NYC's Public Libraries

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Andrew Carnegie Library, built in 1904. Queens Library Poppenhusen Branch (Wally Gobetz/flickr)

Linda Johnson, president and CEO of The Brooklyn Public Library, Thomas Galante, president and CEO of Queens Library and Anthony Marx, president of New York Public Library, come together to talk about the common issues facing their systems and how the libraries are keeping pace with technological and demographic changes in the city.

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Thomas Galante, Linda E. Johnson and Anthony Marx

Comments [36]

eleniNYC from Jackson Heights

A reply to: Wait500

Although I agree with you that the librarians in Qns. are NOT the most pleasant OR helpful. I did grow up hanging out in a Qns. branch library. Libraries serve other functions: free ESL classes for adults when there are no Settlement/ Community/Neighborhood Houses in close proximity [these venues are traditionally within 10 mins. walking]. Libraries SHOULD carry books in other languages and are supposed to reflect the languages of the neighborhood. There isn't anything wrong with that. Remember English is NOT the official language of this country. It's a language that mutally agreed upon by everyone. My mom benefitted from this service, especially since it's difficult to find novels in Greek. Newspapers are ok, but let's face it, they're boring in ALL languages.

Jul. 01 2013 11:17 AM
eleniNYC from Jackson Heights

I would like to thank Ms Berkon for revealing Bloomberg's agenda to further destroying the City. It now makes sense why the NYPL Research Library is turning into a library with NO books.

Jul. 01 2013 11:02 AM
Marilyn Berkon from Brooklyn, NY

All those complaints about paltry city contributions to the library budget? Anthony Marx made absolutely no mention of the 300 million dollars from Mayor Bloomberg to destroy the research stacks at the NYPL, 42nd Street,and replace them with a useless lending library far too small to accommodate the books from Mid Manhattan Branch and SIBL. Those two libraries will be sold for a pittance,like the Donnell,to private real estate developers. Moreover, with the removal of the seven stories of stacks at the NYPL, the very structure of this treasured building is at serious risk of collapse since the stacks form the architectural heart of the building. Its reputation as a research institution will also be destroyed. No one will wait several days for books to arrive from the New Jersey storage area. I wonder why Mr. Marx did not disclose these important truths in the interview. I wonder, too, how he claims that his inadequate lending library doubles the public space. The 300 million dollars should be used instead to repair and refresh our libraries citywide. There is no good reason to be selling them off to private real estate developers who have only their own interests in mind. It would be good to hear those in opposition to the NYPL plan speaking on The Brian Lehrer Show in the very near future. Perhaps he might invite Michael D.D. White from the Citizens Defending Libraries campaign.

Jun. 03 2013 06:15 PM
curiousm from New York City

when a student at CU Library School I wrote a history of the Donnell Library. The terms of the will leaving the land and a fortune to the NYPL were very clear. The will is Many Donnell relatives contested the wll, but the Library prevailed. I do not understand how the library could sell this property and violate the terms of the will. The Attorney General of the State of NY should look into this. I once contacted the library about this but I never got an answer.

May. 29 2013 07:11 PM

I live in and I hate that in my local libraries there are major sections of books and other media that are not in English. I stopped giving any money to queens - I only donate to the nypl. Let immigrants learn English and become part of our culture. I appreciate the diversity in queens. That's a huge part of why I live here but we should not be making it more comfortable for immigrants to remain in their enclaves. We should be encouraging more acculturation to our societal ways and the library can help this process.

The other issue: queens library employees are generally not so pleasant. Nypl: much better.

May. 29 2013 01:32 PM
Leslie from Brooklyn

Books where $$ is scarce - Recently traveled in Cuba where the love of books is everywhere - libraries, education, second-hand book stalls, and of course writers, writers, writers.

May. 29 2013 12:52 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

I find it worrisome in the extreme that at a time when the libraries are looking to sell off and reconfigure multiple important libraries in real estate deals the sale and shrinkage of the Donnell library (used to be across from MoMA) is being held up as a model.

I was at the NYPL trustees meeting earlier this month where NYPL president Tony Marx presented the new Donnell plans and he was unapologetic that it is one-third the size, underground, hardly a library at all, they seemingly don’t care about books, or that the sale of the old five-story Donnell netted only $39 million. The penthouse in the 50-story building going to replace it is being marketed for $60 million. Gone is the wonderful new auditorium, the state of the art media center, the newly renovated teen center.

