More on NYPL

April 27, 2012

I have posted a petition on Change.org that allows friends and concerned people to fight the library’s plan to gut the stack areas and renovate this precious landmark. Friends asked me to add comments to the petition. Here they are:

The Carrere and Hastings library was designed, by its librarian, to be a state of the art facility in the late 1890s. Its reading room, on the top floor, provides light and an airy space for everyone. By putting the stacks below the reading room, it was simple for library personnel to retrieve books (using elevators) for all patrons. This has continued to this day, and many researchers love the attention they get from the staff when their books arrive. The building was designed for this arrangement, and only this arrangement. There are few windows in the stack areas, so they will not make good spaces for people. Moreover, the entire magnificent staircase and circulation system was designed to usher readers up and into the main reading room. They arrive in awe of its grandeur.

The library has worked as a world-renowned research facility for decades, and the collection is well housed in the stacks (though they could use better HVAC systems and fire protection, something this money could pay for). Researchers are very upset at the prospect of seeing the collection moved to Princeton, where it will be 24 hours away. This is ridiculous, when the space exists in the building–space made only for storing books. The librarians are apoplectic at the thought of moving collections, and are fighting the proposal from within.

Last, but not least, the things that the NYPL board (a group of very wealthy, megalomaniacal  types) say they want to accomplish with the multi-million dollar renovation will be much more easily, and cheaply, achieved without touching the central library at all. The mid-Manhattan branch, across 42nd street, is popular and very easily upgradable. Why sell it? (Anthony Marx, the library’s president, says that $150 million is too high a price to pay for an upgrade, but will spend four times that amount across the street). Branch libraries are in desperate shape, and could use the new computer workstations to their advantage–they are closer to the people who need serving. Of course, renovations of old buildings don’t make a big splash, and that is what the board is really trying to do. They would love to just build a big new building by Frank Gehry and do a Guggenheim; the Norman Foster scheme is their substitute for this kind of ego trip. There is no compelling reason why the library board needs to convert one of America’s greatest Beaux Arts buildings into a huge internet cafe.

In a recent radio interview on the Leonard Lopate show, Marx offered one weak explanation after another for this hair-brained scheme. He suggested that it would be impossible to renovate the Mid-Manhattan branch while still using it, when libraries do renovations like this as a matter of course every day. He maintains that he wants to build “the greatest library in the world” inside the Carrere and Hastings landmark, which is already one of the greatest libraries in the world. He admits that all of the research libraries are operated via private endowments, while public money is expended for the branch libraries. Why then use public money to ruin the most prestigious of the endowed research libraries in order to make into something it is not? If the public facilities need renovation, and he wants to keep the largest circulating library in the world, Mid-Manhattan, as a “state of the art” facility, why not either renovate it or build a new branch? What is driving this insane effort to wreck a landmark building? Money, just money.

One Response to “More on NYPL”

  1. Anna said

    In an age when everything is becoming digitized and research can be done at the click of a button, a trip to the library seems to be turning into a last resort. It’s unfortunate that NYPL feels it needs to do something so drastic to attract people who will probably be more interested in “seeing” rather than “using” the space.

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