Book lovers to new libary honcho: Hands off the Brooklyn Heights branch

What do we want?: That’s easy, says Carolyn McIntyre, libraries.
Photo by Jason Speakman

The city is selling off its precious literary legacy to the highest bidder, said bookworms who rallied at the Central Library on Tuesday night to demand that the revenue-raising scheme be stopped.

About 40 prose-loving protestors convened at Grand Army Plaza to call on the Brooklyn Public Library system’s new chairman Nicholas Gravante, Jr. to halt the sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch to a developer who would tear down and build a tower in its place, reserving space for a replacement branch.

“Libraries are at the core of the democratic process,” said Ruth Diss, a resident of Brooklyn Heights for 40 years. “I’m incensed. I’m furious. It gets my blood boiling.”

The group Citizens Defending Libraries organized the demonstration. Michael White, a founder of the group, hand-delivered a letter to the library system’s board of trustees, which was meeting in the library, stating that the Heights redevelopment threatens the foundations of civic society.

“Selling, shrinking libraries, putting their resources out of reach, leads to a vicious cycle of decreased democracy and opportunity,” the letter reads.

The group organized after the Library’s announcement last year that it would seek to sell development rights for the Brooklyn Heights Branch because it cannot afford to the $9 million it says it needs to make repairs, including about $4 million for a faulty air conditioning system.

The claim that the repairs are insurmountable does not make any sense, activists said.

“Who ever heard of someone selling a house because the air conditioning doesn’t work?” said Carolyn McIntyre, another group founder. “What is happening to our libraries? The public owns the libraries.”

System-wide, the library’s 80 branches are behind on $300 million worth of needed repairs, the library maintains. A deal in Brooklyn Heights could help bring it out of the red, according to the system.

“Nearly every one of [Brooklyn Public Library’s] branches has maintenance issues,” says a page on the Library’s website explaining the future of the Brooklyn Heights Branch. “This project will allow BPL to deliver a 21st-century library facility the Brooklyn Heights community and our staff deserve, at little cost to BPL.”

The Library administration has received seven redevelopment proposals so far and has said it expects to choose one early this year. The plans call for between 99 and 167 mostly market-rate housing units along with a library space that is partly underground.

The original plan to sell off public library buildings, which was conceived under former mayor Michael Bloomberg, also included the Pacific branch on Fourth Avenue at Pacific Street — the first so called Carnegie library building, constructed using funds provided by the 19th-century steel magnate. That proposal was put on hold after residents rallied against it. But the Brooklyn Heights branch has remained on the table.

“The Bloomberg policy of selling off public property seems to be continuing,” said McIntyre. “And we don’t trust the trustees. Not at all.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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