All Marx apologized for is that the replacement for Donnell, closed in 2008 won’t reopen until at least 2015.

The remarks of both BPL president Linda Johnson and Tony Marx in this segment when they say these new libraries like a replacement for the Brooklyn Heights library and the Central Library Plan will be better and of equivalent size should be judged against this background. The proposed new Donnell is in no way equivalent or as good as the old but doesn’t stop library officials from deceptively praising it in very much the same terms.

For more about this see:

Friday, May 24, 2013
Previews Of The Proposed New Donnell Library: The NYPL Unveils Its Version Of The “Silk Purse” Libraries It Envisions For Our Future

Also, see the web pages of Citizens Defending Libraries website and its petition dealing with these issues.

May. 29 2013 12:00 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

NYC Library Patron from NYC: I have used the interlibrary system, but for a main branch to be missing major stuff, from where will the other libraries borrow it?

Maybe some of the libraries could use the prize money to put photovoltaic cells on their roofs. This could help cover electric costs and at least take that expense off the table.:-)

May. 29 2013 11:48 AM
unemployed librarian from UWS

The crusade against libraries is not just a unique NYC issue. This is a fundamental movement of privatizing all the public services taking place in this country and the world. Of course, what this is really about is the 1%. The end product will always be the same: maybe these private enterprise will run on fumes, for some time. But in the end, after being bailed out with public money, they will close. Not surprisingly, the best thing for the 1% is to de-educate 99% of the country so that we are helpless. We are already well into this future.

May. 29 2013 11:43 AM
Joanne King

Fred in Kew Gardens -- you are correct that the books you love are being threatened. So are the books you DON'T love, the homework help books, the magazines, the programs, services, computer access -- all of it. If the proposed budget cut to libraries is not restored, there will be pain all around. Write to your elected officials -- please -- and tell them that you want your library to be adequately funded.

Freegal was a loss, I agree, but I understand that the library plans to replace it with a more cost-effective music provider in the near future.

May. 29 2013 11:43 AM
Fred from Kew Gardens

People need to respect the books that they borrow. I often find even new books are damaged- folded pages, underlining, marginalia, water damage, food stains, etc. These people should be fined for damaging public property. It would be a good source of revenue.

May. 29 2013 11:43 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Leslie, you tuned in 2 minutes before the segment ended & think "books" & "reading" weren't mentioned in the 24 minutes before? They were, & you can play it back later & hear that they were.

May. 29 2013 11:42 AM
Phylllis Starkman from Brooklyn, NY

Ms. Johnson has glossed over the sale of the Cadman Plaza Branch library. The inflated costs to fix air conditioning in that branch and in the Pacific St. branch are outrageous and an excuse to sell to a developer who will build a high risers. These branches can be upgraded and left intact - they are public properties and the public is outraged at this blatant grab for public space along with the lack of the leaders of the BPL to seek other ways to fund the libraries and keep the buildings. Do not dismiss what happened to the Donnell branch from this equation.

May. 29 2013 11:41 AM
Joanne King

Mary in Sunnyside, you should phone the Queens Library Foundation to find out about your donation. Phone is 718-480-4270. They can certainly help.

May. 29 2013 11:35 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Yeah, but will all those additional spaces be opened at the main library by moving more of the collections offsite? (Damn, why did that part have to come at the end?)

May. 29 2013 11:34 AM
Mary from Sunnyside NY

I donated a couple hundred bucks to the Qnz Public Library in memory of my mother.

When I went to my branch to find out which books were bought, (and I wanted to photostat their bookplates to send to my father) they couldn't tell me. What's more, they couldn't be bothered. I was told that patrons of my branch "are very generous" and they couldn't keep track of all the donated books they receive.

Now library admins are shilling that they don't have enough money.

May. 29 2013 11:31 AM
Leslie from Brooklyn

Just started listening but have not heard the words "books" and "reading," NYPL closes small libraries. Rebuilding, not amazingly , 42nd St library.

May. 29 2013 11:31 AM

Sadly, people like Michael Bloomberg and Christine Quinn are not readers. They will pretend otherwise, or they will say that they don't have time for reading. But they are not intellectual or artistic or literary. And they have people to read for them and summarize. Worse, much worse, they show the same attitude to public libraries that they do to public schools — utter, unalloyed hostility.

