Featherstone: It's the Girl Scouts vs. Brooklyn library officials
Brooklyn Public Library officials plan to sell one of the system's most beautiful and historically significant branches to a private developer. But the loudest outcry isn't coming from the ruling-class heirs to Andrew Carnegie, whose fortune built the stunning 1903 building on Fourth Avenue and Pacific Street, nor from the city's public-sector unions.
The most high-profile protest is that of Girl Scouts Troop 2657, which has its weekly meetings there. Let's hope the scouts win.
The troop is made up of girls from all over the city -- including Harlem and Staten Island -- who can easily get to the meetings because the Pacific Branch is next to a huge transportation hub. The girls are deeply attached to the wide-open second-floor meeting space, which is filled with natural light.
The branch was one of the first public libraries with space designed specifically for children, complete with small shelves and chairs, scaled for little readers.
It was also the first of the Carnegie-funded library branches to open in Brooklyn, and it boasts exquisite woodwork and a rotunda with an iron balcony. But it was never granted landmark status. Library officials project it would cost $11 million to update the building so, in a bad trade for the public, the library will move to the bottom of a Two Trees development on Fulton Street -- a soulless skyscraper.
The Girl Scouts have made a video and written a petition, which they read at an April news conference organized by Citizens Defending Libraries, a grassroots group fighting this and a similar plan in Brooklyn Heights. Media attention to the scouts' campaign started picking up last month.
Closing funding gaps by selling off library buildings is a bad strategy, and some already fear that the approach will become a model for other struggling systems across the nation.
As I wrote last week, the city's libraries are indeed strapped. But scrapping the system's most historic buildings is not the answer. Instead, the library needs stable sources of funding, like the plan currently proposed by the City Council to dedicate a small percentage of existing property taxes. And the public clearly needs more Girl Scouts to protect its best assets from shortsighted bureaucrats.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.