Let’s Make NYPL Great Again

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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 Planin 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!

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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.

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