This hasn’t been a good week for library trustees.
Yesterday, as outraged protestors led by Citizens Defending Libraries rallied outside Brooklyn Public Library shortly before a trustees meeting, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill (S.6893-B) that will significantly reform operations of the Queens Public Library Board of Trustees. Introduced by Assembly member Jeffrion Aubry and State Senator Michael Gianaris, the bill passed by a vote of 59-1 last Thursday and was supported by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Mayor de Blasio.
Among its provisions, the law establishes an audit committee to monitor the Queens Public Library’s expenditures, grants the mayor and borough president the authority to remove trustees, and requires the library to disclose additional revenue.
The bill was prompted by the questionable use of public funds for construction projects overseen by Queens Library President Thomas Galante, currently under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and city Department of Investigation.
Earlier this year, the Daily News revealed Galante had spent $27,000 in taxpayer dollars to build a private smoking deck adjacent to his office at a time when librarians were losing their jobs. In a move that illustrates the corruption which necessitated the bill’s passage, QPL trustees attempted to grant the soon-to-be-departing Galante an $822,000 bonus. The vote was postponed only after Public Advocate Letitia James threatened to obtain a court order preventing Galante from receiving a golden parachute.
The unconscionable actions of the QPL trustees highlight the grave lack of transparency in library boards across the city, where the public is not allowed to comment at meetings and crucial planning is held in executive session away from public scrutiny. A direct result of this secrecy has been a series of disastrous actions that have harmed our libraries, including the sale of the popular Donnell library (for a meager $39 million in profit), the removal of three million books from the stacks in the 42nd Street library, and the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.
The city provides 85% of the Queens library’s funding. When trustees no longer consider themselves accountable to the public, our elected officials have an obligation to review their operations and expenditures. The new bill represents a significant improvement in public oversight of our libraries and should be viewed as a model for reforming trustee governance across the city’s other library systems.
Our allies at Citizens Defending Libraries have a new petition demanding full funding for New York City libraries. The petition has already earned over 500 signatures in just two days.
We endorse increased funding and advocate that it be accompanied by greater transparency and accountability. We’d like to encourage everyone who cherishes our libraries to sign the petition.
It’s time to show our elected officials how much we care about our libraries and want them adequately funded—not sold off to private developers.
Read and sign the petition here:
As reported recently in the New York Times, NYPL reveals that the Central Library Plan would have cost over $500 million, a far cry from their earlier $300 million estimate:
But officials, for the first time, revealed that the original plan, mostly scrapped last month in large part because of questions about the price tag, would actually have cost more than $500 million, according to independent estimates they commissioned last June.
Critics of the original plan had suggested that the price tag would most likely escalate well beyond the original estimates and, as a mayoral candidate, Bill de Blasio was among several officials who called for a more thorough review of the project’s cost.
Library officials are hopeful that Mr. de Blasio, as mayor, will agree that $150 million, already in the city’s executive budget to finance the old plan, can be spent on the new one.
“The administration will remain in close discussions with the library on this project as well as on its other initiatives in support of the mayor’s agenda,” said Marti Adams, a spokeswoman for the mayor. “We are pleased that the library ultimately shared the mayor’s goals in developing its revised plan.”
Anthony W. Marx, the library’s president, said the historic stacks in the main building, whose removal was a disputed element in the original plan designed by the architect Norman Foster, would be kept, but not returned to service as a storage area for books.
NYPL plans to spend $22 million to expand the Bryant Park Stack Extension, without acknowledging the fact that doing so will displace the 1.2 million books currently under Bryant Park to New Jersey.
President Anthony Marx claims that bringing the seven floors of stacks below the Rose Reading Room up to code would require spending an additional $46 million. It’s unclear how the NYPL obtained this estimate since they have never disclosed their cost analysis report.
In the 1980s, “advanced temperature and humidity controls” had been integrated into the stacks, and a new sprinkler system was installed in 1991.