April 10, 2014
Citizens Defending Libraries campaign for support in Brooklyn
by Kirsten Reach
Citizens Defending Libraries held a demonstration Tuesday night in front of Brooklyn Public Library, calling for support to save Brooklyn libraries from sale or disrepair. The protest aligned with a board meeting at Grand Army Plaza, and protesters hope Mayor Bill de Blasio will find a way to finance much-needed repairs to sixty locations of the Brooklyn Public Library. The price tag is looking steep, now estimated at $300 million.
The Brooklyn Heights library at 280 Cadman Plaza West is in need of a $3.5 million air conditioning unit, part of an estimated $9.2 million needed for repairs in that branch. The Citizens Defending Libraries asked for the city’s support in these repairs, especially for the AC and roof repairs.
As we reported in February, library officials are interested in selling the space, or at least space above the ground floor, to a developer. The seven housing plans that are under consideration must include 20,000 square feet of affordable housing.
De Blasio said he was against selling the Cadman Plaza branch during his campaign last year. Cadman Plaza has been an ongoing source of tension, with $366,351 spent (mostly on air conditioning and elevator maintenance) since 2009. Though it’s regularly branded a “money pit,” closing this location and several libraries nearby could cost the public access to millions of titles.
Claire Kelley spoke with Citizens Defending Libraries a few weeks ago to discuss the “real estate grab.” Michael D.D. White said the move from expanding to contracting these library plans came around 2007, when the Donnell library was sold “for a pittance”:
[T]he plan to sell the Brooklyn Heights Library, with real estate at its roots (and largely replicating the Donnell sale), has been revealed to be even worse for the public than was known when de Blasio spoke opposing it in July.
Good libraries represent democracy and opportunity in a way that’s integrally related to de Blasio’s call to eliminate inequality in our society. The real estate industry has a lot of influence in this town, but so long as Mayor de Blasio remains true to his principles neither the CLP nor Bloomberg’s other library sales should go through.
He also told the New York Daily News, “Libraries cost very little money and they more than pay for themselves in economic benefit. If the city spent a fraction of the budget that the public would like to see spent, their problem would be having to buy more libraries rather than selling off and shrinking them.”
Brooklyn libraries need de Blasio’s support—and the city’s funding—to keep these public spaces in working order. Summer hasn’t hit us yet, but necks at Cadman Plaza must be sweating.
Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.