Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two New Surprises Courtesy Of Forest City Ratner Respecting Luxury Tower Designs To Replace Brooklyn Heights Library: Modular Construction And A Museum Expansion!

Rendering of possible "luxury" tower to replace Brooklyn Heights Library built using Forest City Ratner modular units
There are two new surprises with respect to the luxury tower designs that are in the running to be built at the site of the current Brooklyn Heights Library and replacing that library with a much smaller, largely bookless one, 25% of which will likely be underground.  Previously it was known that none of the tentative designs scaled the buildings at the full size that would use all of the available development rights actually expected to be utilized in the end.  That means design changes were expected.. . .
Tall new towers in Brooklyn Heights to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library?  The image of the two non-modular unit towers above are of buildings whose potential height speculatively ranges, Photoshopped to show their tallest announced possible version for which an image isn't available.  Maybe not what they will look like, but for other reasons they may be even taller.  
. . . Now it turns out that the design changes will be more dramatic than expected.  Forest City Ratner, owning the property adjacent to the library and effectively acting as the gatekeeper to the extra development rights, is requiring that no matter which developer proposal is chosen the new building be built with modular construction.  Forest City’s new modular construction subsidiary, operating on a subsidized basis out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, will provide the modular units.  This way most of the construction can be done more cheaply off-site with the Ratner firm taking a profit percentage while whatever developer is ultimately selected can swiftly flip the units into a final building at less cost to itself.
Above and below: Modular units in the Brooklyn Navy Yard

No doubt these units will be the first modular units to be targeted to the very high end clientele to whom the Brooklyn Heights apartments are expected to be marketed.  At first, the Brooklyn Heights Association bridled at the idea of a new building that would be modular and it was ready to call upon Mayor de Blasio (who controls disposition of the city-owned land) to intervene: “Make the library smaller, but don’t sacrifice quality design in our neighborhood” was going to be the appeal, but FRC had a significant sweetener to toss into the deal. . . and that’s the second surprise.

Forest City Ratner will make a contribution that will, it says, using the library space, effectively double the cultural space at the site.  It is donating an art museum.  (Technically, Forest City Ratner did not need to sweeten the deal; there was a provision in one of the “site file” documents on the $50 CD offered to those responding to the Request For Proposal that let them dictate this construction result although nobody understood this from the way the language was crafted.)
Forest City Ratner is providing the new museum by buying the artwork of the currently closed San Francisco Art Museum that is in storage and theretofore otherwise unavailable for view.  (See: Its Art Elsewhere, a Museum Tries to Stay Relevant- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Is Closed but Active, by Jori Finkel, March 25, 2014.)  The question might be asked: How can these works be displayed in a New York City Brooklyn Heights location without a significant loss to residents and museum goers of San Francisco?  Will there be such a loss? . .

. . .  “That’s the beauty of digital duplication,” said FRC’s Bruce Ratner.  All of these works will be digitized so there will be no need to see them physically and that means that museum goers in San Francisco can absorb and study a work at the same time it is being viewed by a Brooklyn audience.  “Replicating modular units on the assembly line sort of got me thinking appreciatively in this vein,” said the contemplative and philosophical Mr. Ratner. . . “And then MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO at Forest City Ratner and a great art admirer, pointed out how quintessentially perfect additional replications would be to make the repeated Warhol images even more meaningful and more valuable.”
San Francisco Museum Warhol with repeating images.  Those repeated images can easily e digitally repeated again, see below, even enhancing the meaning of the repetition.

Gilmartin says that screen idiosyncrasies generating further color variations also add value
Most proudly, Ratner said that donation of art for a museum in the library space would effectively double the cultural space in the building.  Many have criticized the diminished amount of space proposed for shrunken “replacement” library space as being far too small, 20,000 square feet vs. the current 63,000 square feet.  But Ratner, concurring with Brooklyn Public Library pronouncements, said “you can’t measure space by square feet, you have to evaluate it by what is actually used and how its used.”  Ratner said that the introduction of the museum would effectively double the space or more because the new library is already relying on computer, iPad and tablet screens for their reading pleasure in substitution for space-consuming physical books.  “These very same screens can display the digitized artwork,” said Ratner triumphantly.

For those who long to be in actual physical proximity to great art, Ratner is again one step ahead: “The actual original artwork will be in the luxury apartments in the building above where we will be renting it out below cost for at least a fifteen year period as an inducement for purchasers to buy the apartments.”  The apartments are expected to be snapped up in many cases as pied-à-terres for visiting foreigners.  “If you buy a luxury apartment in the 50-story building that is replacing the Donnell Library across from MoMA you can run out and see the paintings across this street, but this is one step better: We bring the art to you, it’s in your apartment.”
A real estate advertisement for the luxury apartments that will replace the Donnell Library sold for a pittance.  Looks like those buying them are expected to have many books, more than. . .
Book lovers can also be assured that, like the luxury Bacarrat going up at the site where Donnell was torn down, the apartments in the luxury building at the site of Brooklyn Heights Library will likely be full of books, a proximity readers can instinctually enjoy as they peruse their tablets downstairs.

Might the library/art museum get too crowded with multitudes arriving to enjoy an air conditioned study of screens showing text or art?  Ratner points out that as the art and text is all digitized nobody need even come to the physical space at all to enjoy these assets just so long as they pay him his collection fee for the art and make sure not to run up over-due fees on borrowed digital texts. “And we can always change the rules to discourage too much use,” he said.

