Barbarians at the Gates of the New York Public Library

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Anyone remember this act of civic vandalism?


Yes, that’s Penn Station, demolished 50 years ago so real estate moguls could make a packet while at the same time creating the globe’s most appalling transport hub.

Or this act of civic vandalism?


(Via Maggie Munoff.)

Yes, that’s the People’s Library in Zucotti Park, bulldozed by Mayor-for-Life “Mike” Bloomberg, because gawd knows we can’t be using public space to experiment with open forms of decision making because who knows where that might lead?*

Well, in a scheme that equals wrecking Penn Station for greed, and wrecking the People’s Library for ignorance and brutality, New York City’s Powers That Be are taking dead aim at the New York Public Library. (Let me immediately caveat that I can’t guide anybody through the intricacies of making real estate sausage, so I’ll present a very simplified 30,000 foot view, which I hope readers, especially Manhattanite readers, will correct. Also, in a total spoiler, I’m less interested in the nefarious dealings of the our elites — and they are as nefarious as those described in the pre-revolutionary Les Liasons Dangereuses — than in the acts of civic engagement that bring those dealings to light and (hopefully) check or even reverse them.)

Letitia James in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle sets the scene:

The usage of New York City’s libraries is way up: 40 percent programmatically, nearly 60 percent in terms of circulation. The public demand for physical books is up too. More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined. Why then are we selling city libraries and shrinking the library system?

Why? Two words: “Real estate.” (And one word: Greed.) The board of the New York Public Libary (NYPL) voted for a Booz Allen deliverable called the Central Library Plan (CPL). (The Nation has a fine exposé of the secretive, anti-democratic process by which the CPL was put in place.) Here’s what the CPL was (was) going to do to the main NYPL building on 42nd Street, the one with the lions (“Patience” and “Fortitude”) that surely you must have been to. Wall Street Journal, August 23:

The planned renovation of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building [the main branch of the NYPL] would remove seven levels of book stacks that until March held millions of volumes from the research collection. In their place, the library plans to construct a new circulating library, replacing the Mid-Manhattan Library as well as the Science, Industry and Business Library.

Library officials have said their plan would solve a number of problems for the institution by replacing a deteriorating branch library, creating safer storage space for books and generating more revenue for staff and book acquisitions.

You don’t (librarians correct me) check books out from a research liibrary; they’re valuable, or one-of-a-kind, and need to be available for scholarly use in near-real time; they’re brought up from “the stacks” on demand, and returned at the end of the day (or placed on reserve). An especially nutty feature of the CPL was that it planned to house millions of books in the NYPL’s research library in New Jersey (hopefully not in a landfill), which defeats the whole purpose of a research library. A circulating library, by contrast, allows people to take books home, like books to read to the kids. Crucially, however, both research and circulating libraries are there to serve the public.**

Except that’s not what the Board believes, and that’s not what the CPL is about. Think spatially:

1. Stacks out and books to New Jersey

2. Mid-Manhattan Library and Science and Science, Industry and Business Library go where the stacks were

3. Freeing up valuable real estate in Manhattan.

From the testimony of professional researcher John Christenson at the New York State Assembly, June 27, 2013; there’s a fun shredding of “Sir” Norman Foster’s nutty concept of an atrium where the rich folks can hold parties, but let’s cut to the meat:

As everyone in this room knows, this whole current plan is really a real estate story, apparently designed to make someone really, really rich while impoverishing the cultural and intellectual texture of the city of New York. …

The successful and ideal profile of the existing Mid-Manhattan building as fulfilling the goals of being a visible, accessible, democratically welcoming center located right on the street compared to the hidden, inaccessible, elitist nature of the proposed plan to move within the Main Building butts up against the reality of the real estate of the Mid-Manhattan building. This prime property is ripe for development. But who would get it? Who is poised to make the big money with its ownership? But more importantly, why should the library give it up since, obviously, they could never be able to recapture such real estate if the nature of libraries changes again at some time in the future. Plus, considering the library’s past failures in successfully getting good prices for the real estate they have already sold, why should they be trusted not to throw this one away as well?

