The NYPL Renovation Controversy

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The New York Public Library’s plan to renovate its Fifth Avenue building, which includes removing research stacks, has been met with criticism. Some opponents of the project filed a lawsuit to stop the project. Scott Sherman, contributing writer for the Nation, and David Levering Lewis, professor of history at NYU who is part of the law suit, and or New York Times writer Michael Kimmelman, talk about the controversial New York Public Library renovation.

We invited Anthony Marx, president and CEO of the NYPL, to join the conversation, but he was unable to be on the show today. He'll be on July 24th to discuss the renovation project.


Michael Kimmelman, David Levering Lewis and Scott Sherman

Comments [50]

Mark Alan Hewitt FAIA from Bernardsville, New Jersey

The chain of comments is impressive and gives a good cross section of opinion on this topic--negative. One fact that is only briefly discussed is that the 42nd Street library was design to be a research library and was under construction before the Carnegie branch library gift was even signed. A circulating library was installed as an afterthought. The building was never intended to be a circulating library, and should not be converted into one.

Jul. 27 2013 08:19 PM
Sandra Lloyd from Brooklyn, NY

The closing of libraries due to the suspicious "broken air conditioning" and the BPL and NYPL's refusal to fix it is absolutely unacceptable.

And the closing of these libraries permanently is despicable.

How can you complain about a jobless rate and people on welfare when you take away many people's only resource to search for jobs? How can you complain about ignorant poor people when you take away their only access to books?

Please tell me that I'm waking up from a bad dream after reading Fahrenheit 451 and that this is not really happening.

Libraries are part of American democracy. Getting rid of them is un-American and just plain cruel and sick. It's not good for anybody.

Jul. 24 2013 04:03 AM
Chris Michael from Manhattan

Thank you for this. Yes, the demands on the NYPL have grown since 1900, but should never be at the expense of such an important landmark and symbol of our city. There are innumerable ways to accommodate library-goers, but only one central branch. Even the best outcomes cannot outweigh the loss should the worst happen.

Jul. 23 2013 04:47 PM
Retired NYPL librarian

Thank you for your caring and informative program.

Some years ago, after hiring the consulting firm, Booz Allen (known principally for its work with the Defense Dept.) NYPL started quietly, without informing staff or public, to change its modus operandi from being one of the world’s great research libraries , open to the general public, to being mainly a center for New York City community activities. The funny thing is that it always provided great community services through its 86 branch libraries located in many different city neighborhoods.

Working with Booz Allen, NYPL started little by little to close some of its research divisions at the 42nd building, such as the Slavic and Asian Divisions, dispersing their staffs and collections. Then, it proceeded to cut severely the staff and acquisitions budgets of other research divisions such as SIBL, the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. There was talk of eventually even closing down these research divisions and merging small parts of them into the 42nd St. building.

When NYPL stresses that their proposed reconfiguration of the 42nd St. building will usher in an era of improved democratic access to the public, that is a blatantly misleading statement. Throughout its past, NYPL has always been one of the most democratic of great public institutions, offering educational lifelines to vast amounts of the public, through its many neighborhood branch libraries, as well as it four major research libraries. Many past and present members of the public, some of whom later became well-known scholars, writers, artists, critics etc, have attested to the fact that because of their free, unfettered access to NYPL’s great research collections, they were able to self educate themselves, when some of them were not able to afford attendance at universities etc.

It appears that NYPL, as they cut back on their acquisition of research materials, and specialized staff, would prefer that people needing to do research in various specialties, use nearby universities that may have collections in these areas. It remains to be seen if such universities would agree to allow these non-university members to have access to their materials. Some people may even have to travel to Washington, DC to do their research at the Library of Congress, which is open to the public, but has its own schedule and access restrictions. By the way, Library of Congress once consulted with Booz Allen, who also tried to advise them to disperse their research collections to various other institutions. The Librarian of Congress turned them down cold on this suggestion. But it would appear that NYPL heeded their advice in this area.

So much for the improved democratic access to NYPL’s increasingly diminished collections!

Jul. 23 2013 01:35 PM
Jackie from Manhattan

Thank you for this show on this topic! People need to know our libraries are being compromised, just when people need them the most in a bad economy. I'm a mom and very sad at the prospect that my son won't be able to do the same type of easy and in-depth research at the 42nd St library and at the Mid-Manhattan that I did in high school through grad school. There are things in this library even Columbia's libraries can't match!

Jul. 16 2013 08:31 PM
A Retired NYPL Librarian from New York

Thanks for addressing this important issue. The public has largely been kept in the dark about it by the Library and I'm glad the story is finally getting out.