The one big hurdle for Ratner in pulling the art museum deal together was financing.  The financing is coming: 10% from Ratner himself (reimbursed to him by a taxpayer subsidy) with the rest coming in equal parts from, Mikhail ProkhorovGreenland Holdings Group of China, and through an EB-5 sale of green cards to Chinese millionaires and their families.  This joint venturing group of investors will go by the name “Four Reins Investors.”  Eventually, decisions about the ultimate physical dispensation and `patriation' of the art will have to be arbitrated between these investors.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal
The Municipal Art Society, crediting Forest City Ratner with how the museum plan and modular housing will catalyze a revitalization of Brooklyn Heights, will be awarding its 2015  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal to Ratner, so that Ratner will be receiving this annual award for two years running.   The 2014 award is going to Forest City Ratner for preserving a swath of Prospect Heights by tearing it down to build the Ratner Prokhorov Barclays arena while letting the rest of the destroyed neighborhood acreage lie fallow for a few decades.  This is actually the second award that MAS has given Forest City Ratner for that decimation.

MAS president Vin Cipolla said that the MAS directors are hoping that they can hand out the Onassis award to Ratner on an annual basis from here on in.  The determination of the award is not made on a calendar year basis, he explained.  The last day of March concludes the `award year cycle’ so, by coordinating with MAS to withhold the announcement of the museum plans and modular construction until the first day of April, Ratner qualified the plans for the 2015 award.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not THAT Michael White - “Return of the Library Dragon” And Other Books Meant To Save Books and Libraries!

Noticing New York is written by Michael White, maybe you know.  That’s me.  Michael White is an award-winning fine artist.  His art is regularly exhibited in area galleries.  (I am quoting.) . . . I am not THAT Michael White.

THAT Michael White is Michael P. White, the illustrator of “Return of the Library Dragon,” a children’s book that with humorous eloquence makes the case for keeping our books in our libraries.
I am Michael D. D. White, not only the writer of Noticing New York and National Notice, but also a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, a group that is working hard to keep the books in our libraries, fighting to make sure our New York City libraries are not sold off and shrunk, our books and libraries discarded using the fictional arrival of an all digital future as a pretext for real estate boondoggles detrimental to the public.

I have previously noted that there are many, many Michael Whites in the world, declaring myself NOT to be certain others of them.  See: Wednesday, August 13, 2008, Not THAT Michael White, and Friday, October 14, 2011, Not THAT Michael White: Visiting Occupy Wall Street and How I Know The Economy Is Bad (For the 99%).

Given how ubiquitous the Michael Whites of the world are it is hardly surprising that there would be at least two Michael Whites involved in the library fight.  Good thing we are both on the same side of it and nice that we seem to share book-loads of the same sentiments.

The “Return of the Library Dragon” is very much like the book I myself might have written to defend our libraries, books and librarians from incineration on the alter of a nonsensical dystopian future where digital brashly banishes all that is physical.  The removal of books occurs suddenly, secretively, behind closed doors hastily festooned with a “Progress in Progress” banner at the hands of a Mr. Mike Krochip with the goofy notion that in short order he’ll have everyone forgetting what a book even looks like.

Michael P. White illustrates, within his books' pages, library bookshelves that are suddenly as sadly empty as the real empty shelves of New York City libraries I have photographed and included in Noticing New York articles: Saturday, September 14, 2013, Empty Bookshelves As Library Officials Formulate A New Vision of Libraries: A Vision Where The Real Estate Will Be Sold Off.

Brooklyn Heights Children's Library
Does this children’s book have a sad ending?  Guess who comes to the rescue?  (I suspect you are presuming that somebody does.)  The answer is sort of fantastically complex, but I will clue you in that part of the answer comes in the form of librarians who care about what ought to be cared about.

The inside cover pages are filled with a zillion quotes about books
The short beautiful book written by Carmen Agra Deedy with White’s illustrious contributions has lots of small, wonderful touches, including both sets of inside cover pages that arrange in panoply a multitude of quotes from passionate booklovers over the millennia from Thomas Jefferson, Neil Gaiman, to Erasmus, Cicero and Ramesses II.  Reminding us that others are out there thinking of these things in terms of children’s fables, the inside texts include a quote from Roald Dahl, the author of “Matilda,” now transformed into a hit musical on Broadway where the good and the righteous do battle with book and library-hating, book-discarding and -destroying meanies: Tuesday, February 25, 2014, Musical On Broadway: The “Revolting Children” of “Matilda” Throwing Away Library Books? No, It’s Revolting Adults! Really!
One of the four young actresses playing Matilda in the musical on Broadway.  Matlida loves her library books!
“Return of the Library Dragon” is not the only new book out there right now hoping to defend the existence of books and libraries.  Citizens Defending Libraries has been involved in producing two other books pitched to children as well as adults.  On of them, in fact, is written by children: “What Our Libraries Mean To Us: Letters To Mayor Mike,” a book from Lynn Rosen of Lynn’s Kids International.

Have you ever noticed how much more straightforward and clear our morality is when we think in terms of the truths that children recognize and ought to be taught?  The simplest expressions, as found in this book are so often the clearest.  Joshua and Amair write:
    Libraries are knowledge
    You can use them for college
    Books are cool as ice
    They make you think twice
Citizens Defending Libraries was also involved with Lynn Rosen and Lynn’s Kids International to produce: “Mr. Rights across the Sea Saving Libraries.”  Part of the book is feedback from other parts of the world where they are astounded New York would be wrecking its libraries. The book also includes an adventure fable where Mr. Rights, a character who has appeared in other books produced by Ms. Rosen, joins forces with the Girl Scouts of the Pacific Branch Library and Andrew Carnegie’s ghost to confront the small group of privileged elite who would deprive the public by selling libraries and getting rid of books and librarians.  Remember that many of our libraries were donated to the public with the proviso that they be taken care of once we got them.
Mr. Rights meets Carnegie

David Nasaw speaking about Carnegie at the BPL on March 2nd
In the story, Andrew Carnegie, certainly a morally complex person in real life, is presented in a somewhat simplified form as he allies with Mr. Rights' team, but it is interesting to note that David Nasaw, a Carnegie biographer, recently made the point speaking at the Brooklyn Public Library that Mr. Carnegie was actually very different from many of the wealthy today.  Saying that Carnegie had a lot in common with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Nasaw said that Carnegie was a  proponent of the “dangerous but cogent belief” that the wealthy hold their wealth “in trust for the benefit of the public.”  Carnegie did not believe that he should die possessed of wealth that he had not directed toward the public benefit.