You will see on this map that the building directly adjacent to the Mid-Manhattan building to the east is one of those shaded buildings [targeted for replacement] – 10 East 40th Street. …

10 East 40th Street is owned by a group headed by real estate mogul Larry A. Wohl. Obviously, today if 10 East 40th could be a target for demolition and replacement with a super skyscraper, then a new building that could occupy both 10 East 40th and the Mid-Manhattan building site would make that super skyscraper even more super. I doubt that that observation has escaped Larry Wohl. And he has the money to do it. In addition, Mayor Bloomberg has apparently jumped on the “tear down the Mid-Manhattan building” bandwagon.

(Readers more familiar with the story, do correct me.)

And this wouldn’t be the first time the NYPL has sold of its properties to benefit real estate developers to the detriment both of the public and its own putatively public mission. From Susan Bernofksy, who attended the hearing at which Christenson testified:

The ghost of the Donnell Library hung over the day’s proceedings, a grim specter. This popular five-story library at 20 West 53rd Street – just north of Rockefeller Center, whose architecture it was designed to compliment – was closed in 2008 and sold to a real estate developer that at first planned to put in a hotel but instead, after the financial crisis struck, sold it to a second developer that is in the process of constructing a high-rise condo tower on the property. Part of the deal was that any new development would incorporate a new library into its design. Indeed, a new Donnell library is scheduled to reopen in summer 2014, and it’s going to be located – wait for it – in the basement. The new developers have allocated 28,000 square feet for the library (less than a third the size of the old library – 97,000 sq. ft.) and almost all of this will be distributed among the two basement floors of the building, with only an entryway on ground level So, you’re thinking, clearly this enormous sacrifice of a beloved neighborhood library building must have netted the library system some big bucks, right? Guess again. As came out in yesterday’s hearing, the sale of Donnell brought in a paltry (in real estate terms) $39 million. The penthouse apartment in the new building just sold for more than that.

Mission accomplished! Public good down, private wealth up! Relax, because everything’s going according to plan!

As it turns out, the worst feature of the CPL — the demolition of the stacks — has been ameliorated. Wall Street Journal, August 27:

The New York Public Library, responding to outcry over its plans to demolish century-old book stacks, will this fall unveil a new design that preserves a significant portion of them, its president, Anthony Marx, said Tuesday.

The library disclosed its plans in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal about alternatives it had considered to the $300 million renovation, which has sparked two lawsuits brought by scholars and preservationists, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, aiming to block the stacks’ destruction.

The library still intends to build a new circulating library in the 80,000-square-foot space under the Rose Main Reading Room. But in contrast to renderings released in December, which envisioned a vast atrium, the new design will incorporate the stacks as “a prominent feature,” Mr. Marx said. They would hold the circulating library’s books and be configured in a way that allows patrons to “see and experience” what the stacks were like as originally conceived by the building’s architects, Carrère and Hastings, he said.

Nevertheles, “significant portion” sounds like weasel words to me. And the public purpose of a research library is to serve as a research library, not some sort of tourist trap, or a petting zoo for bibliophiles. You will also notice that the focus on the architecture diverts attention from the real estate deal, with is still in play.

So, since the real fight here is for public purpose, as opposed to the civic vandalism of rentiers, I’ll close with some words from those fighting the fight:

Last Sunday I went to a meeting about what’s in store for the Brooklyn Heights branch. My own favorite lending library, the Donnell on 53rd Street, closed in 2008 to be demolished by a developer who promised to include a library in the new high-rise — a promise as yet unfulfilled. The meeting was crowded with mostly older people hearing the same kind of talk about their library and smelling a rat. “The 42nd Street library isn’t the only library in trouble,” a man said. “It’s the whole library system.” A lady in her seventies told of standing up to Robert Moses and winning. “We’re not gonna watch our libraries be demolished!” she said. “We want the library we have, nothing less! The minute you give in to their conditions you’re finished! You get bupkis!” I sat and listened, and some of what I heard was this:
The city is deliberately underfunding the libraries despite library use being way up. Perfectly good libraries are being labeled ‘Dilapidated’ to justify their destruction. Librarians have been warned to sound enthusiastic if asked about any such plans. The money from the sale of libraries will not go back into the library system, despite what library brass may say. The NYPL has a plan to create a “paperless library” within a few years. The library is public. The developers are private. The public library has always been the most trusted institution in the city, and it must be kept public.

