NYC Mayoral Candidates on the Central Library Plan

Readers of this blog know that I’ve been following the struggle to preserve the Research Division of the New York Public Library from the so-called “Central Library Plan” that would demolish the seven floors of stacks that currently hold most of the NYPL’s research collection; under the plan, the books will be relocated to a warehouse in central NJ to make room for a regular circulating library and a new science library. In connection with the plan, two midtown branch libraries will be closed and sold, the Mid-Manhattan Library and SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library. (Five of SIBL’s seven floors were sold last year in preparation.) In Brooklyn, two of the Brooklyn Public Library’s branch libraries – the Pacific and Brooklyn Heights branches – appear likely to be offered for sale as well. Opponents of the CLP have cried foul on these projected and completed sales: the branch libraries that have been deaccessioned in recent years have been sold below market value, leaving room for speculation that their sale had more to do with real estate deals and construction contracts than with the public good.

As I testified before the New York State Assembly on June 27, I did the research for several of my translations at the NYPL, as well as researching and writing much of my book about turn-of-the-19th-century translation history and theory there. The sorts of research tasks I was able to accomplish at the NYPL (comparing different editions of historical works, accessing concordances of foreign-language authors, consulting 19th century dictionaries, reading 18th century literary journals published in French and German) would certainly not have been possible at a branch library; and this sort of task will be far more difficult and time-consuming in the future if the CLP is implemented, since each book a researcher requests will have to be individually transported back to the library from New Jersey, slowing the eureka process of proper research (which involves being able to look up each new source as soon as you learn of its existence) to a glacial pace. The NYPL Research Division is the only library in NYC that is open to the public; all others, even the library of the City University of New York, are open only to students and faculty.

Since I believe that maintaining the city’s library resources is something a mayor should strive to do, I sent letters on July 6 to each of the major party and “major third party” mayoral candidates asking them to weigh in on the CLP. To date I have received only a handful of responses (all from Democrats), which I will post below in alphabetical order. If I receive belated responses from other candidates, I will post their responses below as they come in. Here’s the roster thus far:

Sal Albanese (Democrat) – A staffer wrote back assuring me “Sal’s on the record pretty strongly against the Central Library plan” and sent a pair of links by way of documentation. Neither addresses the question of the Research Library, but both contain clear statements against closing neighborhood libraries. One is video from a Citizens Defending Libraries rally outside the Brooklyn Heights library, at which Albanese pledges not to accept campaign funds from “lobbyists or developers” so that he will be free to combat them if elected; and one shows his responses to a questionnaire by a group called Urban Libraries United whose website announced in May that it would be polling all the mayoral candidates about their position on NYC libraries. The only response they post is from Albanese; I wonder if that means he’s the only one who got back to them. In his response he says that as mayor he will fight to keep branch libraries open and staffed.

Bill de Blasio (Democrat) – His staffers didn’t actually respond to my query, but I’m including him here because he was the main speaker at the Citizens Defending Libraries rally held yesterday on the steps of the Central Library. He came out strongly against both sides of the CLP – both the sale of branch libraries and the gutting of the research library – and had a lot to say about the selling-off of public property to private investors. Yesterday afternoon he posted video of the rally along with an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg demanding an immediate stop to the CLP on the Public Advocate of New York City website.

John Liu (Democrat) – A staffer wrote back saying, “Comptroller Liu was proud to stand with active groups like Citizens Defending Libraries.  From libraries to school sites to NYCHA properties, Mayor Bloomberg has used his waning time in office to sell off some of the City’s most important assets to wealthy developers. This trend of parceling out what rightfully belongs to all New Yorkers must come to a stop.” The staffer sent me links to two videos (here and here) of Liu speaking at a Citizens Defending Libraries meeting in Brooklyn in April about the selling-off of library branches (and explaining how the city’s budgeting process works); he said keeping the city’s branch libraries open seven days a week would cost $35 million a year, a sum he says is within the city’s means. The staffer also sent a link to video of Liu speaking at a Citizens Defending Libraries rally at City Hall on April 19 that Sal Albanese also attended.

Other candidates who did not get back to me but have gone on record about the Central Library Plan are:

Christine Quinn (Democrat) – in her capacity as Speaker of the City Council, Quinn spoke in favor of the CLP in December 2012 and is quoted in a press release issued by the library as saying: “This visionary project by the New York Public Library, embodied in this beautiful building by Norman Foster, is central to this great institution’s evolution as a vital part of our city, as it has been for over a century.  I applaud NYPL for listening and heeding the concerns of the stakeholders, and for crafting a project that sensitively addresses its dual mission as a great center of scholarship—and as the people’s library for all New Yorkers—for the next century.” As far as I have seen, she is the only Democratic candidate not opposed to the CLP.

Bill Thompson (Democrat) – During a mayoral forum held in Brooklyn on May 6, 2013, Thompson answered a question from an audience member about the future of public libraries by saying he was strongly opposed to selling off library branches.

I’ll post more information as it comes in.

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