7/23/14

Has BPL Gone Rogue?

In advance of the Community Board 6 Land Use/ Landmarks Committee meeting at 6 PM this evening, Thursday, July 24, at the Red Hook Library, 7 Wolcott Street (between Dwight and Richards), Eric Richmond of the Brooklyn Lyceum, at 227 4th Avenue in Gowanus/Park Slope, asked in a rhetorical email blast whether the Brooklyn Public Library has "gone rogue" and slipped its charter under president/CEO Linda Johnson.

At issue, Richmond said, is BPL's allowing the "opaque" organization SpaceWorks to essentially squat on 40% of the free public space in the Williamsburg and Red Hook branches and earn revenue by renting out that space, without reimbursing BPL.

The deal between BPL and SpaceWorks, Richmond said, involves, as a fictional quid pro quo, "trivial' capital improvements that the city is underwriting, Richmond said. The 2,000 square feet SpaceWorks will occupy rent-free in the Red Hook Library is maintained out of the approximately $450,000 allocated to BPL in the city budget, he said, calling the city's refusal to include the capital improvements in BPL's own budget either a "no-confidence vote" in the library system, an attempt to end-run the library charter, or a land grab.

Going further, Richmond called BPL president Linda Johnson an unaccountable "liar" who has misrepresented the status of the infrastructure and design of the Brooklyn Business Library and the Pacific Street Branch and deserves a vote of "no confidence."

According to Richmond, the BPL board, which, he said, operates beyond the reach of the city's Conflict of Interest Board, built a redundant 189-seat auditorium while deferring maintenance at the Pacific Street branch for 10 years.

Richmond's email includes a collection of quotes on the Bloomberg-era decline of New York City's public library system, from around the web:
"...Public libraries are for the public, not private development deals with artists..." 
"...Failed stewardship..." 
"...Stop the Mercenary Rich from feasting on the remains of our civilization..." 
"...Sucking the life out of public libraries in favor of private real estate developers is a disgrace, begun by Mayor Bloomberg...But will Mayor de Blasio...face down the forces of privatization and save our libraries?" 
"...The idea itself to sell libraries...is the most barbarian, unthinkable act since Middle Ages when books were burned in the name of God..." 
"...Let's not turn New York into a provincial second-rate city..." 
"...Don't sell library assets!" 
"...Public libraries are lifelines...We need well-funded, intact public spaces. What happened to the Donnell Library is an example of the city losing both a cultural space and a sense of community. Let this not happen in Brooklyn..." 
"...Libraries are vital public assets, which should be expanded, and heartily supported, not diminished in any way. These sweetheart deals benefitting real estate developers, grasping at air rights, must be stopped. Support our libraries and our access to books..." 
"...Odd that the Brooklyn Public Library wants Brooklynites to make do with less space... Time to look at the numbers, closely..."

More from the Brooklyn Paper.

Postscript:

According Eric Richmond's account of the Community Board meeting, Spaceworks was "soundly discredited" due to the "lack of contract, lack of a plan and lack of transparency." 

The CB 6 Land Use / Landmarks Committee therefore unanimously voted down the proposal to re-purpose nearly half the Red Hook Library to Spaceworks.

Due to "contract irregularities", Spaceworks has reportedly also been bounced from its no-bid "sweetheart deal" at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Richmond said.



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