“The minute you give in to their conditions you’re finished! You get bupkis!” What she said. More like this, please.

NOTE * And I’m totally certain that the fact that “Mike” Bloomberg’s live-in girlfriend, Diana L. Taylor, sits on the board of Brookfield Properties, which owns Zucotti Park, has nothing to do with anything, except in the sense that these dense webs of interconnection have everything to do with everything. Especially in New York real estate.

NOTE ** This kind of fight, for public purpose, and public space, and public good, is the flip side of the fight of the food workers for a living wage. Because if they didn’t have to work from dawn ’til dusk they might have a chance to go to the library, as millions of working people have done from the days of The Making of the English Working Class ’til our own era. Note again the demand for phyical books (which, among other things, don’t send your location t the NSA’s server in Utah when you read them).

NOTE Readers, I’d like to follow this story of civic engagement, so if you have more and better resources, please live them in links.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

    Well, AdBusters are such bastards, in their own peculiar way, that they can not even buy air or print in the most left-like mass weak-media …

  2. jjmacjohnson

    Closure of the Brooklyn Heights Library would force patrons far afield to go to the nearest library too.

    The library has a crowd waiting outside at opening every day. The computer area on the first floor is packed all day.

    High School kids use the second floor after school every day plus the children’s section is packed with children and their nannies, it is Brooklyn Heights.

    What a loss this will be.

    1. Ulysses

      Some of the mayoral candidates are addressing this issue at this very moment, in a forum at the Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn. Bill de Blasio seems to care deeply about saving the city libraries. Carolyn McIntyre’s save the NYPL group has put together a great analysis of the dangers of the CPL:

      We hope to have another public library forum with comptroller and public advocate candidates the morning of September 4, details TBA

      Thanks so much for bringing attention to this important issue!

        1. Ulysses

          Yes, the event should start at 10 AM, Wednesday, September 4, and run for about an hour. The location will most likely be the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center, 3940 Broadway, New York City. You can take the A, C or 1 subway to 168th Street to get there.

          It would be great if there was a good turnout of citizens interested in defending public libraries!

      1. Elizabeth

        DeBlasio says whatever he thinks the right answer is. I know. I have a Web site devoted to his double-talk about protecting kids and families. See Tell yourself this can’t happen to you if you’re white and middle class. Not yet, anyway. But when it does, Bill will be standing there, saying he deplores it, wants to investigate it, blah blah blah, and then doing nothing.

        1. Ms G

          Well, one could have a website with the doublespeak of *all* the current mayoral candidates, e.g., Ms. Guinn, Mr. Thompson, and Mr. Weiner.

          I hope this wasn’t an attempt to insert electioneering regarding the upcoming mayoral election in NYC into the thread.

            1. Ulysses

              A podcast of yesterday’s mayoral candidates’ forum in Brooklyn on the NYPL is now available here: http:/ Forum Libraries 130830.mp3

              Quite interesting!

      1. Ms G

        Yes, exactly. And Cooper was founded on a charter guaranteeing (requiring) a free education. Just an indication of how brazenly lawless looting elites have become at this point.

        Similar, the Metropolitan Museum scandal. Its founding documents require free admission in perpetuity. There has always been a recommended donation at the booths (where they no longer give those great colored pins with the “M” – because austerity). In recent times, however, it turns out the booth attendants were being ordered to tell people there was a $25 admission fee and there were bonuses for those who got visitors to pay and retribution for those who did not. True story. And despite the Board/Trustee’s protestations that “we’ve been doing it so it’s fine” it embarassingly transpired there was actually a legal document banning the charging of mandatory admission. Despite the over-paid white shoe lawyers that were parroting the Board’s lies to the public!

        I’m wondering what the founding documents of the NYPL say about the obligations of the trustees and the board and the core-missions of the institution. [Quite aside from mendacious arguments by the current trustees and/or board and/or director regarding alleged financial dire straits requiring the de-accessioning of NYPL’s core missions and the buildings where these must be carried out.]

  3. Paul Handover

    Can’t comment specifically on the situation but left with a great sadness about yet another aspect of the greed and corruption of today’s world.

