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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