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By now, everyone from New York Public Library leaders to City Council members agrees that the NYPL’s 2008 decision to sell its Donnell branch to a Chinese luxury-hotel company for a fraction of its value was a big mistake. But the NYPL board’s scheme to transform seven floors of “stacks” in its magnificent 42nd Street research library into a post-book paradise (by shipping millions of volumes to a New Jersey storage facility) so far remains only a semi–fait accompli, thanks to the tireless legal efforts, demonstrations, and petition circulations of the Committee to Save the NYPL and its smaller but no less feisty Brooklyn counterpart, Citizens Defending Libraries. The need for these groups’ hectoring became apparent this summer, when the 300,000-volume Donnell reopened as the slickly designed 53rd Street Library in a basement space a third its former size and with only 20,000 books. Alarmingly, similar moves are afoot at the NYPL’s 115th Street branch and at the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. So long as members of the city’s real estate and financial communities run our libraries, deals like this will continue to be promoted — and it will be left to grassroots activist groups to bring transparency to the process. 

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