    I’m a Brit. living in Oregon. Home as a young boy was North-West London, near Wembley. Wembley library was in the Town Hall building, a bicycle ride away. My great love of books today has its roots in that library. Still obsessed with the feel of a lovely paper book.

    Strange times!

  4. Sleeper

    This happening all over not just in NY, although of course NYC is the center of the universe.

    Is it perhaps to shut folks off from centers of knowledge especially those folks with limited means.

    1. QWR

      Indeed. Greed is the smokescreen of choice whenever the U.S. establichment gets up to something particualalry nasty. Cf. redlining.

      I’d say this is of a piece with the proliferation of paywall blocking access to academic papers, and the draconian escaltion of penalties for copyright infringement. Something else I’ve long noticed: there are tens (hundreds?) of thousands of hours of archived public TV programs going back decades. Think of all the daily news reports, Current data storage and delivery platforms allow all of it to be made available to the public for a relative pittance. Yet pratically none of it is available. Why?

    2. sandy m

      I’m envisioning how those plans to put a public library in expensive condo buildings will play out. Will working/poor library users be hustled out of view or hassled over their very presence in that vicinity?

    3. sandy m

      I’m envisioning how those plans to put a public library in expensive condo buildings will play out. Will working/poor library users be hustled out of view or hassled over their very presence in that vicinity?

  5. Moneta

    I just spent the summer giving my daughter weekly dictations which I forced her to write in cursive.

    Why? She’s going into high school without ever having learned cursive.

    Most parents think I’m nuts and that kids do not need to learn cursive because technology will make paper and pens obsolete. They might be right, but IMO, the need for cursive will not disappear in one single decade.

    Nothing wrong with refining gross motor skills.

    My guess is that, over time, we’ll probably en up with internet libraries served by warehouses located in cheap real estate areas. And research libraries will be completely separate.

    1. Jerry Dunaway

      Good for you! I learned to write cursive in the early seventies (grade school), and I still use it. Sometimes it’s a bit sloppy when in a hurry, and if I want to make sure people can read it, I either write slowly or print architect-style. But either way, I think cursive writing expresses some of your personality. Sometimes I find older notes I wrote and they seem to “have my voice.”

      And don’t EVEN get me started on the atrocious spelling these days. My daughters told me they weren’t even correcting spelling when they were in high school or grade school, that the teachers were more interested in letting them express their thoughts. As for that, all I can say is WTF???

    1. Lambert Strether

      I read an article about the Bibliotechue National by IIRC Adam Gopnik. It’s not an experience to be emulated. I believe he connects it to the same impulse of official France that puts the pompier art on prominent display on the first floor of the Musee D’Orsay and then jams the impressionists up in a crowded attic.

      Light and air breed crimethink!

      1. Ms G

        I missed Gopnik’s article, but as someone who spent many, many hours doing archival research at the old BN on rue Richelieu in the 1980s (an experience that I am now so incredibly grateful to have had), and as someone who recently saw the Brasilia-style complex that is the “new” (for some definition of an iteration) BN — your phrase about space and air breed crimethink is spot on. The Brasilia BN (TM) is nothing but giant open spaces enclosed by steel or glass with enormous concourses (filled with shops, like an airport) and triple-cathedral “ceilings” of nothingness. Alienating beyond belief, and not a place that inspired in me any desire to enter the actual library facilities. It was impossible to find the exhibition about Casanova — no useful signage — almost as though the intent is to have people wandering lost in nothingness at the scale of half an ant versus the UN building.

        Not to mention that one does not exit the library into rue Richelieu and the warren of pre=Haussmanian rues and places and narrow sidewalks and old stone buildings, but rather into an outdoor no-man-land that’s so cold (in spirit) one fairly races to the metro sign looking forward to the human contact and human-scale space that it offers.

        1. mary

          Ms. G, your description of the “Brasilia BN” sounds like spending an hour between flights at de Gaulle airport !!

  6. Ms G

    Deferring to Lambert’s desire not to emphasize the role of the elites in this matter, I nevertheless would like to add a detail to the Nation piece’s reference to how the “Board” found $8 million quickly in response to early protests, to fund additional shelving *in* the NYPL for books that would then not have to be shipped to New Jersey.