I should mention that in real life Nasaw has a lot in common with Mr. Rights.  Although he was being hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library to give his Carnegie talk he is a co-plaintiff with Citizens Defending Libraries in a lawsuit seeking to stop the same NYPL “Central Library Plan” selling and shrinking libraries and getting rid of books and librarians that Mr. Rights opposes in the story.

Isn’t it wonderful when fables take on the muscle and sinew of actuality?

I have previously written about how, if you go to the library to find Mr. Nasaw's acclaimed books, you might not find them there.

In the Mr. Rights story, Mr. Rights feels himself weakened by the changes going on at the library but doesn’t understand exactly what is happening until a librarian is able to inform him of the facts even though the librarian fears the consequences for herself of giving out information.

Again the librarian as protector of the books!

Last week a new book about the destruction of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and the banishment of books became available.  It was unveiled by the Committee To save The New York Public Library at a rally held in a downpour outside the NYPL’s trustees meeting.  The book, by Simon Verity, filled with his sensitively witty drawings, is “The Library of Libraries.”  Expect it to be at bookstores around the city.
Mr. Verity, on left, at the March 12th rally in his bookselling hat and with his bookselling tray
Many more great picture of the event and its publication by "The Illuimnator" are available
It too is a parable, beginning with “ONCE UPON A TIME,” but it is only slightly fantastic or fanciful.  Unfortunately it is far too close to the truth.

A real estate advertisement for the luxury apartments that will replace the Donnell Library sold for a pittance.  Looks like those buying them are expected to have many books, more than. . .
It envisions a world where those in control of the city “grew rich and had fine libraries in their own houses” and ask themselves, “Why should people who are not as rich and as clever as we have a magic library when an ordinary one would do perfectly well for them?”

Verily, Simon’s book was written before we found out, based on the advertisements for luxury apartments in the New York Times, that the luxury apartments replacing the Donnell library, sold off for a pittance, will have more books than the NYPL’s libraries.  (We we made this part of Citizens Defending Libraries testimony at last week’s City Council hearing on library funding.)

Mr. verity writes of shushed librarians
As in the Mr. Rights story Mr. Verity’s tale, grimly based on fact, has the librarians who could save the library being told “that they will lose their jobs if the criticize” the plans of those running the city.

Is Mr. Verity’s tale suitable for children?  Maybe the more mature among them.  Sometimes children can especially love stories with sad endings.  I remember, as a child, going back again and again to the tale of “Old Yeller,” in the end, about a fearfully depressing loss.  Yes, Verity’s story has an unhappy ending (you can't always presume there will be a happy one), but let us hope that the cautionary downer and as yet fictional note on which it concludes will be impetus for real victories that prevent the destruction of our libraries. . . .

. . . .  Better this than that the hopeful, happy endings of “Return of the Library Dragon,” “Mr. Rights . . Saving Libraries” and “Matilda” are contradicted in real life by much more bleak results. . .

. . .  But then would people know of such contradictions to the endings of these books if the world "Mr. Krochip" envisions materializes with everyone forgetting what these or any other books even looked like.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Internet Guru Clay Shirky Speaking At Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting Says We Need Libraries Because Of Holes In The Internet

Internet guru Clay Shirky:  We need libraries.  Why?  Because there is lots that you won't find on the internet.- Photo by Jonathan Barkey
Last week the Brooklyn Heights Association introduced Clay Shirky, the author/digital thought leader/NYU professor/Brooklyn Heights area resident as its featured speaker at its annual meeting, to talk about “what the internet does to culture.”  There are plenty who suspected that in selecting Shirky as its speaker for the meeting the BHA was attempting to convey that the BHA is technologically hip and therefore qualified and even prescient in supporting the sale and shrinkage of the neighborhood’s library.

Digital happy talk? If that was the BHA’s goal it wasn’t exactly a slam dunk or even an easy lay up.  Quite the contrary.  Mr, Shirky explained that because of the holes in the internet, the significant material that is missing from the what you can find there, we need our libraries.

Mr. Shirky had a little help in making this point about libraries from the podium: my question to him during the ensuing question and answer session.  My question was about what you won’t find on the internet.  By the way, in asking the question, I made no mention of "libraries."

I commenced my question with a personal example: One of my aunts was frequently referred to as the “First Lady of Chicago,” which I think accurately indicates that she was a very well known individual.  When she walked down a Chicago Street everyone knew her.

