NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY STILL IN PERIL
The Committee to Save the New York Public Library was founded to halt NYPL’s hugely unpopular Central Library Plan (CLP), 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 Street Library that provide shelving for over 3 million books. In 2014, in the face of mounting public criticism and three lawsuits filed by Save NYPL 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 city government has allocated $150 million in taxpayer money for the NYPL’s plan to remodel the Mid-Manhattan Library now being developed. NYPL estimates the cost for renovations to the 42nd Street Library at $90 million. We urge open continuous public engagement to avoid repeating the waste of $18 million, the amount squandered on the now-discarded CLP. Taxpayer money entitles New Yorkers to an open planning process.
• 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 Street Library stacks can reach the reading room in under thirty minutes. NYPL has already moved the entire contents of the stacks off-site, with requested books requiring 1-3 days for delivery, and intends to keep the stacks empty. Off-site storage for so many books diminishes NYPL’s usefulness as a research library. Although NYPL is expanding storage under Bryant Park, it may not be enough. Quick access to the NYPL collection should be central to its mission.
The Committee to Save NYPL demands the following:
- Engage in an open dialog with the public regarding planned renovations to the Mid-Manhattan Library and 42nd Street Library. To this end, NYPL should make programming and design documents readily available prior to public forums so the public can provide constructive, well informed feedback.
- Release all documents pertaining to past, 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. The detailed cost analysis of the Central Library Plan promised by CEO Anthony at a New York State Assembly hearing in July 2013 is still kept secret. As an institution receiving substantial public support, NYPL should release all documents related to its planning process and open its books for public audit.
- Strengthen public representation on the NYPL Board of Trustees. We urge the Mayor to appoint his representative to the Trustees to defend the interests of the public. This position has remained vacant since his election. Please join us in calling on Mayor de Blasio to appoint a representative who will serve the interests of citizens, readers and scholars and bring transparency to what has been a secretive decision-making process.
- Update the climate-control and sprinkler systems at the 42nd Street 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.
- Expand the operating hours of the 42nd Street Library to allow New Yorkers additional access to the collections later in the evenings.
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!
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.
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.
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.