It turns out the Koch brothers think libraries (or at least government-funded public libraries) are a bad idea. As usual they are throwing their money around, this time dropping the big bucks in a small Illinois town to defeat a bond issue to support the local library – read the full article here. No, this isn’t a parody.
Plainfield IL is trying to raise money for a new library building. The library is currently an anchor for downtown and is a much-loved and heavily used part of the community. They are asking for a 20-year bond and a small increase in property taxes…The Plainfield Library came up with this after years of focus groups, surveys, and public town meetings. The leadership of the library worked closely with community leaders and stakeholders to create a comprehensive plan that would give them cutting edge library services in ways that the community values. This is good old American democracy in action, a public institution needs an update, the community gets involved, a shared vision is formed, people move forward. That is how America is supposed to work.
But that was before a Koch-funded super PAC brought in a team of professional political operatives to shoot down the plan. The wort part of this story? The library lost.
Update: And it’s not just Plainfield, Illinois. It turns out that the Koch brothers are also going after public library systems in Kansas.
On December 10, 2015, NYPL held a public meeting to introduce the architects of the upcoming Mid-Manhattan and 42nd Street Library renovations.
Francine Houben, founder of Mecanoo, and Liz Leber, partner of Beyer Blinder Belle, gave a brief presentation about their backgrounds and their previous library projects.
NYPL Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall presented an overview of the project. There will be a comprehensive gut renovation of the Mid-Manhattan building; construction will start in 2017 and the building will reopen in 2019. She stated that there are currently about 300,000 books in Mid-Manhattan, and these will be moved into the now-empty stacks in the 42nd Street building while the Mid-Manhattan is being renovated. (Note that the RFQ, linked below, states on page 10 that in addition to the 300,000 books held on site at the Mid-Manhattan Library, another 100,000 books from the library are generally circulating at any given time, for a total collection of 400,000 books.) One or more of the newly opened rooms in the 42nd Street building will be turned into a temporary circulating library until the Mid-Manhattan re-opens. We’ve been told that the cost of the Mid-Manhattan renovation will be about $150 million.
At the 42nd Street building, approximately 70,000 square feet of space currently closed to the public will be opened up. NYPL stated that the total cost of renovations to the 42nd Street building will be about $90 million: this includes the cost of new mechanical equipment, such as new or additional elevators, new bathrooms, and possibly a new additional entrance.
In response to a question from the audience, Iris Weinshall promised that NYPL would release the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFP) which were sent to the architectural firms invited to apply for the project. The RFQ and RFP define the scope of the project and would give some sense of NYPL’s goals. NYPL has now posted the two documents to their website: the RFQ can be found here, and the RFP can be found here. These documents contain much useful information, and are well worth a look.
NYPL said that the next public meeting on the renovation project would be held this Spring.
An audio recording of the December 10th meeting can be heard here.
Waiting for the meeting to start:
NYPL Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall:
The architects take questions:
The Rose Main Reading Room at the 42nd Street Library has been closed for repairs since May 2014, when a small piece of plaster fell off the ceiling.
Last December, NYPL offered a tour of the scaffolding in the Rose Main Reading Room to interested members of the public. It’s an impressive structure, which holds up a platform (referred to as a “dance floor”) extending across the entire length and width of the ceiling. The corrugated metal panels seen above the scaffolding in the photos below form the underside of this platform.
NYPL staff were on hand to provide information about the status of the ceiling repairs and the scope of the work that is being done. They were very forthcoming in their answers to questions, and did an excellent job of explaining why the work is so extensive and why it is taking so long.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: why, oh why doesn’t NYPL post regular updates on their website detailing the work that is being done in the Main Reading Room? There’s no reason that the information we received during the tour couldn’t be posted on line, and it would go a long way towards reassuring library users that NYPL really is doing its best to get the Reading Room re-opened as soon as possible.
Below are some photos taken during the December tour (for safety reasons people weren’t allowed to ascend the scaffolding to see the dance floor, but a good photo of the dance floor can be found accompanying a report by WNYC on the repair work).
The Times Literary Supplement (London) has published Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda’s review of Scott Sherman’s Patience and Fortitude. It’s an excellent read!
Scott Sherman’s subtitle is slightly coy: his book isn’t about the fight to save just any old library. He’s talking about the revered New York Public Library, one of the world’s great scholarly archives and research institutions. Located at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, this block-long Beaux Arts building, established in 1895 and comparable in scale to the British Museum, is guarded by two monumental stone lions nicknamed “Patience” and “Fortitude”. In Sherman’s pages these modest virtues are pitted against the institutional vices of hubris and condescension.