When I early on developed a love of and fascination with the internet I looked for my aunt, plugging her name into a search engine and found that in the virtual world of the internet she virtually didn’t exist, and that was because of the very recent time period in which she existed.  Her many several decades were slightly pre-internet.  Walk into a good library and you could learn about her, but not on the internet.*
(* Because this article is largely about things that are not on the internet I am going to leave my aunt’s name unstated here.  Perhaps a commenting reader will disclose her name which can ultimately be discerned from the internet with some detective work.  One hint: Her last name made the “First Lady” title somewhat confusing.  When I visited my aunt I would meet and spend time with all manner of celebrities.  She regularly borrowed the Playboy limousine to whip around the city.  Often we’d run into the rather shy- my opinion- Mr. Heffner in the lobby of where she lived.  I remember climbing into a limo at crack of dawn with her, shaking Gore Vidal’s weak handshake, as we headed off to do an early AM interview program, and I remember conversing with comedian Alan King about how to improve the world after sitting with him at a Lainie Kazan nightclub performance as we headed up to a late night radio program and thrusting upon him some of my high school student writing about which he was very gracious.  For years after the visits I spent in Chicago with my aunt I couldn’t watch television for any appreciable stretch without thinking, “I met that person in Chicago with my aunt”: Joan Rivers, Oddetta, Rosie Greer, Walter Cronkite.  Bob Crane, star of “Hogan’s Heros” who had done radio early in his career, told me that I should consider doing voiceover work and I seriously thought about his advice for years.  Another hint, when I first looked up my aunt’s name on the internet one of the only places I could find mention of her was in a Warren Commission Report document.  My aunt in her job talked to nearly everybody, including some people that were considered mobsters.) 
As I told Mr. Shirky, the perception I formed was that the internet presented a “thin rich topsoil” of recent events, but there was much missing from it.  Albeit it has some rocky bedrock too: It’s easy for me to find some information about my ancestors' Civil War participation (though not their letters that are in the Library of Congress).


I expressed my concern about the potential ephemerality and evanescence of things on the internet and the way, with various applied tilts to this sphere, things get crowded out.  I told Mr. Shirky that I didn’t doubt that he had caught up with the recent Frontline documentary, Generation Like.” That show confronts the viewer with the fact that a massive amount of material taking over the internet is, in fact, corporately curated.  (The program talks about “the man behind the curtain” and, using the promotion of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” film as an example, points out “What's designed to look like a grass roots wave of excitement is actually a meticulously planned marketing strategy. It may be 'catching fire,' but it was doused with gasoline [i.e. corporate dollars] beforehand.”)

Books by Tim Wu and Lewis Hyde
I mentioned Tim Wu and Lewis Hyde, two names I knew that Mr. Shirky would have to know, who both write about the impoverishment of the public sphere, Wu writing about how it occurs when media industries inevitably trend toward monopoly and Hyde talking about the disappearance of the public commons through increasingly privatizated ownership of the ideas and information we consume.  They are both also professors, Wu a professor of law at Columbia and Hyde a professor at Harvard and Kenyon.

Another thinker on these subjects, Jaron Lanier, author of the recent, “Who Owns the Future,” disparages the facile utopianism of some internet/technological future hucksters.  (Eclectic in his thinking Lanier also doesn’t automatically sign on to the various strains of dystopic thinking either.)

I didn’t have time to get into it (though I was prepared), but at the same time that recent headlines are currently talking about the jeopardy into which court rulings have put “net neutrality,” we may be seeing the first effects of that: Netflixs users just saw their connection speeds slow downs so much the service became unusable and Netflixs ultimately anted up for restoration of that speed on a preferential basis after what some suspect was an intentional degradation of their access to the internet.  (Some readers may find themselves more disturbed if I report that at least one person I know complained that their PBS access over the internet was slowed at the same time.)
Ghostly trace of a vanished article

Another ghostly trace
It is scary how mutable the internet and technology can make things.  In 2008, in the scheme of things not so very long ago, I wrote a fairly widely read and circulated article for the Huffington Post, More Money for the Very Rich: An Unsporting Pursuit?  (I can actually say that before I wrote this I met Arianna Huffington, soliciting contributions for HuffPo, when it was in its original incarnation, but that is not so important to the point here).  My article is now no longer anywhere to be found on the Huffington Post site although there are a few ghostly traces of its prior existence.

When the Huffington Post was sold to AOL in 2011 in a complicated merger, some contributors like former U.S. Senate candidate, political organizer and Jonathan Tasini, objected (including legally) saying this was not why they had contributed upaid work to the site.  Now the Huffington Post has just changed its rules for commenting on its sites to require that anyone commenting let the HuffPo have access to their Facebook accounts.  The HuffPo says that they are doing this to ensurecivil discourse,” but is that the case?  Aren't they more likely simply seeking to data-mine the same data that Mark Zuckerberg has access to?  Much of the history of the internet has similarly consisted of the acquisition of companies in sell-outs and with their acquisition their disappearance, or the introduction of totally new sets of rules.

In an article we handed out at the BHA meeting I cited this ominous sentence from a very recent New York Times technology section article: “If you own a Nook, the fate of your books may now be up in the air.”  George Orwell’s "1984" is largely about how books and information with which the public is furnished can be manipulated to exist exclusively only in an ever-fluid present where what exists need have no relationship to the past.  In one of the most famous early events with respect to the Amazon kindle it was Orwell’s book itself that Amazon caused to mysteriously disappear from readers' tablets.

Brooklyn Eagle story about BHA meeting when it was upcoming- Picture shows Shirky protesting against PIPA which along with and like SOPA would greatly curtail the public utility of the internet.  Those laws, defeated by activists, are now in danger of coming back in the form of the TPP.
All of the above should be excellent grist for discussions that at least some groups ought to be having at the SXSW (South by Southwest) music and technology festival about to begin in Austin Texas (Friday, March 7 to Sunday, March 16).

The ability of technology to preserve and communicate knowledge is much vaunted, . . . we often fret over the indeliblity of the internet. . . if you post something indiscreet on Facebook will it haunt you forever?. . . But my question to Mr. Shirky was about what we are losing, whether with everything that is missing, potentially missing or pushed under on the internet are we in danger of a great loss, a great extinction of Mankind’s knowledge?
Me asking my question- Photo Jonathan Barkey
Responding to my question, Mr. Shirky began by saying that Tim Wu on the subject of monopolization (with its resultant corresponding lack of diversity) is “absolutely correct.”  Shirky offred his opinion that what is missing from the internet partly reflects an issue of what people are most interested in, with the relatively recent past being less interesting, but acknowledged that there is an information “gap between recent history and anything that predates our time on earth.”  He said it sounded like my aunt fell into that gap, further noting that digitized content on the web only starts with the 1980s.  My aunt died in 1992 and her activities along with her health had ebbed a number a few years before.  Going “backwards” in time, said Mr. Shirky so that other older information could be in the “public sphere” is “the work of libraries and archivists.”

