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.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
An outstanding editorial in The New Yorker gets it exactly right:
Physical, public space and physical books will continue to be vital to a library whose research collection, amassed over more than a century, is a cultural treasure… Given the importance of books, it follows that as many as possible should be on-site. Keeping them there, and moving back many that are off-site now, is a worthwhile goal. If the Schwarzman Building’s stacks need major refitting in order to preserve the books better, ideally that should be done, even at the projected cost of tens of millions of dollars. The Mid-Manhattan Library has long been falling apart. It should be fixed up, as the N.Y.P.L. has recently promised to do. Many of the eighty-seven branch libraries also need extensive improvements and renovations—a need more urgent than others, if the money could be found…
America now has the highest level of income inequality in the developed world, and New York’s is among the worst in America. The public library has always been a great democratizer and creator of citizens, and a powerful force against inequality; it must not retrench, especially now.
Read the full article here.
Statement from the Committee to Save the New York Public Library: Thank You to All Who Helped Make this Victory Possible!
The leadership of NYPL has finally come to its senses and abandoned its hugely unpopular Central Library Plan. All of us at the Committee to Save the New York Public Library are gratified that the Mid-Manhattan Library will be saved and the stacks in the 42nd Street Library left intact. Now it remains for us to persuade the library leadership to fix the mechanical systems in the stacks so the books can be returned there. This great building, meant for readers and the books they love, can now fulfill its purpose for another century. It is a great victory for the people of New York and for the library at the heart of the city.
Our group started with a petition signed by scholars, readers, architects, and citizens. Through the effort and support of library lovers from all walks of life we have organized and led the opposition to NYPL’s wasteful Central Library Plan. Today we thank our allies: Citizens Defending Libraries, the Library Lovers League, Landmark West, and the Historic Districts Council; all were crucial to this victory. We will continue to work together to be sure the great libraries of our city are cared for and preserved and that their financial and architectural resources are used wisely.
Bill de Blasio’s demand during the waning days of the Bloomberg administration for greater transparency and a public review of NYPL alternatives set the stage for yesterday’s change of course at the Library. The multiple lawsuits brought by scholars and activists helped insure that no final decisions were made until they could be properly reviewed by the new administration when it came into office.
Borough President Gale Brewer advocated keeping the Mid-Manhattan Library and just days ago Councilmember Dan Garodnick questioned the wisdom of the NYPL’s extravagant plans. State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Jose Serrano, State Senator Bill Perkins, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, and other elected officials spoke out forcefully to urge the NYPL to heed the public outcry against their plans. Assemblymember Micah Kellner held a crucial hearing so the public could learn what library leaders were reluctant to disclose. Union and community leaders spoke out strongly against the plan, as did many prominent writers. We thank them all and hope they will continue to stand with us.
The turn-around at the New York Public Library is a great beginning, but there is still much to be done. We will continue to press to bring the books back to the stacks so that the 42nd Street Library can serve all the people as a great research library. We will continue urging elected leaders to fully fund the neighborhood branches. And we will continue to demand greater transparency and accountability from the NYPL trustees and administration.
In a victory for library users across the city, the New York Public Library has announced it will abandon the hugely unpopular Central Library Plan. The Mid-Manhattan Library will be saved and renovated, and the 42nd St. Library stacks will be kept intact “for present”. But NYPL is refusing to return the books to the stacks!
Here’s a summary of coverage:
Wall Street Journal: “In Library’s New Plan, the Stacks Stay… Empty”
NYPL’s new plan has people “scratching their heads” – save the stacks but keep them empty?! As Pulitzer Prize-winner David Levering Lewis says, “Isn’t this pretty Kafka-esque?” Also, the Wall Street Journal reveals that the NYPL trustees and administration have spent a jaw-dropping 18 million dollars on the plan they just abandoned. And why did NYPL refuse to let the Wall Street Journal take a photo of the empty stacks to illustrate their article?
The Nation: “NYPL Shelves Plan to Gut Central Library”
Scott Sherman, who first broke the news about the Central Library Plan over 2 years ago, reviews the questions surrounding the NYPL’s decision to abandon the plan.
Translationista: “A Library Without Books?”
Translationista analyses the NYPL’s rationale for not returning the books to the 42nd Street stacks. Conclusion? Returning the books to the stacks is the most cost-effective way to store them. “[NYPL President Tony] Marx and [NYPL Communications Officer Ken] Weine know all these things as well as I do, so the question remains: Why are they so hellbent on keeping the books off those shelves? It just doesn’t compute.”