Essentially, Sherman, a contributing writer for the Nation, provides a scathing account of how the library’s well-intentioned but highhanded overlords wasted millions of dollars – and who knows how many man-hours – on an ill-conceived renovation project…
New plans at NYPL leave millions of books in remote storage while using centrally located research library space for digital services that could be anywhere. As this article shows, this is as short-sighted as their premature and disastrous embrace of CD-ROM technology at the Science Industry and Business Library.
New technology and print can complement one another, as NYPL’s mapmaking program demonstrates. But long term library planning should acknowledge that new media can quickly become obsolete and print books have lasting advantages.
In the 1990s, many of the 42nd Street Library’s reading room tables were equipped with dedicated computer terminals that are increasingly underused as the public shifts towards smaller laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.
Over 2 million books were circulated in Mid-Manhattan library in 2014 (not including books used in the library). In their renovation plans, library leaders should commit to keeping as many books on open shelves as possible so that library users can browse and make discoveries. New Yorkers live fast-paced lives and do not want to wait a day or more for a book to arrive from storage.
Books are here to stay, and NYPL should provide quick access to as much of their great collection as possible. Three million more books could be kept on-site at the 42nd Street Library if NYPL would renovate the stacks rather than leaving this amazingly efficient resource empty and unused.
NYPL plans to open upscale cafes at two of its research libraries. The rationale? “It is important that we offer the public what they want and need while they’re in our buildings, often for hours while doing important research,” says NYPL Chief External Relations Officer Carrie Welch.
Ms. Welch seems to have missed the fact that what the public generally needs when doing “important research” is books, and a decent space in which to read them. Both of which are currently missing from the 42nd Street Library. But it’s good to know that NYPL is listening. After years of controversy about NYPL’s crippling of its research facilities, NYPL has got the message. Ms. Welch sums it up: “We have heard from our patrons that they would like refreshments.”
On September 16th, NYPL announced the selection of Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle as architects for the $300 million renovation of the Mid-Manhattan and 42nd Street Library. Unfortunately, the news came with complete lack of transparency in either the selection process or the renovation plans.
NYPL revealed nothing about what other architects were solicited, how the various applicants planned to approach the project, and why Mecanoo was chosen for the job.
In a recent email sent to users of the 42nd Street Library, Carolyn Broomhead, the Research Community Manager at NYPL, refers to “a comprehensive program plan that will drive the work of the architects.” This program plan, prepared in collaboration with outside consultants Brightspot, has not been made public.
In the interest of greater transparency and to avoid repeating the wasted time and expense of previous design schemes NYPL should allow library patrons and other New Yorkers to read all program documents and examine all proposed plans. In order to solicit greater feedback, appropriate forums should be convened so the public can share comments and concerns about the designs with librarians.
As part of the library’s comprehensive renovation plans for the 42nd Street Library, NYPL must develop a long term strategy for rehabilitating the research stacks. Leaving the stacks bookless benefits no one, especially when off-site storage is so costly.
With over half of the project’s funding being provided by the city taxpayers, the public should be involved in every step of the process. NYPL President Anthony Marx has pledged greater public input, and we will hold NYPL to that promise. Only by engaging in open and sincere dialog can we build a better library for the future.
On Tuesday, June 23rd, at 7 PM, Scott Sherman will officially launch his new book Patience and Fortitude at Book Culture on 450 Columbus Avenue (between 81st and 82nd Street).
As a journalist for The Nation, Sherman’s in-depth coverage of the Central Library Plan provoked a firestorm of criticism against NYPL’s attempts to sell off popular libraries and gut the historic 42nd Street Library. His new book is a gripping account of the entire saga. Scott Sherman will sign copies of his book, and the event will include a conversation with Caleb Crain. We hope you can join us!
The three million books that were secretly moved from the 42nd Street Library stacks are still located 50 miles away at the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP) in Princeton, New Jersey. Library leaders have sought to justify the empty stacks as a cost-saving measure. They claim upgrading climate controls to the seven floors would cost $46 million.
But how much does it cost to build and maintain off-site storage at ReCAP in New Jersey? A lot, it seems.
According to Tax Form 990 filed by the New York Public Library, NYPL has paid $20,067,805 to ReCAP and $3,267,805 to Clancy Relocation & Logistics (Clancy Moving Systems, Inc.) over the last three years. A total of $23,335,395 has already been spent on off-site storage, a sum which does not include the cost of packing and transporting materials back and forth to 42nd Street so they can be used.