At that point in the meeting a number of us held up our “Don’t Sell Our Libraries” signs and called out that our libraries should not be sold.

"Save The NYPL" flyers attendees band-aided to their chairs- Right now a people are signing a letter to Mayor de Blasio at the CSNYPL site
It has long been sort of mystery why the Brooklyn Heights Association has been supportively working towards a sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  The library is at least the second most important library in the entire Brooklyn system.  Rather paternalistically the BHA has decided that the library should be sold and shrunk when that is not what the people of the neighborhood want.
BHA president Alexandra Bowie who thinks the reason we ought to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library is so that we don't have books on "phrenology"
From Wikipedia
Thursday night at the BHA meeting BHA President Alexandra Bowie offered a sort of goofy pseudo-explanation to clear up that mystery saying that the library should be sold and shrunk so that we won’t have books on “PHRENOLOGY” in it!

Really?

Is that why the art section in the library is now empty of books on art history?

Is that why the children's section has vast expanses of empty shelves?

One year ago, at the last Brooklyn Heights Association meeting, one of the books Jane Jacobs, famous urbanist and thinker, (“Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics,” was discussed by Brooklyn Heights Board President Jane Carroll McGroarty to elucidate the moral issues relative to selling off neighborhood hospitals libraries. Notwithstanding, and although Jane Jacobs' work is highly relevant to being able to understand and address climate change and myriad other problems in our society, only one copy of one one of Jane Jacobs seven books can be found in the Brooklyn Heights Library.  And you won’t be able to read those books on the internet.
It is not as if Jane Jacobs books take up a lot of shelf space.  For reference, three of books above, the two biggest, beside the rest of an entire Jacobs home library collection are not by Jacobs.
After the meeting the BHA representatives speaking with the press described themselves as `negotiating'* with the BPL about the subject of the library, but anyone who has attended any of the so-called “Community Advisory Committee” meetings knows that this is obviously not the case . .  It cannot be the case when the BHA has described itself as following the lead of the teeny-tiny “Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library” group that has explicitly stated it isn’t permitted to “negotiate” for anything and can do nothing but what the BPL wants.
(* Instead of endorsing Mayor de Blasio's own call for a halt to the plan last July?)
Mr. Shirky does have some good news about how the internet operates sometimes.  His lead into the evening's discussion of the internet was to talk about Martha Payne, a British schoolgirl who was banned from posting pictures of her school’s meal on her very successful blog "NeverSeconds."  When word got out on the internet that her school banned her from posting pictures of the less-than-appetizing meals there was a viral furor that liberated Ms. Payne from the injustice.

A Facebook post about Matthew Zadrozny gone viral
 The week of the BHA meeting the fight to save New York City's libraries from being sold off and shrunk was having its own viral success.  After “Humans of New York,” which is both a for-purchase book and Facebook page, posted a picture of Matthew Zadrozny together with his statement of activism to save the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, the post received almost a quarter of a millionlikes” and over 52,000 shares (at last count 231,091 likes and 52,999 shares).  The astronomical, sudden and unusual popularity of the post and its relationship to the lurking news story resulted at least five articles in: The Atlantic, New York Metro, The Wire, Melville House, and Gothamist.  In fact, during an discussion with former Senator Harris Wofford at NYU's Gallatin School last night respecting the history of civil rights and race and activism NYPL president Anthony W. Marx noted the success the campaign against the NYPL's Central Library Plan has had in going viral. "It's amazing," he said.

Mr. Zadrozny was at the BHA meeting working to save libraries, picture below.
From left to right, Matthew Zadrozny, Micahel D. D. White, Carolyn McIntyre, Christabel Gough at the BHA meeting- Photo by Jonathan Barkey
In another example of the way that the internet can function with respect to these meetings, the Brooklyn Heights Blog published an article about the BHA meeting and the actions of Citizens Defending Libraries (I am a cofounder).  It is uncertain how flattering that article (Citizens Defending Libraries Has One Hiss-terical Week, By Homer Fink on March 2, 2014) was actually meant to be to Citizens Defending Libraries, but it presented a poll on who people agreed with, Citizens Defending Libraries or the Brooklyn Heights Association.  Approval for Citizens Defending Libraries has been hovering around 92% with approval for the BHA around 5 or 6%.  (You can still got to that link to vote, hopefully for CDL.)

Photo Jonathan Barkey

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Musical On Broadway: The “Revolting Children” of “Matilda” Throwing Away Library Books? No, It’s Revolting Adults! Really!

One of the four young actresses playing Matilda in the musical on Broadway.  Matlida loves her library books!
One of the hottest tickets on Broadway that you might be likely to take a cherished youngster to is about . . . child abuse!

Amazing?

It’s true, although it might be said as well that is also about the broader paradigm of those with power taking advantage of the powerless.

The show is Matilda, a musical based on the children’s novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, made into a film in 1996.

While the subject may, indeed, be child abuse, it is tackled presenting the kind of world you find in fairy tales, with reviled villains broadly expressed, their conspicuously awful traits laid on thickly with can-you-top-this imaginativeness.  It allows you to relish pinnacles of awfulness while resting safely assured the tale must be in the realm of fiction.  Although it's highly entertaining fare for adults, it is children’s satire that employs a sort of reverse-logic humor to have its 'nasty' fun.  The wickedly base adults of the plot do the opposite of the mature conduct that one stereotypically expects from grownups charged with responsibly raising children.