Some more information not mentioned that outsiders not familiar with recent library events may not know:
--NYC consists of 3 separate public library systems (NYPL covers Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx and has 4 research libraries and over 85 branches; the Brooklyn Public Library has a central building and over 55 branches; and the Queens Library has a central building and over 60 branches)

--For several years now, NYPL staff has been told to "weed" (i.e., discard) many circulating books, including multiple copies, those that look "shabby" even though they're otherwise in good, readable condition, and older classics.

--Many of the reference and circulating books at the Mid-Manhattan Library have been weeded. Perhaps to get rid of so many books that the remainder can fit into the greatly reduced space available if Mid-Manhattan's and SIBL's circulating collections are to be squeezed into the 42nd St. Library envisioned in the Central Library Plan?

--NYPL, whether of not the CLP goes though, basically intends to stop collecting research science and technology materials, citing increasing costs of these materials, their declining use at the Library, and the increasing availability of databases. (Librarians know that not everything of importance is on the Web or in a database.) How can the Library be considered a world-class research institution and not include science and technology? Will SIBL become IBL? Where will researchers, students, inventors, etc. go instead?
--In 2011, NYPL emptied the Annex, a large building on W. 43 St., and sold it to the Department of Education for an undisclosed sum in order to have more money for the CLP. The DOE intends to build a school on the property. Why sell it to another government agency? The far west side is becoming a trendy neighborhood. Could the Library have gotten a better deal from private developers? The Annex was used for the storage of seldom-used Library research materials. The New York Times morgue also was stored in the Annex. Where are they now?

Jul. 16 2013 08:26 PM
JanetE from Brooklyn from Brooklyn

Thank you Rita Sue Siegel for your efforts to save the Donnell Library Center. Yes, it was a fabulous library in a great location...a testament to how trustees used to function as if they had a duty to serve the public. $1 million in capital budget funds was applied for and spent to create a state-of-the-art Media Center within Donnell that was opened with great fanfare in 2001. Six years later, Donnell was sold because it was supposedly just too decrepit to survive! An NYT article said the library literally had no choice! Why did the administration apply for and spend one million taxpayer dollars to create the Media Center, with its own separate A.C., if the building itself was in such bad shape? The reality is that it was not. That's why LeClerc and his minions never responded to your requests, RitaSue, for documentation--they didn't have anything to prove their case that selling was their only alternative. They wanted to sell to Orient Express Hotels, a company with a board member who was also a director of One Liberty Properties along with NYPL's Building Chair Marshall Rose, until Rose resigned from One Liberty Properties in June 2007. Orient Express's CEO, Paul White, credited Marshall Rose as being "instrumental in the deal." (NYT, 11/7/2007.) The idea was to build an eleven story hotel with access to the Orient Express-owned 21 Club on E. 52nd Street. That deal fell through but was taken up by Starwood, which is building a 50 story condo building there. Guess where the public will be in the "new" Donnell Library? Yup--in the basement! That's good enough for us according to the people running the NYPL today. Thanks President LeClerc! To top it off, pardon the pun, Starwood is selling the penthouse for $60 million--about the same as the NYPL got for selling its whole five story above-ground, two story below-ground, 97,000 square foot Donnell Library Center! But wait, it gets better--the NYPL will have to spend $20 million to outfit its 1/3 the size basement library--so it will only net $39 million from the sale. Who thinks this is a great deal for the public, raise your hand! Again, thank you RitaSue Siegel for your efforts to prevent this unconscionable tragedy against impossible odds. Nice to know there are some public-spirited citizens left out there. To think that Christine Quinn is running for mayor!!! She should hide her head in shame. W. 53rd Street still lacks a public library today. Now the Brooklyn Public Library is using the Donnell model to sell off the Brooklyn Heights branch--the a.c. doesn't work! Well, apply for a NYC capital grant to replace it--how about trying? Where is the documentation proving that the present BAC unit cannot be repaired? It sure doesn't look very old!!! BAC has a website with a whole list of replacement parts that are available. Show us the proof you applied for funds and that the a.c. can't be fixed, President LeClerc--oops, I mean Johnson! Let's see it!

Jul. 16 2013 08:10 PM
A NYPL Member

When Anthony Marx, President and CEO of the NYPL, appears on your show, I hope that you will follow up on the
point made by Scott Sherman. He pointed out that the NYPL has plans to spend $350,000,000 on its
flagship property while it cannot provide toilet paper for its Uptown branches, nor air conditioning in the office
of the head of the Schomburg Center in Harlem. There is an alarming disconnect here.

Jul. 16 2013 06:39 PM
Mark Hurwitt from Brooklyn

Thank you for having a show on this important issue. Too often when the media talks about Bloomberg it's soft drinks & bicycles. The real story is the sell-off of public sector assets to the mayor's Real Estate pals at discount prices. (Public Housing is another example.) Yes, there's a fiscal crisis but that was created through years of Bloomberg diverting funds that were designated for libraries - under-funding is the 1st step in a cheap sell-off plan. Also the members of the board of trustees for our libraries are appointed by the mayor so they are not to be trusted. It's a stacked deck. I fear that in the future I'll find my branch library in the basement of a Walmart.