    It was specifically two members of the Board — Abby Milstein and her husband, a real estate mogul of New York City — who quicly “found” the $8 million “in their pockets” and offered them up *in response to the protest* (to quiet down the little obstruction) which lends some perspective here, as the Board is merely a collection of individual very wealthy New Yorkers who do not lack for funds to maintain the NYPL exactly as it is — but for the fact that its “transformation” into an “architectural icon” and the reading room into a “stunning internet cafe” (for tourists) is their main desire — hobbys of the 1% and all that.

    “Library officials last spring came under an onslaught of criticism from scholars and writers opposed to the idea of shifting nearly 3 million books from the Stephen A. Schwarzman building to a storage facility in Princeton, N.J. The books’ relocation was part of a $300 million plan to consolidate three libraries into one. The redesign by British architect Norman Foster would create a vast new circulating library inside the Schwarzman building, replacing seven stories of stacks that overlook Bryant Park and are closed to the public.

    Library trustee Abby Milstein and her husband, Howard Milstein, long-time supporters of the library, will fund the expansion of an existing storage area under the park by 30,000 square-feet–enough to accommodate 1.5 million more volumes.

    As a result, 3.3 million of the building’s 4.5 million volumes will remain on site. Under the revised plan approved Wednesday by the library’s board of trustees, 1.2 million books are still set to move to Princeton. Nearly all of those books are available in digital form, library president Anthony Marx said.”

    1. Ms G

      Note. Of course the main purpose behind this transfer of the NYPL from New York to private real estate developers is, indeed (as Lambert highlights), the main purpose driving this grotesque operation.

    2. Lambert Strether

      IIRC, Mayor-for-Life Michael “Mike” Bloomberg personally gifted Princeton with $350 million in the same time period as this story. The NYPL only needed $250 million to repair its “dilapidated” facilities. Pass the Victory gin.

      1. ginnie nyc

        Interesting. Princeton is also where NYPL has parked many of the scientific books formerly housed in the SIBL (Science, Information and Business Library) on 34th Street.

        I would also like to comment re: Mid-Manhattan circulating library. That branch was deliberately starved of funds starting at least 5 years ago, to the extent that no new books on popular medicine were purchased after 2008. Indeed, books that I knew were formerly in the those stacks could no longer be found. When I questioned some of the library staff (clerks, not librarians) they told me that many books had been THROWN OUT in preparation for the closing of the branch (which was stymied in the interim). I was so shocked, I asked what was done with them. The fellow surmised they went into giant dumpsters that he had seen in the back. Why didn’t they sell them, or give them to the public, I cried. He looked down at his feet.

        I’m not making this **** up.

        1. craazyman

          they could spruce that place up a little bit for sure. It’s kind of got that tired fluorescent lights and 1970s furniture feel to it.

          But I will tell you this. If the mental world goes digital, and it’s just a party room for turds in tuxedos left in the aftermath of a cognitively catastrophic destruction, it’s over.

          There’s no way I would ever have found Patrick Harpur’s DAEMONIC REALITY, which scare me at least half way to death, if it hadn’t been for the mid-manhattan library and the stacks where I was wandering one day, guided by the providential hand that is only comprehended after a long series of events reveal its eternal form and influence

          Sometimes the physicality of things makes such a difference it’s hard to even realize. Just to wander someplace with your legs and your arms moving and to watch things move with your eyes as your head moves. It’s not a screen. It’s real. And there’s something in the touch of things that you can never virtualize.

          I never would have found that book if it was surfing on the web. Never. I never would have realized just what things really are. Now I know. Faaaak. It’s not what you think, I guarantee you that. if you want to scare yourself half way to death then read that book. But if you don’t have Xanax or a place to lay down and order food delivery while you are incapacitated from shock so badly you can’t function, then don’t read it. I don’t want to be blamed for anything that happens if you take my suggestion seriously.

          1. craazyboy

            Sorry to break this to ya craazy, but Patrick Harpur is a fraud. I’m now one third of the way thru the 1200pg. work by Roger Zelazny, “The Great book of Amber”. Zelazny began writing it in 1972, 20 years before Harpur,one short story at a time in chronological order.

