NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY STILL IN PERIL

The Committee to Save the New York Public Library was founded to stop the NYPL’s hugely unpopular Central Library Plan, which would have sold two important midtown libraries (the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry and Business Library) and demolished the historic research stacks in the 42nd St. Building that provide shelving for over 3 million books. This May, in the face of mounting public criticism and three lawsuits filed by SaveNYPL members and affiliates, the NYPL board of trustees announced that it was abandoning the Central Library Plan.

This is a great victory for library advocates and the people of New York City. Unfortunately, significant concerns remain:

An alarming absence of fiscal transparency and oversight. The NYPL Board of Trustees spent $18 million on the now-discarded plan. What’s more, a recent New York Times article reveals that NYPL publicly insisted the plan would cost only $300 million for months after library administrators learned the costs would exceed $500 million. The city government allocated $150 million in taxpayer money for the plan.

A library without books? NYPL is one of the world’s great research libraries, with a collection of 8.2 million volumes. As the only New York research library open to the public, it is a crucial public resource, an equalizer of opportunity. Books in the 42nd St. stacks can reach the reading room in under 30 minutes. NYPL has already moved the entire contents of the stacks off-site, with requested books requiring 1-3 days for delivery. Off-site storage for so many books diminishes NYPL’s usefulness as a research library. NYPL leadership intends to keep the stacks empty and not utilize this efficient storage space.

The Committee to Save the NYPL demands the following:

  • NYPL should make public the detailed cost analysis of the Central Library Plan that CEO Anthony Marx promised to release when he testified at the New York State Assembly hearing last July. As an institution receiving substantial public support, NYPL should open its books for public audit.
  • Strengthen public representation on the NYPL Board of Trustees. The Mayor, Comptroller and City Council Speaker are entitled to appoint representatives to defend the interests of the public. Please join us in calling on Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito to appoint representatives who will serve the interests of citizens, readers and scholars and bring transparency to what has been a secretive decision-making process.
  • NYPL should organize public forums on all current and future plans, in particular the proposed plans for 42nd Street, the Mid-Manhattan renovation, and the fate of the Science, Industry and Business Library.
  • NYPL should update the climate-control and sprinkler systems at the 42nd St. library so books can be returned to the stacks. Letting them stand empty while paying to store books off site is almost as wasteful as spending hundreds of millions of dollars to demolish them, as the Central Library Plan proposed.

The secrecy and lack of public participation which characterized NYPL’s development of the Central Library Plan must end. Now is the time to work with our elected officials and our allies to open up the NYPL’s planning process to the public. The city can and must have a great research library at 42nd Street and improved circulating libraries in neighborhoods where resources are so desperately needed. Let’s put the Public back into the planning process at the New York Public Library!

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Voices of Support

To destroy a library is to destroy the dream of civilization. To destroy the NY Public Library is to destroy our sixth and best borough; that beautiful corner of New York City where all are welcome and all are equals.

Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz
MacArthur Fellow, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author

The Central Library Plan, so obviously an irresponsible real estate deal that places pure greed for profit over the advancement of learning and enlightenment, would take the very heart out of one of New York City’s finest institutions.

Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis
Man Booker Prize-winning author and MacArthur Fellow

Whatever its rationale, advertised or secretly savored, the Central Library Plan is an act of such manic mutilation as to constitute a death wish for the 42nd St Research Library.

E.L. Doctorow
E.L. Doctorow
National Book Award-winning author