Jul. 16 2013 06:07 PM

The essential function of the Central Library (42nd St.) is to foster research. The (seriously under-funded) branches can't and don't do that.
] Books removed from stacks will not all be stored under Bryant Park; a great many have gone and others will go to storage facilities elsewhere. We users have found that books requested from storage facilities do not normally arrive in 24 hours as the Library spokesman claims they do or will. Where else is a worker expected to wait 48 hours or more to do the next step in his or her job? Yes, one can order books in advance, but when a researcher finds a new reference, he or she has to wait days for that book to arrive. This is also a serious problem for out-of-town readers who cannot afford high hotel bills or costly changes in airline tickets. It is a time-waster for every researcher. It is a serious problem for readers who have short deadlines, or who have limited time for research because they have jobs. This is the sole research library for the huge CUNY system. Have the scholars on the Library's board gone to the Rose Reading Room in the last five years to submit call slips and wait for books? If they did, they would perceive the problems quickly.
Do not be misled by talk of digitization. It is precisely the specialist books used by scholars and researchers that are not digitized. Moreover, if a book is not perfectly photographed, images in it are imprecise---obviously a hindrance to research in certain sciences and art history.
Do not be misled, either, by vague promises to help scholars. This seems to mean that a few scholars will get special privileges; ordinary readers and other scholars won't. Dr. Marx spoke about providing secluded work areas for scholars; two already exist (without public information about how to secure places there). Scholars can all work in the Rose Reading Room, even if that's not as convenient as having a carrel somewhere; existing and proposed scholars' areas could instead store books for all readers. The present charming children's room could also be used to store books. This is not a residential area, and before school is out during the week, nannies use it for chatting, not always for reading to their charges. They could equally well use branch libraries. The glazed Astor Court can remain an event space if it brings in plenty of revenue.
Books suffer from poor climate control. The solution: Fix the climate control. That will be cheaper than trucking thousands of books back and forth, a practice that will surely increase damage to them.
To permit efficient work by scholars and general researchers, the Library's present proposals should be discarded. I am grateful to WNYC for putting this matter on the air.

Jul. 16 2013 05:38 PM
Mark Alan Hewitt FAIA from Bernardsville, New Jersey

As one of the plaintiffs in David Lewis's lawsuit, I want to make it clear that what is at stake here is fate of the greatest research library in America and one of New York's greatest buildings. Wall street tycoons and real estate developers have endeavored to destroy this institution for one reason and one reason alone: greed. The Donnell, SIBL, and MML have been put on the auction block so that friends of the NYPL board can buy these public sites at deep discounts, thereby fleecing the public just as they did in the mortgage scam.

Jul. 16 2013 05:25 PM
Viv R. from Brooklyn, New York

thanks for reporting on this issue. it's crucial!

now I just hope Brooklyn Public Library officials take notice and re-consider their rushed and ill designed plans to sell some of the Brooklyn branches to real state developers. that in effect is transferring public property to for-profit private businesses at an incredible discount. not to mention that instead of defunding some of the branches they intend to sell - such as the Cadman Plaza branch -- they should abide by their fiduciary obligations and protect those very same buildings.

please let us all say "NO" to these real estate deals involving our libraries that benefit so few.

Jul. 16 2013 05:16 PM
PhyllisS from Brooklyn

The selling-off of public library branches throughout the city is blatantly corrupt at its core. The facts stand for themselves. The libraries can be renovated, refurbished and renewed to serve the 21st century public without selling them and/or tearing them down. The library officials should be keeping the trust of the citizens they serve instead of pandering to segments of this city who only want to fill their own pockets.

Jul. 16 2013 04:44 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Fleshing out the discussion is a few respects: Given how a drastic reduction of existing library space is a key feature of the Central Library Plan, that plan is just as much about as a destructive dismantling of the Mid-Manhattan and SIBL libraries as it is about the demolition of the research stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library decommissioning that world class institution.

That reduction of space (more than 380,000 square feet of library space reduced to only 80,000 square feet of space. . . accessed through only one tiny door?) and the plan’s antipathy toward books as well as the way librarians books occupy the real estate the trustees are pushing out the door, links the CLP thematically to what began with the Donnell debacle and what is now being exported programmatically elsewhere in the city with plans for the Brooklyn Heights Library that closely replicate Donnell, and speak of leveraging (i.e. doing real estate deals for) the rest of the Brooklyn Public Library’s real estate like the Pacific Branch.