May. 29 2013 11:31 AM
NYC Library Patron from NYC

Another new service in the NYPL system that I appreciate is the copy machines are being upgraded to allow "Scan to USB." A useful tool at a reasonable price.

May. 29 2013 11:31 AM
NYC Library Patron from NYC

@Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I agree with your point. One library in the NYPL system has removed most of the books from its stacks and replaced them with DVDs. I miss the days of being able to browse the stacks and discover new authors.

However, if you cannot locate a book in the NYPL system (Manhattah/Bronx/S.I.) you can use the Inter-Libary Loan Service:

I don't know for fact, but I would guess that the Brooklyn library system has a similar resource.

May. 29 2013 11:28 AM
Fred from Kew Gardens

I use and NEED a good public library, since I can no longer afford to buy the books that I read. I'm concerned that the more 'serious' and recently published books are not going to be there with these yearly budget cuts. The Central library in Queens up to now has been quite good even though there's usually a waiting list even for the more obscure titles.

I'm also really disappointed that Queens no longer subscribes to Freegal, a great source of classical music that I used to download onto my MP3 player. The selections were terrific. I was told it was now too expensive for the libraries to get.

May. 29 2013 11:26 AM
Audrey from Bronx, NY

I have a question for the guests: are there any plans to update the database for ebooks? I love borrowing books for my Kindle, but it takes so long to actually find books I am interested in. Companies like Amazon and Netflix do such a great job of suggesting other titles- would it be feasible to expect something like this from the library?

May. 29 2013 11:21 AM
jf from brooklyn


May. 29 2013 11:21 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Independent_Noach: Stop looking for ghosts where there are none. My local library serves a VERY diverse community (we have ten (10) languages just at our local polling places!) and we have books in English, Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew (including all volumes of the Talmud!), Chinese, Hindi, etc. Libraries are supposed to serve their communities and while we can't have books in EVERY language on the planet, I think our local population is served.

I would like to nominate my local (Brooklyn) library because it has mostly "mind candy" and needs the money to get real literature. I remember the last time I was at the main branch Brooklyn Public Library. I was looking for a book (any book) by John D. MacDonald and could find none. This man wrote over 80 books - both fiction and nonfiction - in his lifetime and a main branch library had not a single one. That is just plain sad. Only bestsellers and romance novels are in adequate supply. If people would read the classics, maybe we'd have a better society.

I think people go to the library now is because many people can't afford to buy books any more. Also, they get free Wi-Fi there. And it's a place to escape the heat or cold, though the restricted hours limit that.

May. 29 2013 11:19 AM
Kate from Washington Heights

Preach it, brother!!!!!

"A place to think" - amazing. He's putting tears in my eyes.

A public library is a great democratic institution, so watch out for the tearers down of democracy who will try to siphon funding away. When I've traveled to places like El Salvador, I am struck by the total lack of public institutions, such as public libraries and I've always felt that it was symptomatic of the 1% having a stranglehold on the society, and a lack of willingness to pay taxes.

Thank you wonderful people for your work!

May. 29 2013 11:18 AM

I visited the Bryant Park branch of the NYPL about 2 years ago, I'm not entirely sure if that is what it's called but I don't remember the exact name. I was surprised at how many people were there in the middle of the afternoon. It was fully functional and sufficient from my point of view as a public space for people who want to study, collaborate, and read.

I think libraries are a sacred space. As one of the guests say, "the library is a place where we can think!" We need to push our legislators to funnel more money into this important pillar of our society as we see more of our sacred public places diminishing because of irresponsible budget cuts with no regard to the public diaspora.

May. 29 2013 11:16 AM
Pat from Queens

I am concerned that the library director should be well compensated, but Mr. Galante's salary is surprising compared to the pall of laying off front line staff and reducing branch hours while not impacting his salary in a commensurate manner.

Why is it necessary for his salary to be so large in a municipal environment?

May. 29 2013 11:14 AM
pliny from soho

Please, more EPUB digital format books.

May. 29 2013 11:14 AM
Steve from Manhattan

As a frequent user of the resources at the 42nd St NYPL, I have a question for Mr. Marx. In the main reading room, probably less than one in 10 people are using library resources. The computers for internet use always have waiting lines while those that only access the library's resources are always available. Plus many of the people are using cell phones or talking to others despite posted warnings not to do so.

I wonder if it wouldn't make sense to simply hire a large room somewhere with wifi access and computers for internet access and none of the other library's resources. It would seem that this would markedly reduce the costs of security if nothing else.

