Since April, BHB has covered the developing story of the status of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Heights branch on Cadman Plaza West, driven by neighborhood concern over the condition of the building, as well as its ultimate disposition. Will it be renovated? How soon? Demolished? What will rise in its place? A high-rise? How high? How much will it cost? How will it be paid for? How long will it take? What will library users do in its absence?
Investigation into the situation led to a deepening interest in the larger picture of an institution burdened by a massive backlog of unfunded capital expenditures and a ballooning deficit that threatens the Library’s ability to fulfill its mission: the maintenance and nurture of a system of some 60 branch libraries as well as the monumental Central Library at Grand Army Plaza, at a time when library usage has grown dramatically.
BHB spoke recently with Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of the Library, about the current status of the Brooklyn Heights library project and other concerns, as well as future prospects for the system, exemplified by BAM South, an innovative new space in the BAM Cultural District that the Library hopes to bring online in 2017.
What emerged clearly throughout the 45-minute phone interview was Ms. Johnson’s optimism regarding her organization’s future, and the value she and BPL’s executive team place on a strategic planning process they believe has substantially improved one of the country’s largest libraries.
Ms. Johnson did not hesitate to emphasize her credentials. Not only a successful executive and fundraiser at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, she had previously served as CEO of the Library Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the nation’s tenth largest system. She came to Brooklyn knowing the difficulties but attracted by the challenge of leading a prestigious organization in transition, one with an enormous responsibility to the diverse communities in which its branches are located.