An example of some of the extreme absurdity central to the plot: The bad adults hate library books!  There is one scene where the horrid father of the young heroine Matilda delights in throwing away library books, tossing them in high arcs through the air, one after another, into a rubbish bin and another where that father ferociously dives into a tearing attack on a poor defenseless book to destroy it.  The book actually stands up pretty well in the battle.  These `adults' of this strange world are outraged that others would want to read books!  
Mr. Woomwood, Matilda's father-  a riled attack on a book
It stands as fairly self-evident that the show’s secure dramatic connection with its (often juvenile) audience presupposes that everybody sitting in the theater’s seats will clearly understand that is bad, really bad.  And yet. . .

. . . . In the very same American city where Matilda is playing on Broadway with the theme of destruction and hatred of library books being key to characterizing the plot’s travesties, just blocks away in a building on 42nd Street there are people who in real life have an inordinate amount of power and control, who are, in truth, plotting to get rid of books and libraries that house them.  The funding of libraries is being stymied and at the same time diverted into real estate boondoggles that won’t benefit the public.  These real life people are actually  like Ms. Trunchbull, the cruel school headmistress of the Matilda story: They are in similarly charge with positions of trust and responsibility . . .  they will actually be able to make the books, libraries, and librarians disappear. .  if they are not stopped.  They are people like New York Public Library trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman, head of the Blackstone Group, the world’s largest real estate investment firm which has multiple other side enterprises like hedge funds.

Amazing?

You don’t believe me about Matilda’s plot?  That it’s about child abuse?  Or that the adults in the plot are caricatured as so dastardly that they would be fixated on throwing away library books?  The good news is that the musical has a happy, if tricky and unusual, surprise ending which makes it, in the end, about conquering oppression and the resources it takes to liberate oneself.
Ms. Trunchbull with her tongue out as a non-fan of books.  Ms. Honey, teacher and friend to Matilda, is aghast.
In an interview about the show’s construction in the UK’s Telegraph (the show is an import from England where it was first performed) director Matthew Warchus explained: “This might be a story about child abuse but the twist is the child doesn’t see herself as helpless.”

Here is some description of the show from New York Times review when the musical opened last spring.
Rush now, barricade stormers of culture, to the Shubert Theater, and join the insurrection against tyranny, television, illiteracy, unjust punishment and impoverished imaginations, led by a 5-year-old La Pasionaria with a poker face and an off-the-charts I.Q.

    * * *

Above all it’s an exhilarating tale of empowerment, as told from the perspective of the most powerless group of all. I mean little children.

    * * *

The printed word is regarded in the Wormwood household [Matilda’s home] as kiddie pornography might be looked upon in others.
(See: Theater Review- Children of the World, Unite! ‘Matilda the Musical’ at Shubert Theater, by Ben Brantley, April 11, 2013.)
Above, Leslie Margerita as Mrs. Wormwood, Matilda's mother, from one of the videos ,"looks not books," promoting the show.
Even Matilda’s garish mother, obsessed with ballroom dancing, is flatly antagonistic to books.  Her motto?: “Looks, not books!”. . .  

. . .  The motto might as well also be the motto of those generating the designs for what we will supposed to be getting in place of real libraries in the future.
"Looks Not Books" again?  On left the proposed design for the tiny shrunken Donnell "replacement library."  On the right the design of the bookless library that design was apparently taken from.
You don’t believe me that those at the pinnacles of New York power running libraries are similarly antagonistic to and getting rid of books, selling off and shrinking libraries to virtual shadows?

Not that long ago, before Mayor Bloomberg had taken over from Mayor Giuliani, the flagship, destination libraries of Manhattan had on the order of 13 million books in them to be readily available to city readers.  Now as Bloomberg has just left office those running the libraries are busy reducing that number way down to around only 4 million books, perhaps closer to 3.5 million
From 1987 to an envisioned 2015 (with an implemented Central Library Plan), how total number of books in Manhattan's principal libraries is declining drastically.  Over 12 million books in 1996 and 2003 to perhaps 4.2 million books (or even far fewer?) when CLP is implemented.  Starting figures in the graph for 1987 and 1992 are graphed lower than than they actually should be because they don't include unknown numbers for Mid-Manhattan and Donnell
When Giuliani left office, libraries and library space had been expanding and there were plans for more growth with, particularly significant, new construction to almost double of the size of Mid-Manhattan, the borough’s most used circulation library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue.  Across the street, the world-esteemed 42nd Street Central Reference Library, expanded to nearly double its book-holding capacity in 1992 (with the Bryant Park being closed for more than four years at taxpayer expense for this purpose) completed still another expansion, its most recent, in 2002.  During the Bloomberg years, those running the library system pivoted. . .     

. . .  The beloved Donnell Library on 53rd Street across from MoMA was suddenly and secretively sold off for a pittance, not yet replaced, to shrink it down to less than a third of its previous size, in space that will be mostly subterranean and largely bookless.  Having so far gotten away with this affront to library lovers, the same perverse crew running libraries is pursuing something called the “Central Library Plan” that sells off Mid-Manhattan, the recently completed Science, Industry and Business library, and plunders the research stacks of the Central Reference Library, getting rid of and exiling the research books kept there, reducing all this space to about one quarter the amount of library space that existed before.
From an earlier NNY Article- 1987 to an envisioned 2015 (with an implemented Central Library Plan), total actual midtown Manhattan Library destination space actual and planned, first going up and then going lower than ever before
The Donnell debacle spun off a real estate deal benefitting developers and people in real estate.  The Central Library Plan would likewise spin off such deals as would comparable plans to sell off libraries in Brooklyn, similarly shrinking them and getting rid of books.

