Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Friday, May 9, 2014

New York Public Library Staff Update: “Frequently Asked Questions” Respecting Changes Entailed With Its Abandonment of Its Central Library Plan

The following Staff Update,  “Frequently Asked Questions” about changes entailed with its abandonment of its Central Library Plan was distributed to New York Public Library staff on May 9, 2014 by its Chief Library Officer Mary Lee Kennedy.
New York Public Library
Dear Colleagues,

To follow up from Tony's
[Marx's] note yesterday, I want to share some immediate next steps on how all of us will engage with our evolved plans for the renovation.

First, attached to this email you will find a list of Frequently Asked Questions on the revised plans. We hope that these are a helpful tool to begin answering your questions and to provide you with the information you need to help the public understand these changes. Additionally, over the next few weeks, we will host a series of conversations around our system. We are eager to begin these discussions to ensure we hear your thoughts and concerns, explain next steps, and clarify questions you may have about our current plans. Early next week, we will reach out again with times and locations.

As Tony expressed, this is a project that will be driven by our system-wide programmatic goals. The renovation program we will establish together -- along with input from other key stakeholders -- will align with the work currently underway to develop a strategic plan through the Roadmapping process, as well as the effort to improve the Library's digital experience. The power of the midtown campus concept is that it will represent the full spectrum of services, collections, and expertise on display across NYPL. These exciting programmatic opportunities will only be brought to life with your guidance and support.

We are eager to begin this process soon and look forward to our conversations in the weeks ahead.

Best regards,

Mary Lee
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Renovation FAQs

Is the Library abandoning the 42nd Street Renovation?

No, but the renovation plan has changed. The Library is pursuing a modified plan that will renovate the Mid-Manhattan Library where it currently stands and, in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, open up 50 percent more public space and create the capacity to safely store the millions of volumes [Three million volumes] that once resided in the stacks onsite under Bryant Park. MML will be home to additional and much-needed computer lab space, an adult education center, and an inspiring, comfortable space for browsing our largest circulating collection. The Schwarzman Building will feature more than double the current exhibition space, a new education corridor serving children and teens as well as teachers, collaborative spaces for creators, and more space for researchers, scholars, and writers. The Science, Industry and Business Library will return to SASB with spaces dedicated to entrepreneurs, small business and startups, critical business and financial resources, and advisory and coaching services on everything from financial education to job search. This new “campus” approach – with two essential buildings in midtown Manhattan – will offer exciting opportunities for synergies between our research and circulating libraries.

Why the change of course?

Over the last several months, the Library conducted a rigorous analysis of all elements of the original plan, including programming, design, and cost, and had extensive engagement with staff and external stakeholders [as in was being sued by stakeholders?]. The goals of this project have remained the same: to create an improved space for our largest circulating branch, to provide a superior storage environment for our treasured research collections, and to expand public access to the iconic 42nd Street Library. As the Library’s programmatic ambitions now require additional space, and the costs and complexity of working in the stacks are greater than anticipated, a decision was made by the NYPL leadership and the Board of Trustees, after much deliberation, to pursue the alternative plan. As President Marx said in his statement (found at nypl.org/renovation), “When the facts change the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget.”

Is the Library still planning to sell SIBL?
Here and below, scenes of portions of the recently completed SIBL, not yet sold but still proposed for sale

Yes. SIBL’s valuable services and collections will be integrated into the expanded space in the Schwarzman Building, where the collection and services originally resided. Returned to SASB, space will be designated for SIBL’s critical business and financial resources such as free financial and job assistance counseling, resources for entrepreneurs, investors, business startups and many advisory and coaching services.

Will the Mid-Manhattan close during a renovation?

We plan to stage the MML renovation to keep as much of the building open as possible during construction, but we will develop more specific plans as we continue our work on the program and design for the renovation.

Will Foster+Partners continue to work on the project?

The Library is indebted to all the brilliant work of Foster+Partners on behalf of the Library. However programmatic and cost considerations prevent us from proceeding with his design. The work completed on the historic rooms in the Schwarzman Building will inform our efforts as we proceed with vastly expanding public space. We have not yet determined the architectural process of the new plan.  [The Wall Street Journal reported that the NYPL spant $18,000 on the failed Central Library Plan, almost as much as some entire construction projects, including fees to Foster+Partners.]

How will we have capacity for the books previously in the Schwarzman Building’s central stacks?

Thanks to a donation from Trustee Abby Milstein and her husband Howard, we are expanding our materials storage under Bryant Park. [This was supposed to have been done for a very long time.  We closed down Bryant Park for more than fours years finishing in 1992 to create this capacity.]  Compared to upgrading systems in the central stacks, this is the most cost-effective and feasible alternative, and creates the capacity to hold all of the books previously in the building. [Finally, at long last, activating the additional space built under Bryant Park should hold about an additional 1.4 million books (on rolling shelves) according to original estimates, not near the 3 million now evicted from the stacks.]  The project is expected to be completed in 2015, is funded, and on track. [The Wall Street Journal is reporting that putting in the stacks and finishing off the space will cost $22 million.-  The entire excavation and construction project completed in 1992 cost about $25 million.]

What will happen to the over 100-year-old central stacks?

The preservation environment in the stacks is unacceptable for the storage of our treasured collections. Furthermore, improving those conditions is cost-prohibitive compared to expanding storage under Bryant Park. Our focus for the moment remains the proper preservation of our research materials, opening up more public space in the Schwarzman Building, and creating the central circulating branch New Yorkers deserve, all in a responsible and cost-effective manner. At present, the stacks will remain as they are.

What are the next steps?

The NYPL Trustees have authorized the Library to discuss this new plan with New York City government. The city has kept the $151 million for the original Central Library Plan in its annual capital budget, but we still need to finalize an agreement with our colleagues in city hall. Once an agreement on funding is reached with the city, we will proceed to more fully flesh out the program, design, and schedule for MML and SASB. As we move forward, we will engage all key stakeholders – including staff, Trustees, and the public – to develop fully the best possible plan.

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