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Small Bushwick library caught in Big Oil lie

Relaxation station: The Mellow Pages is a laid-back reading room in Bushwick.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

An experimental Bushwick library’s attempt to get into the black backfired after book-minders’ tale that they turned down money from Big Oil sprang a big leak.

The curators of the Mellow Pages Library became heroes of the local art scene this week when they claimed they turned down a massive donation from ExxonMobil on moral grounds, but the gas giant never offered them money in the first place.

“We have no record of any interaction whatsoever with this library, and the first we have heard of this matter is through media inquiries,” said ExxonMobil spokesman Richard Keil.

The year-old library at on Bogart Street at Harrison Place houses more than 3,000 titles and gives annual memberships for $20 or 10 donated books. Founders Matt Nelson and Jacob Perkins ran an online fund-raising campaign to save the place in the fall. The pledge drive netted just $5,218, far short of a $20,000 goal. Shortly thereafter, the bookworms behind the project claimed they got an out-of-the-blue letter from ExxonMobil offering them $50,000 in the form of three-and-a-half years of monthly rent payments.

On Tuesday, Nelson and Perkins posted a lengthy blog post on the Fanzine website asking supporters to weigh in on whether they should take the money from the company responsible for some of the world’s largest environmental disasters, including part of the decades-long oil spill in Greenpoint that was three times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, another company catastrophe.

The following day, the pair posted a lengthy letter on the library’s Facebook page explaining that they were turning down the cash infusion because a) Perkin’s father was an Alaskan fisherman whose livelihood was destroyed by the Exxon Valdez crash b) they valued their independence, and c) they stood to lose the support of the indie arts community that would presumably frown on the tar-stained money.

The problem with the story is that the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company is not in the habit of making unsolicited offers to save hipster houses of mellow education.

“ExxonMobil Corporation has a long and proud tradition of supporting a wide range of worthy charitable causes, and the funding scenario the library’s officials describe in no way comports with the open and transparent way we handle our charitable and philanthropic giving,” he said.

Perkins copped to the deception in an interview with the so-called “lifestyle” website Brokelyn.

“We did it for the survival of the library,” he said. ““But we’re okay with the reality of the situation, that people will hate us now.”

The schemer added that the bizarre lie was more of a performance than a prank and claimeded that it has not saved the cash-strapped reading room.

“We had no intention of capitalizing on this and there’s been no material gain,” he told the website.

But the tale also got traction and pulled at people’s purse strings. The Facebook responses to the long posting detailing the Exxon refusal are filled with offers of cold, hard cash.

“Where is the link where we can all donate to in solidarity?!” wrote Liz Clark Wessel.

“You’re awesome,” wrote Stephanie Theodore. “If you need fundraising help, I’m happy to provide it.”

“Yes, really, WHERE SHOULD WE DONATE?” wrote Molly Rose Quinn.

Once the prank was revealed, though, many online bibliophiles said it was as low as an avant-garde book-borrowing business could go.

“I have to say this is probably one of the most disappointing things I have encountered since moving to New York,” wroter former supporter Conal Darcy on Facebook. “I had a lot of faith in the idea of Mellow Pages … I am reminded of a girl I dated in college who had a serious problem with lying.”

“Was belittling your fanbase with this prank actually worth it?” wrote Jimmy McMillan. “I don’t see why anybody would visit your library if you feel the need for this kind of cheap publicity.”

On Wednesday, Perkins declined to provide a reporter with a copy of the donation letter, saying he was afraid that ExxonMobil would sue him and his partner. On Thursday, after the reporter got in touch with ExxonMobil, neither librarian returned repeated calls.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Dirty money: The curators of the Mellow Pages library in Bushwick claimed that ExxonMobil offered them thousands of philanthropic dollars, but that they refused to take it.
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