It’s incredible that the now-to-be-mostly-underground-and-largely-bookless Donnell is cited by library officials as a model for what they want to do NYC’s other libraries. Ergo, it’s no surprise that the CLP is pretty similar. It is incredible that like Donnell, such deals as the Central Library Plan and Brooklyn Heights, propose reducing space by more than two-thirds, sometimes approaching three-quarters. This is a 180 degree turnaround since, as recently as 2003, officials were thinking in terms of the opposite: Increasing library space, planning to nearly double space at Mid-Manhattan by adding another 117,000 square feet to it.

The annual $15 million the NYPL says it expects to save with the CLP (after suffering a probable net loss of fund to vastly shrink the libraries) is highly suspect, but the savings, to the extent that they occur, would be associated with the lower cost of running greatly reduced library space with fewer librarians and probably fewer patrons too.

Given the lack of public benefit, what else could be motivating the trustees if not the real estate deals? Is it really an excuse to say that the NYPL is facing financial hardship because Bloomberg is underfunding the libraries at a time greatly escalating library use? Nobody sounded the alarm to tell the public these irreplaceable assets would have to be sold if Bloomberg’s underfunding was not challenged. Instead it appears that the underfunding is embraced as an excuse.

Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

Jul. 16 2013 03:28 PM
Sandi Cooper from New York, N Y

Thank you for covering the NYPL story and for the remarks by the guests on the show and thanks to the leadership of the group opposing the bizarre "renewal" plans.

Were it not for that building, its remarkable staff and its holdings, many people from my post 1945 generation would never have been able to move into professional successful lives. Between the free amazing library, the once free City University system and the excellent public schools, New York City was a model of opportunity. The librarians were infallibly polite and helpful to us kids in the 50s who shyly climbed those frightening stairs to do assigned research papers. They continued to be available to those of us young adults struggling with term papers and dissertations. When formidable new technology arrived, they worked to make us literate. Most of all, we could get access journals, books and unpublished materials usually 30 minutes after we asked -- and in my case, for arcane 19th century non U S materials.

This is not mere nostalgia for a gorgeous building -- which it is. It was a tale of public support for non privileged NYC kids.

Jul. 16 2013 02:32 PM
Marilyn Berkon from Brooklyn, NY

The NYPL segment was excellent. We want the 42nd Street library to remain a research institution. It is the second largest in the U.S. Private real-estate developers and their greed have no concern for the public, who do not want to see sales for high-rise luxury buildings feeding a useless, pointless, wasteful circulating library where the historic stacks should remain. The 42nd Street library has been an inspiration since its inception, free and open to all, used by all.

Why not renovate the Mid-Manhattan branch across the street for far less money and restore its reputation as one of the finest circulating libraries in the city? No need to cram the books from there into a new circulating library that will destroy the original purpose of our grand research institution. This is not the way I want to see my tax dollars spent. I will vote for a mayor who stops the plan, one who respects the true needs of people, rather than the greed and arrogance that motivate those who willfully disregard what is precious to us.

Jul. 16 2013 02:29 PM
RitaSue Siegel from 10019

I was the so-called leader of the Save The Donnell Movement. Now that I am hearing the reasons from NYPL/Marx about why the Mid-Manhattan and SIBL, and other libraries in Brooklyn, must be sold, the reasons are so familiar that I wonder if they are not being read from a script prepared by someone from NYPL in the LeClerc era. "Air conditioning/HVAC needs work and would cost too much to repair; elevators dangerously outdated and are too costly to repair," and on and on. But when we requested a copy of the engineers' reports as to what it would cost to fix what was supposedly broken, we were repeatedly promised we would get them but they never arrived. It finally got too embarrassing for us to keep asking for them and getting nothing. We were too naïve to realize that we were being played while the strategy of selling to real estate interests was going forward. So, my advice is: believe nothing that comes from the NYPL regarding why they are doing anything regarding libraries and hold their feet to the fire until they produce evidence of any claims they are making-evidence from legitimate experts, not anyone connected with NYPL. The Community Board 5 and Christine Quinn of the City Council were aware that Donnell was being sold to be demolished and essentially did nothing to investigate the situation which did not seem quite right to all of us. No hearing was held, no attempt was made despite our requests to involve the public in the decision to close what was a fantastic library, and more. Performance space in a newly renovated auditorium, old movies, DVDs, great music collection, teen center, largest foreign language selection, on and on. Why didn't the architects of the new Donnell meet with its former and future users to determine what frameworks should guide the new design? That's how design is done in the 21st Century. What they have proposed is a disaster in the making. Why should we have to schlep to 42nd Street when we had almost everything we needed in library services right here?

Jul. 16 2013 02:25 PM
Paula Glatzer from NYC

Thank you for covering this most important topic. But you downplayed the central issue: the sell-off of public libraries to private developers. Even if the libraries "own" the buildings, the so-called trustees hold a public trust.

