Last month, NYPL officials held a public meeting to review aspects of plans for major renovations to the 42nd Street and the Mid-Manhattan Libraries. As can be seen from the agendas and pre-determined questions here, the meeting was structured to channel discussion narrowly rather than to encourage broad public discussion of options. The meeting left much to be desired.
Ken Weine, Vice-President of Marketing and Communications at NYPL, has promised more public forums in the future. In order to facilitate a more productive dialogue, the Committee to Save the New York Public Library believes the following steps are necessary:
• Agendas and questions under consideration should be circulated prior to public meetings.
• The criteria for architect selection must be open to public discussion.
• The short list of architects must be publicly announced.
• The instructions and programs provided to the architects must be open to public discussion prior to being given to the architects.
• The return of books to the stacks along with the necessary renovation to the stacks must be publicly addressed with detailed cost comparisons of construction and operational alternatives made open to public discussion. To that end the NYPL must release internal and externally generated cost estimates.
NYPL squandered at least $18 million on the defeated Central Library Plan. Had a rigorous public review occurred millions in taxpayer dollars would not have been wasted. Before NYPL spends the remaining $151 million allocated by the city on future capital projects, they must take every available opportunity to listen to the public and incorporate feedback into their plans.
When John Shaw Billings, the first director of the New York Public Library, first conceived the 42nd Street Library, he made sure each version of the instructions given to the architects was open to public scrutiny and discussion. The great research library New Yorkers have enjoyed for a century is the result of that open search for the best solution. We need the same commitment to transparency and open consideration of options from our library leaders today.
Big changes are underway at the New York Public Library. Major renovations at the Mid-Manhattan Library and the 42nd Street Library will have a profound impact on how these popular libraries are used. Decisions made now will determine the quality of our libraries for many years. Please join us in urging NYPL and the city officials who control taxpayer contributions to its capital budget to truly open the planning process to all citizens.
Image courtesy of Melville House Books.