What is the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL)?
The Brooklyn Public Library operates a Central Library, a Business Library and 58 branches throughout the borough of Brooklyn.
BPL is a private non-for-profit corporation that contracts with the government to provide library services. It was chartered by the Regents of the State of New York and is funded primarily by the City and State of New York and the federal government, with a smaller share coming from private contributions.
What types of properties does BPL control?
BPL primarily operates in City-owned buildings, but in a few neighborhoods, it rents space to house its branches.
Who makes decisions for BPL?
BPL operates under the direction of a 38-member Board of Trustees. 12 members are elected by the Board, 11 members are appointed by the Mayor, 11 members are appointed by the Borough President, and there are 4 ex officio positions for the Mayor, the New York City Comptroller, City Council Speaker, and Borough President. Every meeting of the Board of Trustees is open to the public but only Trustees can participate in voting and deliberations.
What rules apply when BPL sells or leases public land or buildings?
Any disposition of City-owned property operated by BPL must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process, described here.
If a building has been designated as a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), as the Central Library has been, any modifications to the physical building must be approved by the LPC, as described here.
What are the public notice requirements for BPL projects, and how can community members influence what happens?
There are several opportunities for public participation throughout the ULURP process when BPL and the City propose to sell or lease City-owned property, as described here.
Groups can also advocate to have libraries that are not yet designated landmarks become designated. Although the status does not prevent a sale, it limits what owners are able to do with the building (as explained in this report).
Examples of BPL projects
In recent years, the BPL has pursued redeveloping numerous branches, citing crippling repair costs and budget BPL-wide shortages. Community members and elected officials have frequently objected to these sales, arguing that the amount of money BPL typically receives from developers in such deals is not sufficient relative to what developers gain and the community loses. Although many proposed sales include both the creation of new library spaces within future development, these spaces are frequently smaller and less inviting than the original library spaces, in the view of many residents.
The results of community opposition to proposals to sell BPL branches have been mixed. In 2013, the City stopped the planned sale of the Pacific Street Branch Library, the oldest Carnegie Library in the BPL system, in response to community sentiment.
In March 2016, the $52 million sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library to a private developer was approved. The developer plans to build a 36-story luxury condominium, with space for a library, education center, and retail. Although Mayor Bill de Blasio faced scrutiny from the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan District Attorney offices for allegedly showing preferential treatment to the selected developer and community activists filed a lawsuit against the project, the development at 280 Cadman Plaza is moving forward.
In the fall of 2016, the sale of a BPL branch in Sunset Park was also approved. It is going to the Fifth Avenue Committee, a non-profit affordable housing developer that plans to create an eight-story apartment complex with about 50 apartments and a library on the bottom floors. The project is described here.
For More Information
“New Scrutiny of City’s Library Trustees,” City Limits, June 18, 2014 – this article provides a helpful overview of the different structures of the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library