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.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

NYPL’s Presentation of its “Master Plan” to alter and commercialize the 42nd Street Central Reference Library

The NYPL has been presenting and getting public reaction to its “Master Plan” to alter the 42nd Street Central Reference Library (see our videos linked to below).

One big question is whether the plan is a stealthy new working-in-from-the edges version of the NYPL’s reviled and loudly rejected “Central Library Plan.”

The 42nd Street Library was designed and built around its famous research stacks designed to hold 3 million books.  The new master plan inverts this process leaving unspecified what is to be done with this core element of the building, saying that it will be dealt with following launch of the current construction overhaul as a mere afterthought.

Meanwhile, the observable bent of the “Master Plan” is to commercialize the building, focusing on tourists, not researchers or traditional library patrons.  It proposes to convert Map Room and map reading space into an apparently fancy wine-serving wait staff-equipped café.  Rather than being alarmed by this NYPL trustees wanted to make sure officials were considering expanding and opening up the café to absorb some of Bryant Park’s public space.  (As if there weren’t already enough pricey cafés and restaurants already girding the library in the public space of Bryant Parks.)    Also proposed is new entrance/exit with the intent of renovations to have the NYPL gift shop (“exit through the gift shop"?) abut it.

Some massive amounts would be spent on added elevators and still more staircase space although the need to add these features to and already well designed, well equipped building is inexplicable.   The building has done very well without these features for more than one hundred years.  This alteration to circulation plan is being proposed when theoretically it is unknown what will be done with one huge and key portion of the building: The research stacks.

As you can see from the video presentation, the architects for the plan say they have now clue about how much expense insertions of the new stairs and elevator would cost, either percentage-wise of dollar-wise.  The “Master Plan” was presented to the public for comment, sprung on the library users, only after the NYPL trustees approved its launch (another “done deal’).  It is supposed to a huge amount of additional funding ($144 million before cost overruns).

The huge cost of the plan is being used by the NYPL as an excuse to sell SIBL, New York City’s biggest Science library. . .  . . . The Science Library will go out of existence.  The NYPL says you can do your science research on the internet instead. . . .
SIBL, needs NO renovation.  It was built in 1996 for $100 million and the state-of-the-art library was pronounced the “library of the future.”

While the federal government is eliminating net neutrality and information about climate change from federal websites . . . . .  NYPL officials are explaining the elimination of its science library (housed in 34th Street’s SIBL- The Science, Industry and Business Library) and its collection of science books by saying that people can get their science information from the internet instead.

We want the books brought back to the research stacks where they belong.  We do not want the science library sold and closed.  We do not want to see the 42nd Street Central Reference Library turned into a commercialized tourist spot.

The Committee to Save the New York Public Library has weighed in with a sober and withering assessment.
Committee to Save the New York Public Library: Response to the NYPL Master Plan - Improving A Research Library For The 21st Century
Here is some of the Committee’s sober assessment:
There is little in this plan that advances the goal of providing researchers with faster and better access to NYPL’s collections; in fact, the plan to relocate the maps does exactly the opposite. Instead, NYPL concentrates on commercializing the first floor with a larger café and retail store. The questionable need for a third stairway in the south side of the building may also be driven by commercial considerations—the needs of caterers. Smaller second floor rooms once housed expert curators and special collections. The Mecanoo/BBB proposal substitutes unspecified uses for these rooms, but without books and curators, their utility is diminished, and collections remain remote from readers. This grand building can accommodate many uses, but changes should serve the needs of readers and researchers above shoppers and diners.

NYPL’s promise of an open, transparent, participatory planning process has a hollow ring when its trustees approve a master plan based on a video and a few renderings without public consent. Where are the actual plans? Why was approval given before any public comment? . . .

* * * *

Finally, a master plan that ignores the stacks is no master plan at all. Returning the collections to this great unused asset should be the central feature of any sensible plan.
 * * * *

The video below is the NYPL's first presentation of the "Master Plan."  Public comment and reaction in in the latter part of the video.

NYPL Presentation of Master Plan For 42nd Street Library (Monday, November 20, 2017)


NYPL 2nd Presentation of "Master Plan" Part 1, Dec 7, 2017

NYPL 2nd Presentation of "Master Plan" Dec 7, 2017 Part2

In the video below you cans see questions about the staircase and elevators with the architect disavowing knowledge of how expensive those alterations would be.   You can see questions about the "Stephen A. Schwarzman" name being on the building while the NYPL gift shop displays "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer recounting Schwarzman's participation working with the Kochs to hijack American democracy.

You can also see the hedge-funders holiday party after the "Master Plan" presentation, and a demonstration just outside on 42nd Street protesting the elimination of net neutrality, elimination of another information commons.  Listen to the NYPL tell us we can get our science information over the internet rather than collect books in the science library. 


Library Defender Testimony at City Council Dec18, 2017 Hearing
 Below is testimony of Inwood Library defenders and CDL's Michael D. D. White against the plan.

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