            Amber is known as real Earth and is ruled by a royal family with superhuman powers. They believe Amber casts “shadows” of the real Earth where any alternate probability version of real Earth can be found. They have the power to “walk the shadows” by mentally adding or subtracting details of their perceptions of real earth, Amber. They believe that the extension of their psyche molds the shadows into a “reality” of their choice.

            They have founds limits to how far they can travel in shadow – because when they subtract nearly all they know to be true in Amber – Insanity is what remains. This IS a spooky place. Beyond Insanity they can sense a place they can only describe as Chaos.

            There is a complex story that goes along with this. I’ll skip that part and right now I’m at a part in the book where the Royal Prince just became aware that hideous, evil things are emerging from Chaos, crossing Insanity and headed for Amber with total destruction of Amber in mind. But no one in the Royal Family caused the shadow world to change this way, and that has shattered their fundamental world view of how things work.

            Have to keep reading to find out what happens next.

        2. Lillybeth0

          Not altogether true. The books were not thrown out. Not the ones with a modicum of value. They were sold to Blogistics, company that took over the role library books sales used to serve. As far as he library was/is concerned, it’s expedient, neat, and efficient. But I agree, it’s vile.

      2. Ms G

        I belive the $350M was to Johns Hopkins (“Mike”‘s undergrad school), but yes, exactly. Highlighting the math [$350 to Hopkins versus $250 to prevent the fire sale of the NYPL to real estate developers) is powerful in this case. Thank you.

        (In a similar vein, Mr. Bloombergdonated $10M (that we know of) for a new hospital in Israel at the same time that he supported the demolition of St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village so that one of his close friends the Rudin Real Estate Family, key members of NYC’s oligarchy) could erect luxury condominiums where hundreds of thousands of patients used to receive necssary medical care.)

  7. OIFVet

    These f***ers operate from the same playbook, don’t they? In Chicago Rahm Emanuel’s first target upon taking office were the public libraries. Then came the public schools. Because budget “deficits” have to be dealt with even as the mayor diverts hundreds of millions in property tax revenues from public institutions and gives it to rich developers like the Pritzker family to build property tax exempt hotels employing temp labor at minimum wages. And all the valuable public school real estate? Well, with the 50+ schools he shut down this year you bet some poor billionaires will help themselves to choice land at “friends of the mayor” prices. Because socialism is bad unless it benefits the rich. Hope New Yorkers will be more effective fighting off this madness than Chicagoans have been.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Well spotted. The playbook is exactly the point. It’s well thumbed, and they’ve all got copies. We, however, do not have copies and have to reverse engineer the plays out of events.

      More examples?

      1. Dugs

        More examples? the country’s major symphony orchestras, where the governing elites in many cases have neglected their role as stewards/conservators, opting instead for bungled financial legerdemain (Philadelphia Orchestra, the current Minnesota Orchestra lockout) or outright Gucci-jackbooted union-busting (Minnesota Orchestra an excellent case study). The MO story is particularly egregious, with banksters a majority on the board, the orchestra president making a comfortable 6-figure salary, and demands of musician salary cuts from 30 to 50 percent, while an expensive renovation of the orchestra hall continues. (With great fanfare the Board asked George Mitchell to mediate, but didn’t like his proposal, and sent him away with a pat on the bum, then re-submitted an old, already rejected proposal to the musicians). Orchestra board and management seem to be consciously chain-sawing the MO down from a world-class institution into a third-rate regional orchestra; but their published “vision” is so full of corporate bafflegab it’s difficult to know what their desired end-state is.

        I’m afraid the caliber of our ‘elites’ is swirling down the drain at this point. They really do want it all.

        More here, if you can stand to read it:

    2. Ms G

      With the Post Office or, more specifically, the beautiful historic USPS building across the country (including in New York), it’s the same playbook too.

      Playbook (short version): Cry “no funds” publicly and then quietly funnel “noncore assets” (the buildings where an entity conducts business – ?!#!) to private cronies.

      1. OIFVet

        Absolutely, thank you for adding the post office. I managed to overlook their many juicy properties. The old post office building in downtown Chicago is slated for redevelopment into million dollar lofts.

