BPL’s Johnson Goes to City Hall, Hat In Hand

Yesterday morning at City Hall in Manhattan, Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, joined fellow executives Anthony Marx of the New York Public Library and Bridget Quinn-Carey of the Queens Library to petition the New York City City Council for $65 million in fiscal year 2015 funding for their three organizations.

While increased support for NYC libraries is not a tough sell—before the collected library leaders made their pitch to the Council Committee on Libraries they presented a poignant video on the positive impact of local libraries—the reality is that Ms. Johnson’s task is far more difficult than her fellow petitioners for City money. Besides millions in additional operating funds, the BPL’s chief decision maker made clear that her organization seeks an additional $82 million in funding for emergency infrastructure repairs to the system’s 60 branches.

In a prepared statement Ms. Johnson mentioned that she is petitioning Mayor de Blasio, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and state officials for emergency funding “to help stabilize BPL’s rapidly deteriorating physical plant.”

While the focus of her presentation was to secure funds for 200 more librarians, expanded programming, and more Sunday branch openings, Ms. Johnson was dogged by questions about potential sales of BPL sites.

Public Advocate Letitia James—who previously represented the 35th Council District in Brooklyn—made an appearance and had pointed questions about why the Library has assessed the potential sale of all properties in its system.

This assessment is a prudent way to “make the best use of our resources in regards to where our libraries are located,” answered Ms. Johnson, who added: “In the case where a particular library has significant value, we [are open to] leveraging that value in order to take care of that branch but also those branches in the system that don’t have intrinsic value but could benefit greatly from investment in the infrastructure there.”

Ms. Johnson said that there is not an overall real estate plan for all the branches, and that the Library has no intention of selling its Pacific Branch, the first Carnegie Library built in Brooklyn. Rather, BPL seeks a partner to provide funding for $9 million in capital repairs so as to make this branch, which is not ADA compliant, accessible to all library patrons.

About the Pacific branch, Johnson remarked that “we will preserve that beautiful building” but lamented that the building’s condition “keeps us all up at night.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso of the 34th District, based primarily in Williamsburg, questioned the biggest variable in a proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights library site: how much is BPL’s most marketable asset worth?

Hewing to what has been a consistent policy, Ms. Johnson declined to reveal what the city-owned property might be worth, saying that the price will be determined by fair market value. The Library’s president also touted that the sale will result in a state of the art library to replace the existing branch, currently located in “a poorly laid out and uninspiring building.”

Brad Lander, District 39 Council Member whose district includes Cobble Hill, opened by affirming his support for the Brooklyn Heights library sale. He then went on to chide BPL for its lack of organizational planning.

“Can you start to imagine what the system will be if you’re able to come up with some additional resources?” said Lander. “What’s the process for being smart, thoughtful and strategic in how you plan and efficient in how you spend?”

“A significant problem that we have right now is that… we have limited resources to deal with very large problems,” admittted Ms. Johnson.

“In a perfect world I think we’d get through [this capital shortfall] and that’s why we’ve asked for this emergency funding…. If we can get the emergencies taken care of then we could actually come up with a much better system and plan to address remaining [problems].”

In yet another remark about the Brooklyn Heights library proposal, Ms. Johnson said that the deal “will yield a pot of money” to address BPL’s numerous capital needs while adding: “The need in the building is great but the need in the community is greater.”

Earlier in the session, Ms. Johnson revealed what BPL’s weak financial position and backlog of capital repairs means for her organization.

“Really what we need to do is to create inspiring spaces. Unfortunately, until we have safe spaces we can’t get there.”

PHOTO: BPL President Linda E. Johnson flanked by Tony Marx of the NYPL and Bridget Quinn-Carey of the Queens Library.

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  • marshasrimler

    this is the first step in Brad Lander destroying his mayoral aspirations.. library lovers and whose who are morally against the sale of public assists will defeat him. he is a progressive phony

  • marshasrimler

    And where was my friend Stephen Levin on this?

  • Michael D. D. White

    Here is a chicken and the egg question: A.) Are we being told that BPL president Linda Johnson is looking at the “the potential sale of all properties” in the BPL system because there is a shortfall of available funds, OR B.) are we being told that there is a shortfall of funds because Linda Johnson is looking at the “the potential sale of all properties” in the BPL system?

