News & Events

New York Magazine Gets it Right on the New Replacement Donnell Library


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.

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City Journal Eviscerates Donnell Deal



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.

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Readers, NOT Real Estate: No More Donnell Deals!

Donnell Library

After eight years of delays, the replacement for Donnell Library will open next Monday at 10am. If you are free that day, please join us as we remind NYPL officials that the opening of the new (significantly smaller) library is no cause for celebration.

Beloved for its children’s literature and foreign language collection, the Donnell Library was one of NYPL’s most heavily used circulating branches. But in a trial run for the defeated Central Library Plan, Donnell was sold to private developers for a pittance in 2007 and shuttered the following year. The deal was hatched in secret, and no public review preceded the sale.

The new replacement library is less than a third the size of Donnell and has been shoehorned into the basement of a luxury condominium-hotel, where rooms start at $850 per night. The special collections will not be returning.

Unfortunately, we can’t bring back the old Donnell. But with your support, we can prevent further sales of our libraries. Let’s rally to remind library executives and elected officials that public libraries belong to all of us!

Where: 18 West 53rd Street, Manhattan (Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)

When:  June 27, 2016: 9:30 AM – 11:00 AM

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NYU’s Bobst Library Removes an Entire Floor of Stacks

NYPL is not the only New York library emptying its stacks.  New York Univiersity’s Bobst Library is removing the stacks from the entire seventh floor to make way for more study space and a remodeled media center.Bobst00



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NYPL Finally Delivers Some Books… But Wait!


NYPL has announced the completion of the underground storage facility built when Vartan Gregorian led the Library in the 1980s. CSNYPL has long advocated the use of this space. But even as they fill it with books, questions remain. On-site books, once routinely delivered in fifteen minutes, now take forty-five. And, while boasting of the capacity of the new facility, NYPL refuses to make plans to renovate the stacks where capacity for three million more volumes sits empty and unused. Those books take days to be trucked in from New Jersey.

The best way for a research library to serve its users is to deliver all available information to patrons as quickly as possible. Whenever they have been consulted, patrons have said they want the 42nd Street Library repaired so it can hold its full capacity of 7.5 million books. In the information age, why should we settle for fewer books with longer waiting times?

Image courtesy of Melville House.

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Committee to Save NYPL Wins Grassroots Preservation Award! Join us to celebrate!


We are pleased to announce that the Committee to Save the New York Public Library is one of the recipients of this year’s Grassroots Preservation Awards!

Please join us as we celebrate this great honor at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, 6:00 pm.

Given annually by the Historic Districts Council, the city’s leading advocacy group for historic preservation, the award acknowledges the efforts of individuals and groups defending our historic neighborhoods and buildings.

Tickets are available online or at the door.

We hope to see you there!


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The Koch Brothers Really Don’t Like Libraries

2016-03-12-1457816938-911178-AdultLiteracybyAlyssaWinansLowRes-thumbIt 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.

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More Information About the Mid-Manhattan and 42nd St. Renovation Plans

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:2-901

NYPL Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall:

The architects take questions:2-903

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Rose Main Reading Room Scaffolding Tour

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).





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Times Literary Supplement Reviews Patience and Fortitude

Patience & Fortitude coverThe 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…

Read the whole review.

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