At a time when demand for books in the NYPL system is at an all-time high, the removal of three million books from the 42nd Street library, and numerous books from the Science Industry and Business Library and the Library for Performing Arts, has diminished these formerly first-class research libraries. Many of these books have been exiled to the ReCAP facility in New Jersey and retrieval times for them can extend for days. NYU, Columbia University and CUNY faculty and graduate students can keep materials off the shelves for up to four months under the MaRLI program. All this has eroded the world’s most democratic research library.
Recently, independent scholar Paula Glatzer wrote to NYPL President Anthony Marx addressing these concerns. Here’s what she had to say regarding the sorry state of library services:
“The kind of scholarship I did can no longer be done at NYPL. I did much of my work at the Performing Arts Library, where the research function has been similarly dismantled. Books are off the premises. Open shelves filled with reference books in the third-floor research area have been emptied. Worst of all, there are no reference librarians in the research rooms—rendering those special collections almost useless.
One of the best things in my Lear essays is a “fresh” quotation from a major critic. I found it in a publisher’s advertisement in a mid-20th-century book, which I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been reading the original. (The ad will also be lost to digital readers, because it won’t be scanned.) Another find was a review of Olivier’s early Lear in a rare magazine. Recently, when I went to PA to confirm my sources, I couldn’t find either item. There was no reference help on the third floor; I was sent downstairs to ask the lone librarian at the circulation desk. I was about to delete both quotes when I ran into a librarian I knew, who helped me.
What I cannot fathom is why the NYPL would jeopardize what the library was created for: books stored on site, for easy access, available to all. Instead, you have created a system that is difficult, inefficient and undemocratic. NYPL used to be open and available to anyone who walked in. Now a reader has to have many, scattered, days of free time. The system virtually requires e-mail and high-speed internet, which, as you often say, excludes a third of New Yorkers.
The inefficiencies of the online catalogue and the delivery system are roadblocks. Even with the old card catalogue, which was so much more complete, I knew that for many requests I would get a slip sending me to the reference desk. Sometimes I had made an obvious mistake. But often it became a learning experience with the librarian, where we figured it out together. We almost always found what I was looking for. And it all happened in real time: the call slip, the rejection, the assistance, the find. Now you can waste a week and never get your book.”
You can read the entire letter here.
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Preliminary Capital Budget for the fiscal year 2016. An analysis by the Independent Budget Office revealed that the library administration has squandered an astonishing $14.25 million of the taxpayers’ $151 million allocated to the now abandoned Central Library Plan—in addition to millions more wasted on the plan from other sources. The budget also revealed the City Council has allocated an additional $5 million in funds to NYPL’s vaguely described “Midtown Campus Renovation.”
NYPL maintains they cannot afford to upgrade the climate controls in the stacks. This is hard to believe, considering they currently have $141.75m in capital funds at their disposal. Without factoring in additional revenue from the sale of the remaining two floors of SIBL, NYPL would have $73.75 million left over to renovate Mid-Manhattan after accounting for the costs to upgrade the stacks and the second level of BPSE ($46m and $22m respectively according to NYPL estimates).
With library officials now engaging in the critical planning phase for library renovations, the NYPL administration must recognize the importance of keeping physical collections on-site.
Thanks to significant public outcry, we were able to defeat the misguided sale of Mid-Manhattan and the demolition of historic stacks. Now let’s bring the books back to their rightful home in the 42nd Street library!
Have you encountered slow or missing books at NYPL? If so, we’d like to hear from you! Please write to us about your experience at [email protected]. Your voice is critical to ensuring library officials remain committed to safeguarding our library’s valuable collections.
A big thanks to everyone who braved the elements to attend our Valentine’s Day rally outside the 42nd Street library yesterday! It was great to see so many dedicated individuals show their support for the defense of public libraries. Although it was bitterly cold, Rev. Billy warmed our hearts with his fiery oratory.
Framed by Edward Potter’s Patience and Fortitude, library advocates delivered impassioned speeches decrying the actions of out-of-touch trustees and demanding the books be returned to the stacks. Chanting “Bring back the books!” and “Open the Rose Reading Room!” we raised awareness about the imperiled research library to the countless pedestrians along Fifth Avenue. The rally ended with a solemn procession up the monumental library steps to lay roses at the entrance in honor of our beloved Rose reading room and the empty stacks that truly serve as the heart of this great building.
Yesterday’s demonstration was only a small part of our ongoing efforts to bring greater accountability to the New York Public Library. We will not rest until library officials acknowledge the need for more transparency and public input when planning for the library’s future.
Photographs courtesy of Zack Winestine.
On Valentine’s Day, show some love for the 42nd Street Library. Tell NYPL: Return the books to the stacks and reopen the Rose Main Reading Room ASAP!
Join Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir outside the 42nd Street Library this Saturday at noon to ask, Why is it taking so long to reopen the Rose Main Reading Room? When will the books be returned to the stacks? When will the NYPL trustees make their decision-making transparent to the public?
Show your love for the Rose Reading Room by wearing red and bringing a rose for the Rose.
Saturday, Februrary 14
Noon – 1:00 PM
5th Avenue entrance to the 42nd Street Library (at 5th Avenue and 41st Street)
The Rose Reading Room has been closed since June 2014, when a piece of the decorative ceiling crashed to the floor. It has taken NYPL over eight months just to erect scaffolding to start the inspection process. In the meantime, readers are crowded into small, poorly lit and poorly ventilated rooms with ad hoc provision for computers.
In 2013, the New York Public Library Trustees hastily removed 3 million books from the stacks at 42nd Street to temporary storage in upstate New York. The books were then moved again to remote storage in central New Jersey. Many books that previously took minutes to obtain now take days. Books may have been lost or damaged in the shuffle making them unavailable to readers who rely on the library. Meanwhile, the historic seven-story tall book stacks in the 42nd St. building remain empty.
How long will the 42nd Street library continue with absent books and the Main Reading Room closed? Does NYPL care about its readers?
Come out on Valentines Day and tell NYPL: New Yorkers care, we love our books and the Rose Main Reading Room!
Invite your friends to the facebook event.
Rose Reading Room – CLOSED
Gottesman Exhibition Hall – CLOSED
Bookstacks – EMPTY
Readers, scholars, and library users at the 42nd Street Library report that delivery of requested books is often delayed for days or weeks. Some books are reported missing. In 2013 NYPL hastily moved 3 million books from its stacks at 42nd Street to remote temporary storage in upstate New York before additional space in Princeton New Jersey was ready. Then they moved the books again. We worry that important parts of the research collection have been lost in the shuffle making them unavailable to readers who rely on the library. NYPL officials continue to claim that books are delivered in 24 hours. We urge library users to report delayed or missing books to: [email protected]
The Rose Reading Room has been closed since June 2014, when a piece of the decorative ceiling crashed to the floor. It has taken eight months just to erect scaffolds for safety inspections. In the meantime, readers are crowded into small, poorly lit and ventilated rooms with ad hoc provision for computers. Now a piece of the Gottesman Exhibition Hall’s intricately carved Maurice Grieve ceiling has fallen, and it too has been closed for two to three months.
How long will the 42nd Street library go with closed rooms and absent books? Does NYPL care?