May. 29 2013 11:13 AM
Joanne in Jamaica

Here in Queens, libraries are critical lifelines to so many -- certainly immigrants and the disadvantaged, but also services and programs for educated, upwardly mobile people who have a "voice." I met a man at my local library who was taking an online PhD and needed the public library since he did not have access to a university one. And yet, the City is cutting library budgets.

We need to stop the budget cuts, and not by complaining to each other. We need to go to our local libraries and sign the petitions, or go to or

May. 29 2013 11:01 AM
lucy from Brooklyn

The City has woefully underfunded the libraries and allowed them to go into to disrepair in order to have the excuse to dispose of them to the rapacious real estate industry. Let it be clear, that library use is at an all time high as well as being an important community asset for gathering and respite for children, teens and seniors. This is the time when library officials have decided to shrink, sell and consolidate libraries. They are also closing several libraries for all or part of the summer to fix air conditions. Air conditions have become the default reason to sell off libraries as they claim that the cost to repair and replace them is prohibitive. Libraries should not be open to assault by developers.

Also, it should be known that librarians have been gagged from discussing these sell offs under threat of losing their jobs!

May. 29 2013 10:31 AM
Jessica D from Windsor Terrace

I moved from Washington, DC to Brooklyn, NY two years ago, and I've stopped reading books because the libraries are so terrible here. The library I used in DC was a tiny space but they had good books and an after hours dropbox.

By contrast, Brooklyn libraries (Bed-stuy, Windsor Terrace, Cadman Plaza, and main branch):

have zero to 3 copies of mainstream books for the entire system;
the wifi connection is terrible;
there aren't separate sections for quiet work vs community spaces and it's especially loud after school;
they lack after hours drop boxes; and
the facilities are antiquated, they lack AC and plugs for computers.

It's simply terrible and I'm not in the minority of this view of people I know who have moved to NYC from other major cities.

May. 29 2013 10:13 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Thank you Mr White for fighting the good fight. It is tragic and it is repugnant what is going on with shutting down the libraries.

May. 29 2013 10:08 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

I would like to use my nomination and award for one of the multiple special libraries in jeopardy of being sold to create real estate deals like Donnell, the five story library that stood on 53rd Street across from MoMA on 53rd street, sold to net the NYPL the pittance of $39 million. (The penthouse in the 50-story building going up to replace is onthe market for $60 million.) Hardly, a fate that Mr. Donnell who donated the funds for the library or John D. Rockefeller who donated the land might have expected to become of their gifts when Donnell housed a capacious new auditorium, a state of the art media center and new, expensively renovated teen center.

It is awkwardly late to demand that the old Donnell be brought back but there are other libraries now in jeopardy from real estate sales now being promoted by presidents Marx and Johnson as official policy, the further consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan and the sale of the historic Pacific Branch next to Ratner’s highly subsidized “Barclays” arena.

The library I would like to nominate, and thereby hopefully save, is the Business and Career library in Brooklyn Heights BECAUSE OF WHERE IT IS LOCATED, centrally and accessibly on the border of Downtown Brooklyn and historic Brooklyn Heights where it acts as a beacon of opportunity, much more than just a typical small branch drawing and integrating with shared hopes people of all sorts from all over the borough and city, including those seeking jobs and to improve their relative status in the world.

Unfortunately, the award of only $10,000 seems a paltry effort, a mere distraction, in the face of the value of the very substantial library assets the library presidents are casually casting off by selling treasures like Donnell or demolishing the research stacks of the Central Reference Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

Our Citizens Defending Libraries campaign and petition is fighting the sale and shrinkage of library system assets.

May. 29 2013 09:39 AM

The NYPL is being downsized and dismantled. The Donnell branch was closed a few yrs ago with plans to replace it with a new branch one third its size. SIBL and Mid Manhattan are to be closed with their contents transferred to the 42nd St library. This is not addition by subtraction - This Is Subtraction. Where is the outrage in this city to the chloroforming and destruction of one its cultural jewels? When will Brian's listeners and other New Yorkers wake up and proclaim that the bulldozing and gutting of the NYPL system WILL NOT STAND

May. 29 2013 08:09 AM

Has anyone ever examined the inventory of the NY Public Libraries for evidence of bias? (In the form of disproportionate numbers of titles that favor particular points-of-view and ideologies.)

That would make for a most worthy topic to cover on this show.

May. 29 2013 06:42 AM

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