The only people to profit from the sell-off are developers, like the Donnell owners who just sold a penthouse in the new building for more than the library got when they sold Donnell. Something else not said was that the Mid-Manhattan Library, which NYPL wants to sell, is directly contiguous to Bloomberg's Midtown development zone.

When Tony Marx is on air, please ask him where all the librarians have gone. Not only at the branches, but at 42nd Street; where there used to be five reference librarians for the Rose Reading Room, there is now only one. At Performing Arts, there is not a single reference librarian for the research collections on the third floor; there used to be at least three. Will these valuable collections be trashed next? Paula

Jul. 16 2013 02:09 PM
JanetE from Brooklyn from Brooklyn

The program was wonderful. Scott Sherman said the NYPL owns the 42nd Street building--NOT SO!!! The City of New York built it to NYPL specifications and owns it and the NYPL occupies it under the terms of a lease. It's the same arrangement that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has for its building. There's a lawsuit about the Met saying "pay what you wish" since the 1970's when its lease requires that admission be completely free from Wed. to Sat. The Met never got written permission from the City to change that. Similarly, the NYPL is required to provide free admission because it's right in the lease! Since when does a lessee get to change the structure of the owner's building? The award of $150 million does not constitute proper permission from the owner, the City. The Board of Estimate approved the original plans of the Carrere and Hastings designed building--its successor, the City Council should have to have hearings, full debate, and a vote on significantly altering those plans. This is not a minor change we're talking about or "day-to-day" operations--this is a profound structural alteration affecting the original design and the mandated function of the building being overwhelmingly a reference library and free reading room, per the lease. Only a small circulating component (now Celeste Bartos Forum) was called for. Also, the original trustees acknowledged that according to the charters and donor commitments of the pre-existing libraries, Astor and Lenox, their books must remain in the library. Looks like the NYPL and the City administration are colluding in ignoring the requirements of the lease and the wishes of many donors, to the detriment of the public's best interests. Just remember how LeClerc sold off Durand's "Kindred Spirits" to a Walmart heiress, even though it was left to the library because it has the papers of William Cullen Bryant. Ignoring wills, legal requirements, and the public good seems to be an NYPL specialty these days!

Jul. 16 2013 02:09 PM
Tony from Canarsie

JanetE -- You're welcome.

Jul. 16 2013 01:46 PM
RJ from prospect hts

Isn't the land on which the library stands public land? Similar to the Met Museum and many of the other large art institutions? They're called "SIGs"--which I believe stands for Significant Institutions Group, which got 80% of the Dept of Cultural Affairs funding, leaving only 20% for all of the small, community-based, valuable arts groups. Sadly this has existed for a long time, predating even Bloomberg's terms

Jul. 16 2013 01:38 PM
JR from Manhattan

I noticed about several years ago that books were starting to disappear from the formerly wonderful MidManhattan fiction shelves; then noticed it at the various branches that I use. Also noticed that multiple new copies of mass market garbage fiction were being placed where irreplaceable older books seemed to have been. And even that books that I had reserved and had out only months earlier were now somehow unavailable or only available for in-library use.
I asked several times about this; a typical answer was "A lot of the books get damaged" (I'd never seen much evidence of this). Even brand new copies of books such as NYRB classics only recently published (but by more obscure writers) were disappearing when I'd seen three or four on an earlier occasion.
A few more honest or aware librarians told me the truth: the library was "winnowing" or "culling" books to the tune of fifty percent or more. WHole stacks and shelving units were cleared away (and the books on them), and cheap McDonald's type furniture moved in (to make a more "user-friendly" experience, presumably.
It's about real estate and privatization. And it's part of the Bloomberg drive to destroy what is good about New York. Another tycoon, of an earlier age, Andrew Carnegie, who endowed the library system, would not be pleased I think. Or maybe he would.

Jul. 16 2013 01:33 PM
gerard from nyc

Could you ask the guests how other world libraries are handling the evolving conflict/tension between printed and digital material storage and access?

I am a scholar and have done much research at NYPL and NYHS. The latter has remained true to its physical collections, while NYPL seems on the verge of banishing them

Jul. 16 2013 01:31 PM
Patti Hagan from Brooklyn, NY

Please continue to shed light on the high-speed plans to sell-out/sell-off New York City's PUBLIC libraries to PRIVATE Developers. Unfortunately,the New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library have become Real Estate Brokerages. This Public-Asset-Stripping must stop! Mayor Bloomberg, NYPL/BPL Trustees, NYC Economic Dev. Corp.: NYC Public Libraries -- NOT FOR SALE!!
-- Patti Hagan

Jul. 16 2013 01:30 PM
lucy from brooklyn

Please spend some time talking about the bad real estate deals that have already occurred with the Donnell and the mid-Manhattan libraries. Why are the trustees giving away valuable real estate at bargain basement prices. Everything they say makes no financial sense. Under Bloomberg all public assets are viewed as real estate deals for the powerful real estate industry. Discussions have been behind closed doors by the real estate heavy library strategy group.

