Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library To Merge

The New York Times reports that the boards of Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library have voted to merge. Under the plan, the library will become the parent institution of the society. The society will remain at its location in Brooklyn Heights and house the library’s Brooklyn Collection, “a trove of more than 200,000 books, photographs, manuscripts, newspapers and maps.”

According to the library’s president and chief executive, Linda E. Johnson, and the historical society’s president, Deborah Schwartz, each institution’s missions will remain unchanged. The merger will, however, “bring greater financial stability and public outreach to the historical society, while also freeing up space in the library’s crowded Art Deco flagship, which is undergoing a $135 million renovation.”

The plan requires city participation, but not city approval, and some details remain a work in progress. The city owns the buildings that house the library’s main branch at Grand Army Plaza and most of the 59 branches. The city also pays for utilities. The hope is that the city would also become owner of the society’s building by retiring its $1.9 million mortgage debt. Ms. Johnson said there may also be a “bit of rebranding” for the society, including a probable name change and possibly dropping the “fusty-sounding words ‘historical society.'”

Read the full details at this link.

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  • Banet

    Despite what they called it, I don’t think it’s really a merger when one organization is over 100 times larger than the other.

  • Mike Suko

    Agreed. And while I have nothing but “good will” toward both institutions – well, I’ll admit to a little cynicism about how BPL “culled” its Heights presence – one has to ask, “What does THE BPL – never graced with anywhere near the talent that the NYPL sometimes attracts – know about running a museum?” Diversification has a very mixed record in business, with too many disasters like GE morphing into a financial services company at just the wrong time.

    The BHS must have been one “sick puppy” for this deal to go through. I don’t sense that the BPL is awash with money. Could this be – yes, I do fear it! – a “land grab?” Museums DEPEND ON – been to MOMA lately? – mega-wealthy individuals who are either very kind … or very enamored of a “legacy” that puts their name on spaces almost too valuable for even them. Now that Squibb and the like are gone from Brooklyn for a century or so … and “commerce” is mostly limited to a back office presence in Metrotech that barely registers, as compared to Manhattan headquarters, what is the likelihood of a re-branded BHS entering a new “exciting era??” Does NYC “need” (and is able to support) 2 “research libraries” – apart from University-affiliated ones? Strikes me as very much against the odds.

  • B.

    Our BPL head Linda Johnson has made clear her feelings about libraries, books, cafes, and condos, and their relative value; so this merger sounds like another land grab for developer friends. Since the BHS is landmarked, a tower can’t go up in its place, but probably documents will make way at some point for a coffee bar.

  • Mike Suko

    That’s WAY too harsh. “Give ’em [Bklyn’s population] what they want” is not a bad starting point. When “academics” lambasted the NYPL for prioritizing the agenda of several hundred thousand people over their (?) 100, I rolled my eyes. Besides, it’s almost never “either-or,” and likely minimally at BHS.

    Their big “meeting room” does have alternate uses, but space that primo should NOT be in use 5% of the time that the building is open!

    Of course, anybody in the Heights was chuffed when 1 Clinton rose “in place of” that old library, and it was certainly handled insensitively.

    But (a) that’s like keeping streets cobblestoned – cute, but how’d you feel about paying $50 every April 15th for “maintenance.” [That old building, that spot – REALLY?]
    (b) Last I looked, the BPL has VERY limited $ inputs, both variety & size. There are many – me included – who bemoan the 1% thing; no word other than NIMBY or the NY equivalent – NIIAM (not if it affects ME) – seems like the only way to characterize the animus to LJ’s decision.

    Could the BPL have struck a better deal? Probably. Did they try hard? Probably not. But that’s not your point, I don’t think. Sadly, what your point seems to be is: “I want them to keep doing a great job – even take on new challenges – but I don’t want them to go beyond begging to fund themselves.” If ever this was called for…. DO THE MATH!

  • notonmywatch

    Cue air rights transfer to connected individuals …
    or trolling of BHS donor list …
    or head fake to get more $$ for libraries …
    because BPL running out of properties to shrink libraries on and city all too well aware of BPL stances.