    Hint: Libraries, heavily used, cost virtually nothing to fund in the overall scheme of things, especially in terms of their economic and other value to the city. They are just a small fraction of the city’s budget.

    Do we think that realtor Johnson really doesn’t want to sell and shrink all her libraries? Off in another corner of the media pitching to techies, Ms. Johnson is enthusiastically describing her vision of a different BPL system that will change “the focal point . . away from books” with “smaller libraries serving neighborhoods.”

    Says Johnson:

    “many of the books will need to be stored off-site, where they can be preserved in more favorable conditions. Visitors who still wish to get a book from the library will be able to request it and have it delivered within 24 hours.”

    Even if this were a good thing (which it isn’t), if this new arrangement is foisted upon us by those who would wield this power, the consoling promise that we will get particular absent books back within 24 hours upon request is not likely to be honored. Recently requested books have taken up to eleven days to be delivered, and that’s if they are not reported as missing entirely.

    Councilman Brad Lander defended Linda Johnson yesterday telling us that he absolutely didn’t see Johnson as using the same play book as the NYPL, but doesn’t this statement about removing books from the libraries to preserve them “in more favorable conditions” sound exactly like what the NYPL was saying as it emptied out and exiled to New Jersey three million research books from the stacks of its Central Reference Library as it prepared (before Bloomberg left office) to shrink more than 400,000 square feet of library space down to just 80,000 square feet for a very costly real estate boondoggle? Just this week it was finally revealed that the NYPL’s plan would have been at an estimated public cost of $500 million, one-half billion dollars! And what about the overruns?

    Speaking derisively about books Ms. Johnson says: “Any new library would not be a repository of books by any stretch.”

    In the article Ms. Johnson envisions that the Grand Army Plaza library will be amongst those involved in these space reorganizations as libraries are shrunk and books eliminated. Indeed, in that library Ms. Johnson is planning to vastly reduce the books and allocated space in its History, Biography and Religion section, one of the most popular and used sections of the library. In reported connection with that shrinkage a decision was made, in the last few months, to empty over 120 shelves worth of music scores, sheet music, and pedagogical materials, in the Arts and Music room of the library. Is that because the wonderful collections of scores were allegedly not being accessed frequently enough by enough individuals? Don’t believe anything those who are marshaling the sale of the BPL’s real estate are apt to tell you, but when the music director of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation finds music to play in the library and entire congregation benefit.

    To read that article go to: New York Libraries Updating for the 21st Century, Posted by Shari in Technology.

    http://www.gowanuslounge.com/brooklyn-public-library-linda-johnson/

  • Michael D. D. White

    Ms. Johnson couched her responses to Public Advocate Tish James’ question about selling all real estate in terms of “finding partners.” Although Ms. James was directly asking, Ms. Johnson cagily declined to give specifics about real estate deals for the rest of the BPL’s 60 libraries saying that no overall plan is available. So Ms. James simply asked: “After Brooklyn Heights, what’s next?”

    Ms. Johnson said “we are looking at the opportunities” and then moved on quickly to say that the next real estate deal involved bringing in money “to fit out the space” at the BAM South project. The BPL’s plan for this previously has involved selling the Pacific Branch library. This time, following a recent, pretty dodgy and mutable BPL script, Johnson said, “this will not be at the expense of the Pacific Street library” she mentioning that Pacific Street was “just across the way.” Then she said that they “will need to find a partner” for Pacific Street, while disparaging and indicating a BPL inability to deal with the Pacific library’s condition.

  • my two cents from Brooklyn

    thanks for reporting on this issue.

    it is disheartening to see BPL and some council members, such as Mr Lander – supporting the sale of public goods and the shrinkage of our library system.

    it is particularly troublesome to see BPL president Linda Johnson admitting that she wouldnt stop with the sale of the Cadman Plaza branch and still look for “partners” for the sale of other branches.

    so my question is: where does this stop? when every public building or piece of land has been sold and replaced by a high-rise, luxury condo?

    Brooklyn – please say “no” to this.

  • Daniel Trotta

    Great points, Marsha. Levin needs to show some courage and defend his district against this greedy land grab. And Brad Lander picked the wrong side. You still have time to change your mind, Brad. Or else your political career is over.

  • marshasrimler

    thanks

  • Oakey Hall

    A handful of crazy people making wild threats on a blog….theres a winning political strategy #FAIL