Melville House: “Critics of the Central Library Plan React to New York Public Library’s Change of Course”
A great round-up of reactions to NYPL’s decision to abandon the Central Library Plan.
Wall Street Journal: “New York Public Library Scraps Redesign Plans”
The initial Wall Street Journal story, which revealed that NYPL did not plan to return the books to the 42nd Street Stacks.
New York Times: “Public Library Is Abandoning Disputed Plan for Landmark”
The story which first broke the news of NYPL’s decision to scrap the Central Library Plan.
Wall Street Journal: NYPL Abandoning Central Library Plan, But Won’t Return Books to 42nd St. Stacks
The Wall Street Journal confirms the earlier NY Times article. The NYPL is abandoning the Central Library Plan. BUT THERE’S A BIG CATCH: “Under the new plan, the book stacks would be preserved but would remain empty of books. The research collection would instead be stored in climate-controlled storage space under Bryant Park.”
The only thing sillier than the original plan would be preserving the empty stacks free of books – an utterly and obviously pointless state of affairs that will just beg for resolution via a new “renovation” project a few years down the line. And the planned additional storage space under Bryant Park will only hold 1.5 million books, less than half the books that were in the stacks; the remaining 1.5-2 million books will still have to be shipped to New Jersey.
Saving the Mid-Manhattan is a great victory, but we still have work to do!
Can this be true???!!!! The New York Times reports the end of the Central Library Plan:
In a striking about-face, the New York Public Library has abandoned its plan to turn part of its research flagship on 42nd Street into a circulating library and instead will renovate the Mid-Manhattan library on Fifth Avenue, several library trustees said.
There’s been no official announcement yet, and we’re waiting with bated breath to read the fine print…
A beautiful statement from The Belladonna Collaborative, a Brooklyn-based feminist poetry colllective, on their reasons for opposing the Central Library Plan:
We write books with the thought that our books will be one day in a place where people will read them. That place for books is a library; it is that simple. That place is not a store, a café, an events space or an echoing room with free wireless. We write books after reading books. We read, and then we write. We create new books inspired by the thousands of books before us. At the Central Library, we are sometimes the first person to open a book and read it. We relish that a book has been kept carefully at the same place in which we are writing and thinking and reading, and that we can get it, almost immediately, when the ideas we are holding in our head at that moment need the book to develop them further. Many of us also write in the moments between our jobs and our families; many of us are not part of a university and don’t have access to university libraries. So our moments at the Central Library are precious, sometimes few, and not always repeatable. In short, we often don’t have time to wait.
Since we are poets, here is the metaphor: the library in midtown is the heart of the city. To rip out its stacks and “monetize” its space is to say to the world that we have failed as citizens. It is to say that we have nothing left to our lives but luxury condos fueled by the meaningless movements of derivatives and gains and exploitation. It is to say that we are driven only by corporate “strategy” that dehumanizes community and knowledge and creativity, and, exactly opposite to the purpose of a library, destroys connection to the diversities and unpredictability of thought across time, as recorded in the extraordinary existence of books.
Free Software Activist Richard Stallman: NYPL Plan is “Like Ripping Your Feet Off to Make Cudgels to Bash Yourself on the Head”
Richard Stallman, President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GNU/Linux operating system, speaks out about NYPL’s Central Library Plan:
Don’t switch the NYPL to e-books! Typical commercial e-books don’t give people or libraries the same freedoms as a printed book. In ethical terms, they are a big change for the worse. See http://stallman.org/ebooks.pdf for the specifics.
Most commercial e-books are so restrictive that libraries are not even allowed to buy one and then lend it. A self-respecting library should stand firm for its own rights, and readers’ rights. Since e-books trample readers’ freedom, libraries shouldn’t encourage people to read that way.
The NYPL’s proposed Central Library Plan stores millions of books far away, so that there’s a long wait before you can see them. It means chilling surveillance, requiring patrons to identify themselves even to _look at a book in the library_.
The plan would also eliminate two major branch libraries, the Mid-Manhattan and the Science, Industry, and Business Library, to get the money to ruin the 42nd St Library — like ripping your feet off to make cudgels to bash yourself on the head. The Donnell branch, where I borrowed many books when I was in high school, was foolishly destroyed; let’s learn the lesson and do no more such harm.