July 29, 2014

The Nation Publishes “The Hidden History of New York City’s Central Library Plan”

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The latest issue of The Nation (on newsstands Saturday) includes an investigative report (3400+ words) by Scott Sherman on the inside story behind NYPL’s controversial Central Library Plan.

The full text of the report is now available online.

It includes material that comes from found 10 years of NYPL trustee minutes. The Nation obtained these documents under the State of New York Open Meeting Law.

Sherman’s article asks the question, “Why did one of the world’s greatest libraries adopt a $300 million transformation without any real public debate?”

Here are a few passages from Sherman’s 3400+ word article:

Ten years of NYPL trustee meeting minutes, obtained by The Nation under the state’s Open Meetings Law, shed light on these questions and reveal the extent to which the CLP, from its inception, was characterized by secrecy and hubris.

[Clip]

In late 2005 and early 2006, the trustees began to ponder expansive questions about the NYPL’s future and approved the creation of an ad hoc committee “tasked with considering the Library’s evolution over the next five to ten years.”

In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton was hired to assist the trustees with “the strategy.” [Booz Allen was paid more $2.5 million for their consulting services].

NYPL executives may be keen to serve the public, but they are not so keen to engage it. Many aspects of the CLP remain cloaked in secrecy, and top NYPL staff imparted details of the plan only with great reluctance. The NYPL’s mission statement, which executives are quick to invoke, highlights the word “accountability.” My reporting, which included sixty interviews, left me with a different impression: the NYPL preaches accountability, but it doesn’t always practice it.

What lessons are to be drawn from the CLP? First, transparency is essential when public libraries are planning immense transformations. A striking counterpoint is the Seattle Public Library, which remade its system in the late 1990s in a remarkably transparent way.

[Clip]

Second, librarians must be involved in library policy. The NYPL’s staff was mostly excluded from the conception and execution of the CLP, and excessive power was concentrated in the hands of two men with no library training, both of whom provided continuity between the LeClerc and Marx regimes: Marshall Rose and David Offensend.

Direct to Full Text Article

Note: Yesterday, the Wall St. Journal reported that the NYPL is “rethinking” some of the Central Library Plan design.

See Also: Upheaval at the New York Public Library (via The Nation)
Scott Sherman’s report that broke the news of the Central Library Plan.

Interviews and Discussions from WNYC Radio

Selection of infoDOCKET Posts About CLP From 2012

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.