October 20, 2014

NYPL: Why We’re Changing the Central Library Plan | Opinion

Tony Marx NYPL NYPL: Why Were Changing the Central Library Plan | Opinion

Tony Marx, President and CEO of New York Public Library

More than a decade ago, The New York Public Library looked at the changing needs of our patrons and realized bold action would be required. Particularly, we recognized that we needed to improve the programs we offer in midtown. Here, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, New Yorkers from all boroughs come to use our largest circulating collection at the Mid-Manhattan Library; across the street, researchers from all over the world use the amazing collections in the iconic building behind the lions—the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building—while local, national, and international visitors browse our many exhibits.

The Mid-Manhattan Library, which as our busiest branch sees 1.4 million visitors each year, had fallen into disrepair from such heavy use, and offered too little space for the growing demand for classes and programming. Meanwhile, less than 25 percent of the Schwarzman Building, the jewel of our system, was open to the public. And we needed to find a durable solution for storage and preservation of our research collection, currently vulnerable to decay from inadequate humidity and temperature controls.

In 2007, the library devised a plan to solve these problems: move the books from outdated stacks in the heart of the Schwarzman Building and clear out that space to make room inside for a new Mid-Manhattan library, designed by visionary architect Norman Foster. The plan also called for much more, including the creation of an exciting Education Corridor for young readers and teens, and doubling the work space for scholars and innovators—a vast expansion of the amount of space in the main library accessible to our patrons.

We spent years developing and exploring this plan, trying to see how it could work, and opening a public discussion to inform our efforts.

Along the way, the world changed. With the financial collapse of 2008, the economy shifted and the library system faced years of decreasing city funding. The revolution in information technology has radically altered how ideas are accessed and how we can provide educational programs. And the plan to replace the stacks with new public space, after much study, has proven more difficult, less flexible for the future, and more expensive than we had hoped for.

The Library’s trustees patiently explored all of these issues, listened to concerns and critics, studied all options and, based on the new facts on the ground, decided to alter the plan. This is as it should be: when the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and react to the facts as they present themselves.

But we also know that our goals of a renovated Mid-Manhattan Library, better protection for our research collection, and more access to the Schwarzman Building were the right ones. That’s why we have announced changes to the plan that deliver on those goals at less cost, and with greater flexibility and less risk. Instead of removing the Schwarzman stacks and placing the Mid-Manhattan Library in that space, we’ll renovate the Mid-Manhattan Library at its current site. This renovation will add much-needed computer labs and an adult education space, and an inspiring, comfortable space for browsing our largest circulating collection.

At the Schwarzman Building, in keeping with the original plan, we’ll undertake the most comprehensive renovation in the building’s history, reopening long-closed rooms to the public while leaving the stacks intact. This beautiful, rededicated library will feature more than double the exhibition space, including a Treasures Gallery to showcase our most incredible items, from Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence to Columbus’s 1492 letter to King Ferdinand. The new Education Corridor will create space for students and teachers to engage with our research collections, and researchers will enjoy more space and staff support. And because we will expand and modernize our storage space under Bryant Park, we will have the capacity to ensure that the research collection housed at Schwarzman will be at once better protected and quickly accessible.

As we build this vibrantly integrated campus of library services in the center of New York, we’ll also be making key improvements at our branch locations across the city. With the city’s support, we’ll provide much expanded educational programs, from new after school and pre-K help, to massively expanded English language and citizenship classes for immigrants, computer skills and coding instruction, digital access to broadband and books at home, and much more. We’re excited to begin working toward this great outcome in partnership with the city and with our remarkably generous private donors.

The library has never been more heavily used or more deeply needed. Making the right decisions about how to renovate and integrate our midtown campus is just a part of the larger endeavor of positioning the New York Public Library system for the future—but it’s a part we had to get right. Now, thanks to careful study and public engagement, we have.

 Anthony Marx is president and CEO of the New York Public Library

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Comments

  1. Scott Sherman of The Nation magazine offers a different view as to why the plans were abandoned:

    http://www.wnyc.org/story/new-york-public-library-abandons-its-renovation-plans/

    An interesting listen…

    - J.

    • Mel Kram says:

      As I recall, major archival collections were transferred to other libraries in anticipation of the renovation of NYPL’s flagship venue. What are your plans to retrieve these collections?

    • Mel Kram says:

      Sorry Jeff. I meant to direct my comment to Tony Marx.

  2. Maria Celia Hernandez says:

    President and CEO of New York Public Library
    Mr.Tony Marx,
    Dear CEO Of the New York Public Library. Gentleman, Its been a long while, that I heard the Public Library could be renovate I receive a note to see what others things could be create to help the service of the library be more better for children adults with different needs and interest in learning. When I hear now what it be added and what renovated I felt very happy. I imagined how great it will be for many children having a chance to be help an learn more. It is a thought of thankfulness and appreciation that I felt. I want to tell you that is wonderful to receive these news. I believe that keeping the library after five can bring more people and give jobs to students . And if possible charge a few dollars for a few services so that money can help buy books or help to keep library books clean or other. The library should be renovate as much as it can be done this is a very special library and keeping it protected and well preserve will be the Governor and mayor legacy that will keep given back to the city.Thank you for sharing the news ,Thank you.MCH 5-14-2014

  3. Pablo O. Garcia says:

    Thank you for the Transparency. As one who was disappointed with the original plan as business as usual I am encouraged that others took time to act on it.