Jul. 16 2013 01:30 PM
RJ from prospect heights

An irony is that the Mid-Manhattan branch was built to create a circulating library, which had been in the main branch, entered through the 42nd Street entrance. After the MM was built, that former circulating room was turned into what seemed to be an entertainment room, the "Astor" room--I know I went to a fundraiser there; I don't know what other purpose it has been used for. I wandered those stacks in awe.

If that space is to be used for something else, there must be expanded research purposes to which they could be used--the historical materials can't be complete; history doesn't stop being discovered.

I'm, perhaps cynically perhaps realistically, of the belief that this is a real estate schema. The Mid-Manhattan and SIBL must be *extremely* valuable.

And it has been Bloomberg's MO to centralize at the expense of local services--a corporatist model that has been enormously harmful to children and seniors, among others.

Please hold off this plan until he's gone, and let's hope the next mayor is more empathetic and understanding of the city's local communities. Thanks for your work.

Jul. 16 2013 01:25 PM
Tom Crisp from UWS

We need our citadels, surely as much as we need electronic collections. I've researched at the Schwartzman, and it's an unmatchable experience. I've had a book delivered to my hands with the bookplate of Nelson Rockefeller, and found myself facing a stack of authoritative books that can be found almost nowhere else.
I love my branch library (Riverside), but we don't need our great central library to serve as a branch, to contain a cafe or lounges, or to cater to everyone in Times Square looking for an internet connection. Elevate this great resource, don't lower it. Democracy? It's always been democratic. You fill our your form, you get your card, you go in and have the resource at your fingertips.
This is not nostalgia, it's respect for the power of learning.

Jul. 16 2013 01:20 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Excellent informative segment. Wish it took up the entire two hours of the show, with listener's calls.

Jul. 16 2013 01:20 PM
JanetE from Brooklyn from Brooklyn

Thank you Tony from Canarsie. I would just comment to Ann Ilan Alter from Upper West Side that Vartan Gregorian was not someone the NYPL needs now! It is his predecessor, President John McKenzie Cory, who had a vision of running the library for the benefit of the public, first and foremost! He had an attractive offer to buy the building that would become Mid-Manhattan and he refused! He held out because the whole idea was to have a reference and circulating library for the general public that was easily accessible and visible, right on Fifth Avenue! You know, like one of those department stores--which it used to be! The proposed "branch" in the main building would be buried in the back and not be easily visible or accessible to those passing by. President Cory didn't focus on how much money could be made from the real estate--he put the public first. Gregorian was gregarious and a fund raiser but he didn't care about the branches. Bring back a public-spirited leader like President Cory! Under LeClerc, a ton of money was spent to purchase Gwathmey-Siegel's plans to renovate Mid-Manhattan--that were never acted upon! Renovate and expand the Mid-Manhattan Library and keep intact the central building stacks the NYPL called "fabled" when offering tours during the centennial in 2011.

Jul. 16 2013 01:20 PM
Susan Smith-Peter from New Jersey

As a longtime user of the research collection and particularly the Slavic collection, I would like to talk about how the CLP or other library activity will help or hurt researchers. The NYPL has one of the greatest collection of Slavic books in the country or the world, and while I appreciate that the library has appointed a half-time Slavic curator and made personnel changes to allow easier access to the collection, I am concerned that the shift of books offsite will make research much more laborious. The wait to get books from offsite is almost always more than 24 hours. It's usually 3 to 4 days. For anyone actively researching there, this does make things more difficult. Researchers coming from further away will have to stay for more days at a high expense in order to finish their research. There are fellowships to help researchers from outside the region, but not everyone can be awarded a fellowship.

Jul. 16 2013 01:11 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Citizens Defending Libraries which has a petition opposing the Central Library Plan and the city-wide sell-off and shrinkage of libraries had a very busy week last week with the filing of a second lawsuit opposing the Central Library Plan in which it is the first named plaintiff and with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio joining us in opposition to the plan with a Friday morning press conference on the steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library. Mr. de Blasio now stands with us and Comptroller Liu and many other elected opposing the sell-offs like Council Members Tish James, Steven Levin and Assemblyman Micah Kellner who has been having hearings shedding light on what is happening.

The legal papers and video and pictures and links to articles relating to all these early July events are at the following Citizens Defending Libraries web page: PHOTOS & VIDEO & MORE- First half of July 2013: Two lawsuits against the Central Library Plan, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio Comes Out Against CLP

It will also get listeners to the petition they can sign, now with about 13,000 signature, most of them on line.

Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libaries

Jul. 16 2013 01:01 PM
Tom La Farge from Brooklyn

Thanks for having this discussion. I am very much opposed to the Central Library Plan, for most of the reasons other comments have detailed. The 42nd Library is a world-class research library, to be mentioned in the same breath at the Library of Congress and Widener Library at Harvard. It serves the entire intellectual community of New York, and particularly independent scholars who don't have access to university libraries. It is a system that works; it does not need to be replaced. The NYPL trustees have in my view fallen into the error of thinking that because new technology exists, the older technology therefore becomes obsolete. It is good to have the new technology; every serious scholar uses digital tools as well as books. It does not follow that a functioning research tool, the only one at present through which many kinds of information are available, should be subjected to changes that will compromise its effectiveness. If the trustees want to build the branch library of the 21st century, let them raise some money and overhaul the Mid-Manhattan. The 42nd St. stacks are too important a resource to lose.

Jul. 16 2013 12:27 PM
Tony from Canarsie

JanetE from B'klyn from Brooklyn, NY -- I completely agree with your comment. And it was a sad, sad day when the superb Donnell branch closed.

Jul. 16 2013 12:23 PM
Mary Reinertsen from New York City

Thank you for covering this issue and to your guests. The State Assembly hearing last week was also heartening and thanks to the people who for years have tried to raise our awareness.
Our cash strapped city has assumed that it can maintain the basic integrity of our library system while it closes libraries, sells them off for luxury development, shoehorns their public spaces into a new building, disburses their collections, employs fewer librarians in favor of paraprofessionals, de-emphasizes the library's research function and doesn't worry too much about library hours. Now we get to talk about this with more people listening. Can we really shrink our libraries and pull back on their function without doing great harm to the city and it's communities? And is selling public libraries to private developers our best option for funding.

I hope you and your producers will keep an eye on the story. Thank you

Jul. 16 2013 12:16 PM
Ann Ilan Alter from Upper West Side

I have used the NYPL Research Division since I was 18 years old and went to college in upstate NY. I used to come into NY weekends to do research for papers. My college library was way too small to have the kinds of material I needed. The Research Division was filled with many students like me who needed to have access to sophisticated materials for their research papers in college, as well as others who truly appreciated the American system of research libraries that allowed access to anyone old enough to use the library. In Europe such libraries are available only to those with a card, faculty and researchers at universities.
What Marx is trying to do is destroy the idea of a separate research institution, making it accessible to all, and in the long run satisfying no one. The public library system of branch libraries with a main circulating branch has been one of the great innovations in American culture - making book learning available to all. This is parallel to having research libraries that are accessible to all. By combining them and trying to make one satisfy all needs you dumb down and destroy the very idea of American culture, civic life, and education that has made America more democratic than other countries.
Manhattan needs a real central circulating library. It also needs to maintain the great research library at 42nd Street that has allowed millions to do research on term papers, books, and whatever else they needed. These are two basic institutions of NYC life (as well as American life, since I grew up in Detroit Michigan, where the branch libraries and the research library were both excellent).
Where is a NYPL president with the vision of Vartan Gregorian when we need him?

Jul. 16 2013 12:13 PM
Wendy Walker from Brooklyn

I congratulate you for covering this issue. A great research library is more important now than ever, given how expensive college and post-graduate education has become. It should be possible, in this country, for the people who are not privileged with a university connection to have the same access to research materials that students and faculty at Harvard and Columbia have.
I am also concerned by the trustees' lack of aesthetic judgment. It doesn't take a degree in art history or architecture to see what a disaster Norman Foster's drawings of the proposed renovation promise to produce.

Jul. 16 2013 12:10 PM
Annice from Manhattan

One of the reasons given for the removal of the stacks is that they don't have a/c and fire suppression. Yet Vartan Gregarian when he had Tony Marx's job took pride in having installed or upgraded the system for the protection of the books. Why can't the NYPL review and upgrade this system?

Jul. 16 2013 11:40 AM
JanetE from B'klyn from Brooklyn, NY

Finally, a bit of the media blackout on this issue is lifted! So many people say they don't know about the branch sales and the CLP--but when they find out, they are opposed and sign the petition at Citizens Defending Libraries. There was nothing wrong with Donnell yet it was torn down. Fix the A.C., don't tear down a perfectly good library! They are doing the same thing at the Brooklyn Heights branch--unless we stop them! Where is the BPL union on these conditions? Mid-Manhattan has been denuded of huge swaths of its collections--so what's left can fit into the planned shrunken space across the street. Why give up a building fronting Fifth Avenue which is easy to spot and access? It's just so the library honchos can make big bucks instead of serving the public, like their predecessors used to--back in the day. Stop the CLP and branch sell-offs!

Jul. 16 2013 11:38 AM

Thank you for covering this important topic...please continue to do so!

