On July 24, Anthony Marx, President of the New York Public Library, defended the Central Library Plan on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show. Those comments, which offered a false picture of the virtues of the plan, are refuted below.
Marx referred to the stacks as if they were mere bookshelves easily taken down and made part of the fabric of the new Norman Foster plan, but they can never be a Proustian reminder of the library’s history. In fact, the stacks are an essential part of the structure and function of the research library. They provide the support for the unencumbered space of the magnificent, nearly two-block-long Rose Reading Room and they were designed as a highly efficient system for delivering the books to the readers there.
Marx asserted that the state of the stacks are a threat to the books they store, implying that there have been no improvements to them in over 100 years. In fact, advanced temperature and humidity controls were put in place in the 1980’s and in 1991 a dry pipe sprinkler system was installed. The Library of Congress has recently brought stacks of the same vintage up to modern standards.
When asked about the reduction of space that will result from the insertion of SIBL (Science, Industry and Business Library) and the Mid-Manhattan circulating library into the 42nd Street structure, Marx resisted a straightforward apples to apples comparison when admitting that library space was being reduced. He insisted that this will somehow be made up for by opening other rooms in the building that have hitherto been closed to the public. In fact, these rooms can be made available to the public at any time and have no connection with the planned transfer of the Mid-Manhattan library and SIBL into the building.
Concerning the possibility of renovating Mid-Manhattan, Marx stated decisively that it would be impossible since it would involve closing one of the most heavily used libraries in the country during a renovation. Major libraries, such as Columbia’s Butler Library, the Firestone Library at Princeton, and the Library of Congress have been kept open during renovations. If, as Marx promised, the Rose Reading Room would remain open through the Central Library Plan reconstruction, the same should certainly be possible at Mid-Manhattan.
Finally, and most egregious, was Marx’ statement that the lawsuits against the Central Library Plan say, in essence, “don’t let the public into the building.” On the contrary, the concern is for the general public to continue to have the free, ongoing access to the research collections they have always had. Readers will suffer if the Central Library Plan is implemented. Students, such as those at the City University, who lack automatic access to private university libraries, will be especially hurt by offsite storage.