        1. prostratedragon

          Hear tell that the P.O. boxes have been removed from the Federal Plaza branch (Mies-designed modernist, which works quite well for that type of building imo, and site decorated by a wonderful Calder stabile) and shipped off to a far less accessible branch.

          Can’t have hoi polloi enjoying a little uplift during their daily rounds, can we?

  8. Dugs

    “Library trustee Abby Milstein and her husband, Howard Milstein, long-time supporters of the library,…”

    Now stop right there. You’re not a “supporter” of anything, if your bounden purpose is to turn it into an expression of your own frickin EGO. As a regular user of the NYPL system, I’ve been whipsawed by funding crisis after funding crisis, stuffed my share of “save the library” letters into the mail, and watched the richest city in the country cheat its lower and middle classes by shortening library hours and cutting staff, to make up for “shortfalls” that these rich slugs are more than happy to make up when they need to build monuments to their preening selves.

    Ugh. I thank you Lambert for the original post, and thanks for the links too–I had not particularly had a sense of urgency about NYC’s mayoral race until this post alerted me to how crucial a mayor could be to keep our libraries from being turned into what the Donnell Library became…but I sure do now.

    1. Ms G

      “Now stop right there. You’re not a “supporter” of anything, if your bounden purpose is to turn it into an expression of your own frickin EGO.”

      Very well said.

  9. casino implosion

    Anyone who wants to see how a civilized nation does libraries need only hop a cheap POrter Airlines flight to Toronto YTZ and catch a cab to the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street.

    It’ll make you ashamed to be an American.

    1. Lambert Strether

      One of the links contrasts the secretive CPL plan with the open process of the Seattle Public Library. I visited there once and it was a glorious space, humming with activity.

      Full disclosure: My very first job was shelving books at my public library, for 25 cents an hour! They figured that I knew where all the books were anyhow… Hence, my interest in classification, indexing.

    2. Qrt

      Though the numerous security guards with bizarre pseudo-Texan uniforms constantly milling aroung and glowering randomly at patrons are hardly an encouraging sign. You’d find less prominent security at a typical nuclear missle silo or prison mess hall. (The guards are even more prominent at the North York central library–they seem to outnumber actual the librarians there by a goodly margin.)

      On more than one occasion I’ve seen a patron ask a librarian for advice only for the librarian to turn and ask a guard what library policy was.

      1. Ms G

        Are these pseudo Texas Highway police types milling in the reading rooms at 42d street?!

        This must be a recent “innovation” by LeClerc or Marx (care of “Mike” Bloomberg who happens to have his own (NYPD) army).

        This is horrendous. They should be immediately redeployed never to return.

  10. mary

    Geez that photo of Penn Station gave me a real heartache. How I would have loved to be able to go there…

  11. darms

    Note again the demand for phyical books (which, among other things, don’t send your location t the NSA’s server in Utah when you read them).

    + 100

  12. margarets

    Great post. Now I’m wondering if real estate development has anything to do with the Ford brothers’ efforts to close libraries here in Toronto. It probably does. As a lifelong diehard library user, I think this SUCKS! In NYC or anywhere else. Grrr.

  13. Ms G

    “And so the NYPL decided, in the words of David Offensend, its powerful chief operating officer, on a plan of action that entailed the “monetizing of non-core assets.” (The other pillars of the strategy included the strengthening of the NYPL’s digital presence, “encouraging innovation” and “securing the Library’s financial future.”)”

    We can safely conclude that the only “non-core assets” at the New York Public Library have been Messrs. Le Clerc and “Tony” Marx, the Board, the sitting Mayor and the Booz Allen firm.

    It’s very clear, therefore, what assets need to be de-accessioned.

    Thank you for listening, Next Mayor of New York.

  14. Kate

    ….on the street where the Donnell used to live….has MOMA destroyed the American Museum of Folk Art bldg already? culture czars and real estate czars…any difference? during a year of Manhattan unemployment I spent many happy hours at NYPL on 42nd street reading through back copies of Radical History Review…except for the slap and crank of the xerox machine the periodical reading room was wonderfully quiet (which I treasured, never having learned to love reading on the subway)…so, NJ does prove to be the capital of New York, with the heft of the research library coming its way….grinning idiots of greed…love the glimpse of the Hardy poems you can see in the people’s library photo…..and don’t get started on the earlier loss of many good used book stores…Dauber and Pine, Academy, Tompkins Square, others…does the ghost of Joseph Cornell still haunt Fourth Avenue? I think yes, more likely there than MOMA. Holy Corporate Empires! what a mean mess….