Jul. 16 2013 10:50 AM
Diane from Upper West Side

I'm a regular patron of the Mid-Manhattan branch and the thought that its collection would be folded (along with SIBL) into the Schwartzman Building is quite upsetting. Even more upsetting is the question of exactly who profits from the sale of the MM and SIBL branches.

That the entire Central Library Plan has been couched in terms of 'benefit to the public' or 'preservation of the stacks' is laughable and smacks of self-interest.

Kudos to Assemblyman Micah Kellner for calling the hearing last month and highlighting this important issue.

Let's NOT let Mid-Manhattan and SIBL go the way of Donnell!

Jul. 16 2013 10:09 AM
Dona from Manhattan

Thank you so much for discussing this issue. This isn't just an architectural issue; it's about access to education in a democracy. The proposed changes and the secrecy in which NYPL trustees and administration have tried to implement them shows all too clearly that they don't consider themselves accountable to the scholars, researchers, and reading public who are their constituents, and for whom the Central Library was constructed in the first place. Selling the Mid-Manhattan building and gutting the 42nd St. stacks in order to cram the nation's largest circulating branch into much smaller, supposedly more "modern" space serves no one but the egos and possibly the pocketbooks of some trustees. The 42nd St. and Mid-Manhattan libraries are treasures--treasures of scholarship and of the founders' commitment to free access to books for all. In a democracy, it is neither elitist nor reactionary to find a way to hold all public libraries, whether funded publicly or (in part) privately, accountable to those they serve.

Jul. 16 2013 10:04 AM
Al from Brooklyn NY

How can the NYPL be trusted with a $350 million renovation and the removal of a million books from the stacks to storage when they can't even safeguard and recover donated treasures that have been stolen from the 5th Ave Branch. Marx needs to be fired.

Jul. 16 2013 08:56 AM
Gus from Maine

Thanks for covering this important issue. These instances of collusion between developers and elected or appointed officials that undermine the public's interest need to be exposed.

Jul. 16 2013 08:36 AM
T Foster from Manhattan

I'm grateful that you're doing a feature on this issue. Please let us know what's happening. It seems there has been precious little investigation of these sales of public properties for precious little money or resources. There seems to be little interest in coming up with a library plan that will sustain and grow these resources (public space and public access to knowledge and information) over time. It's infuriating.

Jul. 16 2013 08:31 AM
JimmyG from NYC

The damage inflicted upon our public libraries harms democracy, inhibiting the ability of the people to be well-informed. The central research library is a national treasure, not only architecturally. The plan is yet one more sweetheart deal to further enrich private interests at the expense of the public good, all sold via credulous media in the name of some vaguely stated notion of "the future."

Jul. 16 2013 08:25 AM
Michael Moore from Long Island City

I keep waiting for the research library to lengthen its hours, to meet the needs of patrons like me who can only use it in the evening, and instead NYPL proposes to close two branches and fold them into it? I am baffled,and outraged, that only a few years after renaming this historic building after a single patron, and two years of criticism, this attempt to disembowel the research library is still underway. Please keep attention focused on this critical issue, in a world where public space is being reduced to a sliver.

Jul. 16 2013 08:15 AM

I'm thrilled you're doing a show on this. I've been such a heavy user of the research library and fear that the resources I need for my work there will vanish. I don't believe the NYPL's claim that books from the NJ warehouse will arrive in 24 hours, since in the past I've often waited three days for books from offsite storage there. And won't the next step be asking people to pay for all these book requests from NJ? And why are publicly owned branch libraries being sold off to real estate developers at bargain basement prices? If sales are necessary (of which I am not at all convinced) why not insist on top dollar? The penthouse apartment in the new building that replaced Donnell just sold for more than the city got for the entire building! So we lost a heavily used library in a great building and in return got enough for a few weeks' operating costs??? Lots more investigation is in order.

Jul. 16 2013 08:02 AM

I'm so happy that this is being addressed. The library near out home in Brooklyn Heights is a sanctuary for children and families like mine who are basically being priced out of the neighborhood. This is where I have been able to find free chess lessons, art lessons, computer access not to mention lots and lots of books for my son and I. Now this is all disappearing in favor of yet another over priced condo. The amenities in the neighborhood are disappearing in favor of more condos - it's a sad thing for people like us who use this library as a resource to education and learning for our families. Shame on new york for letting this happen.

Jul. 16 2013 06:59 AM
D Johnston from Manhttan

Thank you for discussing this issue which is so important to the entire scholarly world. The research library's stacks should be preserved and Mid-Manhattan reconfigured into a "Library of the Future".

Jul. 16 2013 06:21 AM
Natasha Wimmer from Brooklyn

So glad you're covering this! As a literary translator, I'm a frequent user of the research collection and I'm seriously concerned about the renovation.

Jul. 15 2013 10:42 PM

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