The bad adults in Matlida are characterized by mendacity and lying.  They use deceit to surreptitiously appropriate from others what does not belong to them.  Though the Central Library Plan would reduce more than 380,000 square feet of library space down to just 80,000 square feet, those selling off and reducing all this library space have the effrontery to be representing the reduction as an expansion.  See: Saturday, July 13, 2013, Deceptive Representations By New York Public Library On Its Central Library Plan: We’re NOT Shrinking Library Space, We Are Making MORE Library Space!   
A scene of a destroyed English library in Matilda?  No, a photo in a warning Tweet from Library Lovers League about pending destruction in the New York City library system.
This is akin to Matilda’s father, a used car salesman, turning back the odometers on cars he hopes to deceptively sell.  Did you know that one excuse given for why the libraries now supposedly need to be sold off in a scheme of self-cannibalizing shrinkage is that Bloomberg has not been funding them adequately, but on November 4th, at the end of his mayoral term, the eve of the election that would replace Mr. Bloomberg with Bill de Blasio (calling for a halt to Bloomberg's plans), the NYPL held a trustee gala specially honoring this mayor who presided over the sale, shrinkage, underfunding of libraries and banishment of their books?

Below are two videos from the rally held outside the gala to protest this absurdity.



Carolyn E. McIntyre, Citizens Defending Libraries Rally, 4 November 2013




Citizens Defending Libraries Rally, New York Public Library, 4 November 2013

The “Central Library Plan” has not found favor with the public so the NYPL has deceptively tried changing its name to the “42 Street Library Renovation,” (“It's the same plan,” says NYPL COO David Offensend), and most recently, even more abstrusely referring to a  “renovated central branch library,” in a bit of trickiness whereby the NYPL attempted to fool people into unknowingly supporting the unpopular plan. 
Matilda's library set- full of books
In contrast, empty shelves in the Brooklyn Heights Library.  More pictures of the empty library shelves around the city compared to the way we conceptually believe library shelves should be filled are here in this article.  
The shelves of Matilda's library refuge are full of books
The counter to the bleakness of the villains in Matilda is the library (and its resident librarian).  Throughout the evening there are recurring scenes in a library that is Matilda’s sustaining refuge in a world where she must fend entirely for herself.  Brantley, the Times reviewer, speaks of the library set as:
an airy wonderland of large letter-bearing tiles and bookcases. It suggests the endless supply from which Matilda (and vicariously we) can draw to make words, which make sentences, which make stories.
Because, as Brantley discerns, the story celebrates a wellspring of available empowerment:
"Matilda," you see, is about words and language, books and stories, and their incalculable worth as weapons of defense, attack and survival. It's about turning the alphabet into magic, and using it to rule the world.
One of the show's Facebook promotions referencing the "Telly" song
Matilda’s father offers a competing philistine vision to ‘thinking’ and what ought to be desirable.  The second act opens with the musical number “Telly.”  Some sample lyrics:
Somewhere on a show I heard, that a picture tells a thousand words, so telly, if you bother to take a look. is the equivalent of like, . . .  lots of books!

All I know, I learned from telly, this big beautiful box of facts.

. . . all you need to make you wise is twenty-three minutes plus advertisements.

. . . The bigger the telly, the smarter the man.. .  You can tell from my big telly just what a very clever fellow I am.

. . . all you need to fill your noggin without really having to think or nothing.
Library administration officials aren’t exactly promoting television screens to replace books, but as books take up real estate and thus entail keeping the libraries, they are promoting the idea that books be replaced with computer screens despite public preference for physical books and recent reviews of scientific literature suggesting that the human brain is hardwired to learn and remember better when reading physical books.
Mr. Tony Marx Wormwood?  Is Photoshop all it takes to imagine NYPL President Tony Marx as Mr. Wormwood?  Mr Marx was hired and is very well paid to promote the NYPL's plans to eliminate books and libraries as `populism' (like the Telly?) NOT discriminatory and antidemocratic.
But, as Mr. Wormwood articulates in his anthem to couch surfing: “Why would we waste our energy our energy turning pages, one, two, three, when we can sit comfortably, on our lovely bumferlies.”

Promotion for the musical's satire
Another anthem in the show extolling a contrary value system antagonistic to what one expects to  appreciate in libraries as sanctuaries of thought and contemplation is Mrs. Wormwood’s song Loud.”  Some sample lyrics:
People don't like smarty pants
What go round claiming
That they know stuff
We don't know.

Now, here's a tip.
What you know matters less
Than the volume with which
What you don't know's expressed!

Content, has never been less important.
So you have got to be ...

Loud!
(Loud, loud, loud)
Do I need to express that the song repeats the word “loud” many times and LOUDLY?

Did you know that new York City library administration officials are now touting the idea that libraries should be “loud” (with a `non-shush' policy) so that they can be smaller spaces where everything “flexibly” happens pell-mell on top of everything else.  So with the opening of Mariners Harbor, the NYPL’s most recently designed library, we learn that it is supposed to be NOISY!: “`We encourage noise,’ said Elizabete Pata, the library manager. `I’m not the typical librarian, shushing people.’”

Might that drive away an earnest, contemplative, book-reading child like Matilda?  Might that, in fact, be the point?

In the show’s second act Ms. Trunchbull in her supervillain musical number unveils her vision of the world (“scarier than any spook house,” according to Brantley), a world without children
Imagine a world with no children.
Close your eyes and just dream.
Imagine – come on, try it –
The peace and the quiet.
A burbling stream.
Absurd for a school mistress?  But in well-to-do New York City we have been substantially cutting back on the very small amounts required to fund libraries when usage is up 40% programatically and 59% in terms of circulation.  And then, as noted, the NYPL trustees specially honor Bloomberg for cutting that funding!  Shouldn’t we suspect that the intent is to drive away the patrons?  All the better to sell the real estate?  In the future, those who were library users can just sit at home downloading to smart phones, leaving the developers to access their real estate in “peace and quiet.”

