New York magazine absolutely nails it on the new Donnell replacement library, “a sleek but shrunken pit fitted out with bleachers, bar stools, and a megascreen, plus a smattering of circulating volumes.”
Aptly titled “The New 53rd Street Library Is Nice, Unless You Like to Read Books,” the article goes on to note:
Neither architects nor librarians shaped this branch; a real-estate deal did, one that reserved the cream of the square footage for the hotel and condo above, and sloughed off the leftovers on the public…
This narrow buried amphitheater gives library patrons a split-level vista: above, a rat’s-eye view of the street and passers-by; below, a wide screen playing a promotional slideshow for New York and its libraries. Architects love choreographing such chance urban spectacles, but this one enjoys a special kind of pointlessness…
…the Donnell was a shabby wonderland, crammed with so many circulating books of so many different varieties, that it felt endless. Its sequel feels limited and spare. An abundance of outlets is a wonderful thing, but it does not replace those free experiences that are unique to a public library: browse, borrow, read, repeat.
NYPL views this as the library of the future; read the entire article to understand more fully why this is a terrible idea.
UPDATE: Vanishing New York has just published a review of the replacement Donnell, and they are not happy:
Sleek, stark, and only one-third the size of the old Donnell, the new space is true to the architect’s original fantasy rendering, a bizarre scenario in which people sit on designer bleacher seats, staring blankly into space, not reading books.
We’d like to thank everyone who joined us in protesting the opening of Donnell Library’s shrunken replacement last week. It was a good turn out. The glitzy, stage-managed ribbon-cutting ceremony was moved indoors, but our demonstration received ample coverage in DNAInfo and The Wall Street Journal.
Perhaps the defining take on the sordid affair appeared last week in City Journal, where Nicole Gelinas has written a scathing indictment on the Donnell Library sale.
Here’s a snippet:
The new library branch would be a proud civic achievement in a small, wealthy suburb. But New York is not a small, wealthy suburb. It deserves better. Unlike the Donnell, most of the new underground library has no natural light. Space for books is limited, because of the real constraints of being in a basement that wasn’t the hotel developer’s priority. The library is less than a third of Donnell’s size. What looks like a massive internal space for bookshelves, for example, is an underpinning of the skyscraper above.
The bookshelves that surround that support structure create an illusion of plenty. But it’s just an illusion. The NYPL has dispensed with almost all of the Donnell’s books. Just 20,000 are on site, a mere 7 percent of the previous holdings. Browsing the 53rd Street branch is more like browsing a bookstore that doesn’t have the room or the money to offer an interesting inventory. The Donnell’s specialized holdings in film, music, and foreign language aren’t coming back; the NYPL dispersed them to other branches. Yes, you can order any book or film you want from any branch you want, and pick it up here, quite conveniently. But a library isn’t an Amazon dropbox.
The entire article is a must-read.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear if library officials have learned their lesson. When commenting on Donnell, NYPL President Tony Marx blamed the recession: “None of us foresaw the financial difficulties of 2008 and 2009, which got in the way of our initial plan.” But as Ms. Gelinas points out, the plan was flawed from the very beginning.
By rallying last Monday, we sent a clear message to the leaders of NYPL that the Donnell fiasco must never be repeated. As NYPL moves forward with its renovations to the 42nd Street Library and Mid-Manhattan Library, we will continue to insist on greater public input and transparent decision-making. We’ve seen what happens when libraries ignore their users.
Image courtesy of Citizens Defending Libraries.