Here’s a breakdown of the $23,335,395 spent over the last few years:
Clancy Moving/Storage (removing books and additional storage)
Currently, NYPL stores nearly five million books in ReCAP. Although NYPL expects to complete the expansion of its underground book storage below Bryant Park in 2016, the expansion aims to provide additional storage for only 2.5 million items, meaning a substantial portion of the approximately 8.5 million volume research collection will remain in New Jersey. Upgrading the climate controls in the stacks would allow NYPL to keep 7 million volumes at the 42nd Street Library.
The per book retrieval cost for items stored in New Jersey is hard to find, but surely handling at four loading docks and two trips on the New Jersey Turnpike for each round trip costs much more than the efficient elevator ride from stacks to reading room. NYPL must disclose these costs so any new plans for the 42nd Street Library can take advantage of operating efficiencies embedded in the existing building.
In the same period, NYPL shelled out $9,478,658 to Fosters & Partners for plans now abandoned and $34.5 million to the Church Pension Group for administrative office space at 445 Fifth Avenue.
NYPL’s recent Midtown Campus Renovation survey revealed, the “vast majority of respondents list quiet spaces and the availability of materials” as their top priority. The costly reliance on an off-site storage model that is wasteful and inefficient must be re-examined. Updating the stacks now so more books can be stored in the 42nd Street Library will address the priorities of library patrons and pay dividends in the future.
Illustration courtesy of Simon Verity.
The Committee to Save the New York Public Library is excited to announce the forthcoming publication of Scott Sherman’s new book Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate and the Fight to Save a Public Library, a definitive account of NYPL’s aborted plan to dismantle one of the world’s most cherished public libraries and the Herculean efforts of a broad coalition of writers, scholars, and library lovers to stop it.
In a series of penetrating articles for The Nation, Scott Sherman first began to unravel the details of the Central Library Plan in 2011. His investigative work played a pivotal role in generating wide-spread public opposition to the plan. Now Sherman tells the entire story in vivid detail based on his probing interviews and meticulous research.
Praising the book as “a major feat of reporting,” Vanity Fair joins a chorus of advanced accolades for the book:
“The battle over the New York Public Library was such an important fight to win, and Scott Sherman’s reporting was an essential part of that victory.” —Salman Rushdie
“It’s very hard to produce a specific, inarguable example of the power of the press—but here’s one. Scott Sherman’s pathbreaking 2011 article in The Nation about the New York Public Library’s plans to demolish much of its headquarters building and substantially change its purpose led directly to that misguided plan’s being abandoned three years later. Now Sherman lays out the entire story, from conception to cancellation, of the Central Library Plan. It is an absorbing narrative, and more; it also gets to the heart of an urgent broader issue, the danger our most precious institutions face in the age of disruption.” —Nicholas Lemann, author of The Big Test
“With cool acuity, Scott Sherman details the insidious threat to one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions, and the gritty resistance that saved it. Anyone who cares about the future of books should read Patience and Fortitude.” —Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire
“Scott Sherman’s fast-paced story is a nuanced, disturbing account of what happens when the age of hedge funds, metrics and management consultants meets one of our country’s great institutions of learning. Patience and Fortitude is all the more fascinating because Sherman’s journalism played a significant role in preventing a cultural atrocity.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost
“One can read Scott Sherman’s engrossing book as a critique of the New York Public Library’s stumbles, or as a love letter to a priceless institution. This is a love letter, and one that assails those the author believes would have violated the library’s legacy. Even those who disagree with Sherman should tip their hats to him, for his passion and rigorous reporting, as the book reveals, has aided a great and priceless institution.” —Ken Auletta, author of Googled
“When civic vandals masquerading as visionaries attempted to gut the New York Public Library, Scott Sherman’s intrepid reporting in The Nation shut them down. Now he gives us the full story, a riveting activist adventure yarn written with the elegance of a cultural romantic and the gimlet eye of an investigative journalist. What I learned is that a civilization traduces its libraries—especially this library—at its peril.” —Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge
“With reportorial doggedness, narrative elan, and an unfailing eye for the lancing detail, Scott Sherman masterfully tells the story, by turns enraging and heartening, of the plight of New York’s most storied institution in an uncertain age.” —Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of Traffic
“Scott Sherman’s Patience and Fortitude is a gripping, meticulously reported account of the plan to gut a world-famous research library—and the movement that sprung up to preserve it. Like Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold, another provocative story about a debacle in the stacks, this riveting book shows just how bloody the fight over our cultural treasures can get.” —Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue!
Patience and Fortitude will be available in bookstores on June 23rd. Pre-order your copy through Melville House’s website to get it now.