Group seeks library sale moratorium
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Library supporters across New York City plan to make their voices heard at a City Council oversight hearing on Monday. The topic of the 1 p.m. hearing, held by the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, is “capital construction needs and the potential disposal of libraries in New York City.”
The Pacific branch in Boerum Hill and the Brooklyn Heights branch of Brooklyn Public Library are two of the city’s libraries facing sale and redevelopment, along with the Central Library in Manhattan, which faces Draconian shrinkage, and the Mid-Manhattan and Science Industry and Business Libraries, which face closure. (The Pacific branch has received a reprieve through the efforts of City Council Member Letitia James.)
The Donnell Library, sold in 2007, is being shrunk by more than two-thirds, from 97,000 to 28,000 square feet. The New York Public Library is netting only $39 million from the sale, while the penthouse in the skyscraper replacing the library is priced at $60 million.
Citizens Defending Libraries (CDL), a group pushing for a moratorium on library sales, says the deals appear to be structured to benefit the developers rather than the public.
More than 13,000 people have signed CDL’s online MoveOn.org petition protesting the sales, and the overall defunding of the city’s libraries.
“Proposals to sell-off the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific library branches mean that Monday’s oversight hearing is an important one for the people of the 33rd District,” said City Councilman Stephen Levin, who represents Brooklyn Heights and parts of Greenpoint, Boerum Hill, Park Slope and other areas. “I encourage everyone to make their voice heard about the need for excellent libraries in our communities by attending or submitting testimony.”
BPL says it needs to sell the valuable Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill properties because years of budget cuts. The sale of the Heights’ property “is intended to generate capital funds that can be invested in other BPL facilities to help address $300 million in deferred maintenance across the borough,” BPL said in a statement.
Josh Nachowitz, BPL’s VP of Government and Community Relations said at a February 28 meeting of a library steering committee that BPL wanted to move quickly. “Sometime this year we hope to identify development partners, and enter a contract before the end of this administration.” on Monday, a BPL spokesperson said that while the library would not be locking in a contract before the end of the Brooklynberg administration, BPL expects to announce its selected developer in December.
Library user Justine Swartz says she is upset that the Business Library, which currently shares the building with the Brooklyn Heights branch, will be moved to Grand Army Plaza, far from its user base and inaccessible to the handicapped.
In a statement she has submitted to the City Council, Swartz says, “I have filed a complaint with the ADA. The Grand Army Plaza library is not assessable by subway for the handicapped. There are no elevators at that stop. I am the voice for those who can't make it into the library because of their physical restrictions. I have trouble with my knee and climbing the subway stairs now is agony.”
Swartz says that while she is fortunate enough to be able to afford a car service if multiple staircases are involved, many people are not. “They won't be able to enjoy free career development classes, computers and WiFi,” along with help from librarians, books, DVDs and more, she said. “It's a hardship being handicapped and closing down my library in Cadman Plaza is heartless and wrong.”
She wrote some of her complaints as a rap poem. It reads in part,
"Pusillanimous politicians are craven when they destroy our children’s safe haven.
Pacific Street Library’s Girl Scout troop will have no meeting place.
Developers plan on stealing their space.
What a disgrace."
The hearing will be held beginning at 1 p.m. at 250 Broadway (across from City Hall Park and next to the Woolworth Building) in Manhattan, in the 16th Floor Committee Room. If you have any questions, please call Ms. Thompson at 212-788-7348 or 718-875-5200. Please arrive a half hour early (12:30 p.m.) to go through security, and bring valid photo ID with you.
Updated Sept. 30 with word from a BPL spokesperson that the library expects to announce a developer in December.