Blane Withers, who headed the “professional practice” dept. of the PR Society (previously the information center), was asked in 1998 why the switch and why visitors were no longer allowed to come to PRS offices for research.

He told me there was no need for anyone to actually visit PRS headquarters in search of information because everything was either online or the staff could do the research. Libraries are a thing of the past, he told me.

Up until 1987, PRS members and others could go to the Society library at 845 Third Ave. (51st St.) and browse the trade publications and directories, look at Silver Anvil and other award-winning campaigns and seek help from librarian Mary Smith, who was only too glad to give it. I used the library many times. No appointment was necessary.

WH Library
West Hampton's new $7M library.
This advantage for New Yorkers was too much for the non-New Yorkers who took control of PRS in 1980 headed by Patrick “duck [the press] and screw 'em” Jackson. PRS offices fled to Irving place (17th st.) in 1987 and then all the way downtown in 2004 on a 13-year $6 million lease that increased space 50% to 22,500 sq. ft.

No one can visit h.q. without an appointment. The building has airport-level security.

Two motives were behind the flight downtown. The non-New Yorkers (mostly from the South and West) who rule PRS can’t stand the thought of New Yorkers having a facility they don’t have. Also, the staff does not want members dropping in at any hour of the day. They might see who is there and who isn’t and otherwise find out what is going on at h.q.

PRS has proved to be wrong about libraries going the way of the dodo bird.

Westhampton Is 'New' Library

Westhampton, Long Island, where I spend the summer, has a new $7.8 million library built from scratch that is a hub of the community, providing far more services than just lending books.

The “Westhampton Free Library” has ten computer stations that can be used for up to an hour at a time; wi-fi access for those with their own computers; faxing, copying and printing services; DVDs, newspapers, magazines and directories, and assistance by librarians.

It also has meeting space for community groups. Danielle Zubiller is library director.

I find such facilities in other libraries that I visit and co-workers say the same. Libraries have made the jump to the computer age but this news has not reached the PR Society.

Its obsession in recent years has been to cut informational services—no printed or PDF members’ directory; no list of Assembly delegates; no transcript of what they say; no record of how they vote or how proxies are voted or who votes them; no IRS Form 990 until after the Assembly; no list of the 50+ staffers except for seven of them; virtually no appearances by leaders or staff to chapter memberships; New York ruled out as the site of an annual conference; no minutes of the Assembly provided until the next Assembly; reporters banned as of 2010 from recording or taking pictures of the Assembly and totally banned as of 2011, and no details of COO Bill Murray’s new three-year contract.

Should some members try to rebel against these dictatorial policies, leaders and staff block them from using the PRS website, blast e-mails or space in Tactics or Strategist.

The Committee for a Democratic PRS sought 1,000 signatures in 2010 but got only 450 (150 of them from signers who asked that their names not be revealed). PRS turned down the Committee’s request to blast e-mail the 21,000 members.

PR Groups Could Combine on Facility

The New York chapter of PRS, largest single city chapter in the Society, is desperate for a convenient, neutral, “professional” place to meet.

Members most frequently gather now at The Australian, a pub on West 38th st. off Fifth Ave.

Other sites are the Broadway Comedy Club at 318 W. 53rd St.; Slate-NY sports bar at 54 W. 2st St., and PR firms such as Ruder Finn, Cohn & Wolfe and Fleishman-Hillard (although some firms won’t allow their employees to be hosted by competitors).

On rare occasions chapter members will troop downtown to PRS h.q. at 33 Maiden Lane.

PRS, Page, CPRF Have $$

Cash/savings/investments of PRS totaled $4,730,893 as of Dec. 31, 2011 while Page’s total was $1,267,610. The Council of PR Firms had $738,955 in cash/savings as of Dec. 31, 2010, latest figure available.

Investments of PRS rose 12% to $3,379,096 from $3,014,268 while Page’s investments soared 93% to $992,304 from $511,738 in the previous year. CPRF has no investments.

Total cash/savings/investments are at least $6.7 million. A small investment in a library/biz center for the entire PR and press community would not make a dent in this treasure chest.

Logical site is 317 Madison Ave. at 42nd st. where Page and CPRF shared offices until recently on the 23rd floor. Page moved to the 17th floor. There are currently 20 vacancies in the building ranging from 786 sq. ft. to 7,365.

Associations have carved out a financial nirvana for themselves at the expense of the industries they are supposed to be serving. Their main goal seems to be stuffing their larders with as much cash/investments as possible.

Public corporations normally operate with sizable debts in order to serve their markets. IBM’s debt is $32 billion, J&J’s $18B and WPP Group, with $15B in revenues, has a $7.6B debt load.

PRS Has Ethical Debt

The PR Society, which made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling authors’ works without their permission from 1980-94 (PDF), could work off some of its moral debt to writers by helping to establish a midtown info center that could be used by both the press and PR people. Permanent space for meetings could be provided or it could be rented ala carte from the numerous empty offices in the building.

Another debt the Southerners and Westerners owe New York is redress for the blatant hostility they have shown to New York members for decades.

New York chapter offices were booted from Irving place in 1992 with the excuse that space was needed although at that time space was being sublet to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The chapter was not invited back in 2004 when h.q. had plenty of space downtown.

New Yorkers have mostly opted not to serve on a national board that is so hostile to them. The Tri-State nominee for the 2013-14 board is Anita Saunders of Northeast Utilities who works in Berlin, Conn., outside of Hartford (PDF).

Tri-State director in 2007-08 was Francis Onofrio of Bethany, Conn., outside of New Haven.

New York chapter leaders recently were told that New York has been ruled out as a site for the national conference because of high hotel costs. The 2012 conference is in San Francisco and 2013 in Philadelphia. Sites of other conferences have not bee revealed.

New Yorker Stevens Was Savaged

The ferocity of the anti-New York feelings is hard to over-estimate.

It was in full flower in 2000 when the nominating committee picked New Yorker Art Stevens to be chair-elect.

Nine of the 17 directors signed a petition supporting Joann Killeen of Los Angeles as a write-in candidate for that post. Not one of the other seven directors voiced support of Stevens, who howled that this was the first time in the history of PRS that directors got openly involved in the nominating and election process.

His big fault? He was a New Yorker. The years 1999-2000 were tumultuous years in PRS. It had spent $999,437 on complicated iMIS computer software that the staff could not operate. Cash was so short that PRS skipped the 2000 members’ directory. It took two years before iMIS was operable.