New York Public Library Drops Plan to Destroy Book Stacks
Details for Renovations Still Unclear
In a stunning turn-around on Wednesday, it was announced that the New York Public Library has abandoned the majority of the controversial Central Library Plan and would be retaining (and renovating) the Mid Manhattan Library building and not removing the integral book stacks which form the heart of the 42nd Street Research Library. The plan, announced in 2008 and pursued with vigor by NYPL leadership since 2011, had proposed to close and sell the Science Industry and Business Library on 34th Street and the Mid Manhattan Library on 40th Street and combine their functions into the 42nd Street building by removing the books and storage stacks under the Reading Room and converting the space into a lending library. The entire plan would cost $300 million, of which $150 million would come from New York City’s budget. The plan engendered criticism from architectural critics such as Ada Louise Huxtable and Michael Kimmelman and outrage from both private scholars and public citizens. Then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio joined the call for transparency and an accurate evaluation of this plan last fall and other elected officials such as CM Dan Garodnick and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James have more recently weighed on their concerns. People protested the Trustees meetings and the Gala. And it worked. Owing to a number of factors; citizen lawsuits, public protests, change in administration, donor push-back and things which are still unidentified and may never be known; the New York Public Library reversed itself and scuttled the Central Library Plan. What exactly is going to happen next is still to be determined, but it is clear that the Library has committed to thinking about preservation and reuse, rather than purging and real estate. As Gale Brewer said, “It always takes courage to change your mind”. That’s courage we can applaud.
And while we’re handing out applause; congratulations to the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, the Citizens Defending Libraries and the Library Lovers League. These volunteer organizations and their leaders and supporters pulled off the seeming impossible – they faced down the giant and they won.
For a wrap-up of the plan, see Scott Sherman’s piece in the Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/179742/nypl-shelves-plan-gut-central-library. Scott broke the news about the CLP in the first place, so it’s fitting that he get pride of place for its demise.