionally, is Mr. Allen spending his money on now besides privately acquiring NYC’s biggest science library?  He is spending muti-millions of dollars on trying to discover the extraterrestrial aliens out there!  And now, just so you know, that is absolutely true, notwithstanding that this article has been an April Fool’s article written satirically for your amusement even as it riffs off far too much else that is unfortunately too, too true.  (If you want to know how real such threats truly are to our libraries, go to Citizens Defending Libraries, of which I am a co-founder, and there you will find facts galore.)
Something more that is true: At the last Brooklyn Public Library trustees meeting on February 27, 2018, where trustees were given copies of the NYPL's the BPL's updated "strategic plan", the creatively titled (but hard to type) "Now➔ Next."   At the same time, the trustees were told that a substantial portion of the Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn’s biggest library would be closed for a long while the library is “modernized” and, as described by the Times, its stacks eliminated.  What’s more, as was clear with what else the trustees were told the meeting there will be other libraries concurrently off-line: The central downtown Brooklyn Heights Library, once Brooklyn’s second biggest library and the only other central destination library is closed and now a hole in the ground as it is substantially shrunk, pushed more underground and its books largely eliminated as it is replaced by a supertall luxury tower (its Business, Career and Education Library has virtually disappeared), the Sunset Park Library will be shut down as it becomes a real estate project, construction will similarly put the Brower Park Library into the Children’s museum in another consolidating shrinkage, the Greenpoint Library too is getting `modernizing' construction.  Creation of a DUMBO library as an experiment in teeny-weenyness was supposed to pick up some slack, but the trustees were told they haven't yet found the teeny-weeny space for it.  This will be as Mid-Manhattan the city’s largest circulating library is closed for book-eliminating “modernization,” the 42nd Street Central Library where books have been eliminated undergoes work and, as mentioned, SIBL, the city’s largest science library is sold to Mr. Allen, its science library eliminated.

That said, in the spirit of April 1st let’s put just a few more last words in the mouth of BPL spokesperson David Woloch:
In today’s day and age of the internet, the inconvenience of temporarily closed libraries matters less and we’ve steadily removed a lot of the books from the shelves ahead of time in tests that proved our conclusion about this to be true.  These extended concurrent closures of library space will also help people forget what libraries were in the past while letting them get used to not having libraries in the present so that in the 21st Century future people won’t even know what they are missing when we reopen our doors of those spaces we have, for the time being, still kept, to experience our fabulous Romney Romping Rooms.  Besides, in the interim, we are partnering to send our library patrons off to city museums with a new “One-Pass” or "NYC culture Pass" Museum visit program.  This is great because Museums are themselves partnering with profit making partners seeking attention with sensational blockbuster shows.  Moreover, in the future, for greater efficiency and cost reduction we may further meld our infotainment institutions, so who knows what we will then be asking people to get used to or to do without.
For real: Linda John before the BPL trustees on February 27th ad they are told about a "culture pass" to send patrons to museums.

1 comment:

bjc said...

Hi, I’m looking for the source of Chris Owen’s quote regarding the BPL project. I came across his disapproval in some other article but can’t remember what publication. Thanks!