  4. Marilyn Berkon says:

    We are all happy that you abandoned your destructive Central Library Plan. Yet you should never have considered it from the start. It was done in secrecy with no input from the public. When finally it was revealed to us, you ignored the outrage and severe criticism from people in NYC and from all over the world–among them outstanding architects, writers, scholars. You emptied the stacks of millions of books irresponsibly and shipped them to New Jersey. Many rare and precious books and photographs were damaged in the process. But you wanted this done before Mayor Bloomberg left office because he was ready to give you $150 million of our taxpayer money to accomplish your plan. Now you make the false claim that the stacks will be too costly to upgrade for climate controls, even though this is a routine job accomplished by the Library of Congress and has been done before at the 42nd Street Library. The stacks were especially designed for delivering books with the greatest speed and efficiency to the Rose Reading Room, where you made research nearly impossible for scholars after you shipped out the books. Now you will keep the stacks empty! You have already wasted $18 million in your failed efforts for this plan, wasted our time and energy opposing it, wasted your own. Now you present yourself as a wise and reasonable man who recognizes that the entire plan was too costly for your budget. You and everyone else knew that from the start. What stopped you were the law suits against the Library and the constant pressure from various groups who demonstrated in front of the Library, got thousands of petition signatures, testified at city council meetings. There were all the newspapers and critics opposing the plan. You could not override all this opposition. There is no regret from you for ignoring all of us so long, no regret for your arrogance, no regret for your waste. Do not exhibit the same arrogance now. You have many fine plans, intelligent plans, but you must include among them a return of all the books to the stacks after their climate controls have been upgraded. Then you would have our appreciation. Now we feel anger that you will not give us back our treasured library as it was meant to be.

  5. may 15, 2014
    To: mr. tony marx

    the new york publilc libraary… 42nd street, manhattan… was so important to me during my undergraduate and graduate years in college… i spent many many late hours doing my research in the main reading room, 315, for my BA and MA degrees,, and often left the library when it closed. i was always in awe at the efficiency and speed of staff to locate the books i needed to do my research..
    many wonderful memories, indeed…
    and now tons of years later, i read with great interest both of your emails, informing new yorkers and the public of the revised plans for our landmark + monumental library’s renovation. thank you, mr. marx, for spelling out current details of the renovation plans for the library under your leaderrhip as president and CEO of our treasured new york public library…
    i wish for you and every single person involved with this estraordinary renovation endeavor and project EVERY SUCCESS!!!.

    sincerely from an educator who would rather give a child a book more than any other gift imaginable,

    jsesqsusa

    (i would love to receive a note from you, mr. marx, as your time permits, re my creative comment for which i say, in anticipation, “thanks a googol.”….. i am in mathematics!)

  6. Who Can I speak with to get more information on the paragraph below?

    As we build this vibrantly integrated campus of library services in the center of New York, we’ll also be making key improvements at our branch locations across the city. With the city’s support, we’ll provide much expanded educational programs, from new after school and pre-K help, to massively expanded English language and citizenship classes for immigrants, computer skills and coding instruction, digital access to broadband and books at home, and much more. We’re excited to begin working toward this great outcome in partnership with the city and with our remarkably generous private donors.Who Can I Speak with to get more info on the paragraph below?

  7. Undervaluing historic buildings and trivializing the meaning of libraries to people are the standards of the American Library Association’s current leadership.

    Sari Feldman, library director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, and the newly elected ALA President sold the historic library in her system at a fire sale price to a wealthy real estate investor. This despite 2 injunctions and 18 months of community effort to convince her and her board to do the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do–renovate the building.
    It would have cost $5 million to renovate the building. It will cost $12.6 million to build a new library.

    Most of you won’t believe this, but it can be documented. She and board promised to sell the building to someone who would preserve it. Currently walls are being removed on the 3rd floor of the building, and the current owner refuses to preserve the building.

    https://www.facebook.com/MansionLibrary

  8. I think people need to remember that Mr. Marx was not the one who put this plan into motion. It has been in the works for many years. I think it is good that they came to the realization that the cost wasn’t worth it. Now maybe they can do something about offering their staff better pay so that they can implement all these new programs.

  9. Mel Kram says:

    Mr.Marx,

    As I recall, major archival collections were transferred to other libraries in anticipation of the renovation of NYPL’s flagship venue. What are your plans to retrieve these collections?

  10. Joseph Keenan says:

    I ordered some offsite items in advance, and went to Room 315 yesterday (June 7, 2014) to use them. I did not realize that Room 315 is currently closed. Further, the room where your retrieve the held offsite items, the room across from Room 315, does not have photocopy machines. If you need to make photocopies, you need to remove the items from this room, and traverse the hallways with the item(s) in search of a reading room with a photocopier. The first reading room I went to had one photocopy machine, and a man using it who would be there for a very long time. I went to the Periodical Reading room on the first floor, and used the one machine there successfully. If NYPL would put three photcopy machines in the room where offsite items are held (and items still in the Research Library are delivered), the library could further enhance security of items by not allowing them out of this room, and also provide an efficient and convenient way for users to photocopy items. Just saying. Thanks.

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