It started under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who put so much of New York City’s public space up for sale …. er, “development”.
Whether it was community gardens, the City’s water supply under Rudy Giuliani, public hospitals, parks, housing, public radio, prisons, or public libraries, NYC’s 3-term billionaire Mayor prettified the theft of public resources by calling it “public-private partnerships”. The Manhattan Institute — a reactionary “think tank” shaping public policy — presented “partnerships” as its preferred model, enabling the privatization of all sorts of publicly owned projects under the guise of “improving” them.
And so went the Donnell Library, the 2nd biggest library in the NY Public Library system with — prior to 2008, when it was shut down and slated for demolition — 300,000 books and heavy-duty research facilities. As the Committee to Save the NY Public Library wrote in 2012:
The Donnell Library appears to be a model for how the NYPL plans to “transform” libraries (including the Mid-Manhattan), selling off the real-estate and shrinking them into much smaller spaces designed for socializing rather than learning.
The much-loved Donnell was an oasis of light and air, and featured an exceptional children’s library along with outstanding foreign language and audio-visual collections. It was sold to developers for a pittance and demolished in 2009. As [NY Times architectural critic Michael] Kimmelman writes,
Across West 53rd Street from MoMA, the Donnell Library Center, a long-shuttered branch of the New York Public Library, is scheduled to reopen late next year at the same spot but in the bowels of a new luxury hotel, at a third of its former size, with wide bleacher seating and steps as the main feature.
“More like a cultural space, which is about gathering people, giving people the opportunity to encounter each other,” is how the library’s architect, Enrique Norten, describes the plan.
It’s all the same flimflam: flexible spaces to accommodate to-be-named programming, the logic of real estate developers hiding behind the magical thinking of those who claim cultural foresight. It almost never works.
When the old Donnell — now renamed the 53rd St. Library — re-opened last week down the block from the new Museum of Modern Art, it was a shell of its former shelf, to coin a phrase. The library was now in the two basement floors of a giant luxury tower. As Citizens Defending Libraries puts it:
• The former Donnell held at least 300,000 books when the NYPL closed it (that’s by the NYPL’s own admission, we think it once held many more). The “replacement” has 20,000 books.
• The former Donnell was 97,000 square feet. The “replacement,” just over one-quarter that, 28,000 square feet.
• The former Donnell was five stories above ground, much of it newly renovated, like the new teen center and state of the art media center. It also had a marvelous new below ground auditorium. The “replacement,” is largely underground and largely book-less. The “replacement” has no media center, no teen center, no equivalent auditorium.
• The children’s room is in the basement of the “replacement,” not so the old Donnell.
The City is reported to have been paid either $59 million (the original figure) or $67 million (a new figure, reflecting some fancy footwork and bookkeeping) for the rights to knock down the old library and build their luxury condo. The penthouse is now on the market for $54+ million alone, and apartments on the upper floors are going for $23 million, each.
I looked around the new library and was struck by the relative absence of books, lack of “stacks”, and the sterility of the children’s reading room.
Here’s a report I filed on the re-opening after 8 years of the Donnell Library, and the protest outside of it.
And, as I said, this “public-private partnership” has now become the model for all library improvements throughout the City. A big fight is underway in Brooklyn Heights, where Bloomberg’s scheme is now being driven by Mayor Bill deBlasio. Brooklyn’s second most popular library (containing a major business library and other research facilities) has been stripped of all its books and only a fierce movement among library defenders stands between the historic structure and the wrecking ball, with the Sunset Park library and others to follow suit.
Here is the seventh in an ongoing series of reports in which I trace the sale of the Brooklyn Heights library and the burgeoning scandal. In this segment I interview Marilyn Berkon of Citizens Defending Libraries. The group has requested that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara investigate Hudson Inc. and its CEO, David Kramer’s, “pay to play” donations to Mayor deBlasio’s slush fund in exchange for winning the bid on the Brooklyn Heights public library property. The report aired June 28, 2016 on WBAI radio‘s Morning Show co-hosted by Michael G. Haskins and Pam Brown.
• Report #1: City Council Subcommittee hearing, by Mitchel Cohen, November 18, 2015.
• Report #2: Interview with City Council member Steve Levin About Selling off the Libraries, by Mitchel Cohen, November 30, 2015. This includes Steve Levin’s denial that a compromise deal was in the offing. It also include the story (activism and Domino project related) he met his wife.
• Report #3: Gathering Outside Councilman Steve Levin’s Office evening BEFORE the City Council vote, by Mitchel Cohen, December 9, 2015. This includes a street performance of Judy Gorman’s Library Song.
• Report #4: on Citizens Defending Libraries Gathering AFTER the City Council vote, by Mitchel Cohen, December 10, 2015. This includes Councilman Mark Treyger explaining councilmen votes, Norman Savitt’s testimony before the City Council, and discussion of Stephen Levin sellout of community.
• Report #5: WBAI News: In the news tonight the New York City Council agrees to sell of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Linda Perry anchor, Mitchel Cohen reporting, December 16, 2015 (Library story starts at: 3:24) This segment includes Councilman Steve Levin being confronted in the City Hall rotunda over his betrayal of the community and the lack of transparency he promoted.
• Report #6: Press conference at Brooklyn Boro Hall, Mitchel Cohen, March 1, 2016.
• Report #7: interview with Marilyn Berkon of Citizens Defending Libraries. The group has requested that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara investigate Hudson Inc.’s “pay to play” Brooklyn Heights public library sale. The report aired June 28, 2016 on WBAI radio‘s Morning Show co-hosted by Michael G. Haskins and Pam Brown.
• Report #8: Report from the re-opening of the 53rd St. Library (formerly the Donnell library), and the protest outside of it, including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer; vice-chair of the Committee to Save the NY Public Library Theodor Gruenwald; economist Keat Foong, of Citizens Defending Libraries; and Marty Rajendron, of the Raging Grannies.
• Report #9: Interview with economist Lynne Ellsworth, award-winning preservationist who calls it “hogwash” that the City says it has nowhere else to turn for needed funds except to real estate developers. In conversation with Mitchel Cohen, June 11th, 2016.
• WBAI “The Morning Show”: Michael G. Haskins Interviews Citizens Defending Libraries Co-Founders Michael D. D. White and Carolyn E. McIntyre, January 7, 2016 (interview, the last 1/2 hour about 3/4ths through the two hour show was broadcast at 7:30 AM). Jillian Jonas helped in arranging this interview.
• WBAI “The Morning Show”: Michael G. Haskins Interviews Citizens Defending Libraries Co-Founders Michael D. D. White and Carolyn E. McIntyre, June 17, 2016 (interview, the last 1/2 hour about 3/4ths through the two hour show was broadcast at 7:30 AM). (Link to downloadable file.) Hear about the latest NYPL for sale, the so-called Donnell “replacement,” litigation, the federal criminal investigation, how NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman should be taking action to save the public from the loss of the Brooklyn Heights and other libraries. Jillian Jonas helped in arranging this interview.
• WBAI “Behind The News with Nellie Bailey”: Selling NYC Libraries With Michael D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries and Laurie Frey of Love Brooklyn Libraries!, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 5:00 pm. (This is a full one-hour interview after the vote of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the Brooklyn Borough Board.)
|Nellie Hester Bailey on right, Laurie Frey of Love Brooklyn Libraries! on left|