The odious adults in Matilda are all self-obsessed, arrogant, and self-congratulatory.  Matilda's parents hardly notice her, except occasionally as a nuisance.

Agatha Truchbull’s expressed-in-Latin credo?: “Bambinatum est maggitum”- “Children are maggots.”

Above Stephen A. Schwrzman, NYPL Trustee and Blackstone Group Head, as Agantha Trunchbull.  Is Mr. Schwarzaman a real life version of Ms. Trunchbull?
One wonders what vision of the world NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman, has of the world: He is providing funds specifically for the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan and its elimination of books.  Consider his real estate empire, an important part of which has been collecting empty foreclosed homes, an activity he says he wishes were not coming to an end so fast.  There is also his promotion of fracking with its implications in terms of devastating worldwide climate change.  Will that wind up emptying the world of humans?
From the pen of Simon Verity- mournful, if fantastical contemplation of some real life fears for New Yorkers loving libraries 
Most of Matilda takes place at a school, Crunchem Hall, where the children’s spirits are oppressed by the monstrous Ms. Trunchbull.  One of the most horrifically harrowing scenes occurs when at their desks the children are forced to sit writing essays arguing for the abolition of free public libraries, replacing them by institutions that can only be used by those lucky enough to have the wherewithal to pay to get in.. . .   WAIT!. . . WAIT!. . That’s not really part of plot of Matilda, although it easily could be.   . . .  The spirit-crushing essay assignment actually comes from the real world, something that is now happening in New York City schools.
Kick Matilda out of her book-filled library?-  Tell her she can only come back if here parents give her money to pay to get in?
Yes, it’s true.  New York youngsters, striving to graduate, are being assigned the task of writing arguments in favor of abolishing public libraries!  Or they can write to argue that public libraries can be kept. . . but to create this either/or assignment is to imply that the debate is somehow down-the-middle.  Down-the-middle?  Really?  Should we assign susceptible children the an optional task of arguing that climate change isn’t occurring or that evolution is a suspect and unreal science?

Yes it is amazing, but. . .

. . . Amazing doesn’t make it any less true or unfortunate-  Also, as children in Ms. Trunchbull’s school find out when offered ghastly either/or choices: When the children succeed beyond expectation in surmounting one shocking challenge, it's best they be prepared to learn that Ms. Trunchbull still has in store for them the other more dreaded choice.

Here is the story about those essays.  Even as our schools are themselves being increasingly privatized in various ways and increasingly become corporately-sponsored, corporately-massaged environments with teaching-to-the-test regimes that starve intellectual curiosity and passion, focusing perhaps too much on churning out credentialed graduates certified that slot easily into that kind of business environment, suggestions are being made in ways you might never guess respecting how our values perhaps ought to shift.  Are we really supposed to be thinking in terms of selling off everything that is public and with privatization let the private sector take charge of everything that used to be publicly handled?

You remember the 71-year-old tradition of the GED, the high school equivalency diplomas with GED standing for “General Educational Development”?  The exam is being privatized with McGraw-Hill a for-profit education company taking over.

Would you as a young ungraduated person like to prepare for McGraw-Hill’s new replacement test, the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion), by taking on one of their practice questions?---  Maybe, if you have been forced to think about completing your high school education with this substitute you are particularly reliant on libraries and self-education— Well, that’s how you will wind up answering the McGraw-Hill essay question that suggests that the public libraries, like this school testing, should be taken over by the private sector.  Because, doesn’t the private sector know best how to deliver the message that public assets don’t have value?
McGraw-Hill essay prompt: "There is an ongoing debate . . .  whether free public libraries are still practical in today’s world."

Here is McGraw-Hill’s “essay prompt”:
There is an ongoing debate in the public domain as to whether free public libraries are still practical in today’s world. What are the implications for society of a “free”public library system? Has the time come for cities to consider requiring patrons to pay a fee to use library services?
There is an ongoing debate about keeping libraries?  It’s going on “in the public domain”?

Promotion for the musical
Really?  Tell that to Matilda!  Tell that to writers, producers and performers of the musical Matilda!  I think they thought when they put these anti-library arguments in the mouths of their villains it was cartoonish satire more than a good safe remove from reality.

It’s time to fight back, not just be `amazed.'

Meanwhile, until there is a new musical based directly on the conniving in New York with respect to libraries, you can get a good dose of satiric relief by going to see Matilda, which has parodic fun with some closely analogous situations where fiction vies to be as strange as the truth.

Promotion for the show.  You'd be surprised what little can do a lot.  Support the campaign.
Personal Note

I cannot bring this article to a conclusion without a very personal note in memoriam for a comrade in life.

Randy-  A helluva guy
I went to see Matilda partly as an observance to respect the death of a friend, my best friend from high school, Nicholas Randolf “Randy”Morrison, a stagehand who worked at the Shubert Theater on this show.  He died between Christmas and New Years and this was the very last show of the many, many Broadway shows he worked on over the years, beginning with “Beatlemania” in 1977.  I talked with Randy a lot during the time he was working on Matilda (it opened in April), especially in the recent months and weeks before he died, when he was cutting back substantially for health reasons. . .

. .  Odd thing: For all the time I talked with him, Randy never mentioned to me how much the plot of show Matilda was about libraries, although he knew about my campaign as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries to save New York City’s libraries from being sold to real estate developers and he’d signed our petition to help the cause.  Randy never suggested to me about how observing these parallels might help the cause- or I didn't pick up on it.  I think he must have been preoccupied with his health.  Sometimes we need to think about other things and we had so much to talk about concerning all the other things that were good in life.
One of the pictures posted by a friend imagining a musical at the Schubert about Randy who worked there