  15. Ms G

    Always interesting to know the background of prime movers in an endeavor of this scope.

    From the Nation article:

    “Second, librarians must be involved in library policy. The NYPL’s staff was mostly excluded from the conception and execution of the CLP, and excessive power was concentrated in the hands of two men with no library training, both of whom provided continuity between the LeClerc and Marx regimes: Marshall Rose and David Offensend.”

    David Offensend (CFO) was an asset stripper (owner of a private equity company, Evercore) and worked as investment advisor for The Bass Family in Texas.

    “David Offensend co-founded Evercore Partners Inc. in 1995 and co-heads its investment business. Evercore makes private equity investments in established businesses as well as early stage venture capital investments. In addition, the firm provides merger and acquisition advice to leading companies like Dow Jones, EDS, and General Mills; and restructuring advice to financially distressed companies and their creditors.

    Prior to founding Evercore, Mr. Offensend spent five years in the investment organization of Robert M. Bass, a Texas investor. Mr. Offensend was responsible for the leveraged acquisitions portfolio of Acadia Partners, L.P., a New York-based, $1.8 billion investment partnership. Before he joined the Bass organization in 1990, Mr. Offensend was employed by Lehman Brothers for 13 years. During this time he was responsible for founding and building the firm’s merchant banking operations, and ultimately served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the $1.3 billion Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking Partnership.”

    Marshall Rose (Chairman Emeritus of NYPL Board). “Real Estate magnate and philanthropist.”

    This helps to explain the 2 prongs of the CLP: (1) strip assets of great public institution that belongs to everyone (by calling them “non core assets”) and (2) give them for wampums to crony RE magnate.

  16. Jim A

    “Yeah, “substantial portion” sounds like about 20%. And it sounds like they’re being used primarily as a decoration for the function space.

  17. mitchw

    I’ve recently used the main branch for research. The new deal is that for some books you may have to request that they be hauled in from New Jersey. All this means is that you log in online and see if you’re going to have to wait a day or so for the books to be held for your arrival. Before, you’d show up on the top floor and hand in a slip for a book which would show up in a half hour. I’m not complaining, even though I’m careful to seat myself in the reading room so I don’t have to constantly see tourists gawking at the splendor of scholarship. So exciting!

  18. Disgusted

    Calling New York City voters:

    JOBSforNewYork is a PAC set up by the Real Estate Board of New York to elect developer-friendly Council members backed by the real estate industry. It seems the PAC has raised $10 million to pack the NYC City Council with developer- friendly NYC council members who will vote in their favor on matters of real estate. How can we compete with money like that? So, this could be end game, say goodbye to the New York City assets.

    For example: Lauri Cumbo, who is running for Letitia James’ City Countil seat, is one of the real estate industry-backed City Council candidates that they are trying to pack the City COuncil with. Her campaign is lavish and extremely well-funded. She could be the front runner (big money-backed candidates are always front runners because they have the money to create the most name recognition, and the NY press does not attack them).

    So, PLEASE CHECK IF THE CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE YOU INTEND TO VOTE FOR HAS MAJOR CONTRIBUTIONS from JOBSforNewYORK BEFORE YOU VOTE FOR THEM!!!! I think you may be able to check campaign contributions on Campaign Finance Board. Please share this info.

  19. Pam

    Wonderful post to read on Labor Day, spurring readers to get involved – we must fight to keep public space public because it will never return once privatized!

    Sign the relevant petitions & get involved – info on links.
    These groups are working most actively on the NYPL and library onslaught by developers and city officials; they work in tandem.

    Citizens Defending Libraries has been fighting closures and sellloffs of many branches, and the entire NYPL boondoggle. This petition is at 13,000 and zooming – please share!

    This group focuses on NYPL deal only, and is led by scholars, but anyone may sign.

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