New York Public Library Abandons Its Renovation Plans

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Scott Sherman, contributing writer at The Nation, discusses the recent decision by the New York Public Library to abandon its controversial plans to remodel the 42nd Street building.


Scott Sherman

Comments [16]

Carolyn McIntyre

I library trustees should be elected and accountable to the public.  When we found out the CLP was costing over seven times the cost of library renovations on a per square foot basis done by the DDC it became painfully clear that it was a scam.  Spending huge amounts of money to sell the two largest and most well used libraries in Manhattan sends the message that pushing out library patrons from over 300,000 feet of space is fine.  But the real cost of the CLP is the dehumanizing way the trustees and leadership have treated librarians and library  users.  The CLP represented a big step backwards in the evolution of our city and democracy, instead of moving towards a more compassionate and caring society it was a move backwards towards greed, selfishness and indifference towards the needs of others.  At a time when we are all connected we need to do more not less to care for each other and our democracy.

May. 22 2014 04:51 PM

Mr. Lopate, Thanks for this really fine and comprehensive interview with Scott Sherman. We all owe Mr. Sherman, among others, a debt of gratitude.
What's especially disturbing now, is the position Tony Marx is taking w/reg. to returning books to the historic stacks of the 42nd St. research branch of NYPL. I've never heard of such, quite frankly: that is, a leader of a world-class reference library who doesn't want to use the space in the library allocated for books. Perhaps this is a face-saving move, now that the CLP has been defeated. It appears that Tony Marx is yet again defending the egos of the wealthy real estate moguls on his Board. There's no reason why the preservation values of the stacks cannot be upgraded, and be put to use for holding books that library users need.

May. 10 2014 11:48 AM

Thank you for asking all the right questions in your conversation with Scott Sherman. NYPL still has a lot of explaining to do - like where that $18 million went to (and where they got it - was some of it taxpayer money?). Their current notion of preserving the 7 floors of shelving but not returning the books them is just nuts.

May. 09 2014 08:53 AM

Kudos to you, Leonard, for having pursued this even as the New York Times, until this morning, buried it in the Arts section--as if the Central Library Plan were purely an "architectural" matter and not also a potentially huge blow to education and learning in New York City. And bravo to Scott Sherman for his superb coverage of this important story! Great to know that we can expect a book--the sooner the better. Let's just hope it doesn't end up in New Jersey.

May. 08 2014 05:55 PM
Dona Munker from Manhattan

Kudos to you, Leonard, for having pursued this, even as the New York Times, until this morning, buried it in the Arts section, as if the Central Library Plan were purely an "architectural" concern instead of, potentially, a huge blow to education and learning in New York City as well. And bravo to Scott Sherman for his superb coverage of this important story! Great to know that we can expect a book--the sooner the better. Let's just hope it doesn't end up in New Jersey.

May. 08 2014 05:50 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Many thanks to the three groups who worked exceptionally hard to prevent a lot of what's happened already, and for bringing this to the attention of the greater public.

Work is still necessary in getting this story out to the public at large, and getting more people to care. These are your tax dollars, and the Library is one of the last resources that is truly for all.

This is far from over.

May. 08 2014 01:44 PM
Frank Fourth from Harlem

It's always struck me that that problem was selling the other building. With both buildings, either or both could be reconfigured in any number of ways to meet the needs of changing times. Why sell a building?

May. 08 2014 01:32 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Melville House has TWO articles that went up today that are worth looking at. One (citing Scott Sherman’s articles) contains the following evaluation by its author:

“It would seem that the library's leadership must openly account for these costs, as well as for the deep secrecy with which it has operated.”

See: In a major reversal, NYPL to let the stacks live and keep Mid-Manhattan, by Kelly Burdick

The other, quotes multiple critics reacting to the NYPL’s change in plan and includes this quote from me as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries that puts the change in the perspective of what is happening to libraries in New York City as a whole.

"We see this as a victory for the public, for common sense and for the preservation of our public assets. It shows how important it is to shed a bright light on these deals: The public was always opposed to this Central Library Plan, virtually unanimously, once they understood the facts. Too bad we were not in time to save Donnell, but now there are more libraries to save, SIBL (or what remains thereof), Brooklyn Heights, Pacific Street, Clinton Hill, the Northern Manhattan libraries, the BPL's plan to "leverage" all the real estate it owns. As much of a victory that we hope this will ultimately prove to be, we can't rest on our laurels because there is no assurance our other libraries can be saved without hard work. The good thing is that abandonment of this wastefully expensive plan frees up hundreds of millions of dollars that can be spent to go a lot further for other libraries around the city, hopefully in all the boroughs." -Michael D. D. White, Citizens Defending Libraries

See: Critics of the Central Library Plan react to New York Public Library's change of course, by Claire Kelley

May. 08 2014 11:54 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Facts are still unfolding and it appears the NYPL may still be playing some less than transparent games. The Wall Street Journal reported:

"Under the new plan, the book stacks would be preserved but would remain empty of books. The research collection would instead be stored in climate-controlled storage space under Bryant Park. As under the original plan, some rooms in the Schwarzman building that are currently unused or occupied by offices would be opened for public use."

The stacks hold THREE MILLION books where they are easily accessible. If they are empty there will be THREE MILLION fewer books in the library than was always envisioned going back to when Bryant Park was closed for over four years for the library's expansion. The books still kept would be kept less accessibly. This could likely mean that in terms of books retained (and their accessibility) things would not be significantly better than what Tony Marx testified to at the March 11th City Council hearing. Things could be significantly worse. At the hearing Marx said the NYPL was working TOWARDS creating CAPACITY for 4.2 million books. He corrected himself to be specific that he was talking about "capacity," NOT actual books. From what Marx said, 4.2 million books was the current goal NOT yet achieved and, as with so many things, not in any way an enforceable promise.

That 4.2 million number presumably included all the circulating books that were going to be added in the "renovated" (converted) stack space, thus the number would presumably be less under this new version. Even 4.2 million is significantly less than the 6.2 to 6.5 million books that the Central Reference Library is meant to hold and less than the well over 7 million books that the library apparently once held. The NYPL won't provide specifics, but I think the additional books getting up to that 7 million+ figure were in the 42nd Street Annex.

May. 08 2014 11:36 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Let’s put some perspective re the boondoggle real estate deals library officials were focused on handing out to developers:


• This [penthouse] apartment (7,381 square feet) [in the fifty-story building replacing the Donnell Library] is just 7.6% the size (1/13th) of the beloved 97,000 square foot Donnell of the days of yore, yet. .
• . . It is on the market for more than 150% of what the NYPL netted selling the Donnell Library, which was less than $39 million.
• This apartment, by itself, is more than one-quarter the size of the so-called "library" space (28,000 square feet), with which the NYPL proposes to "replace" Donnell. (If you include the apartment's 602 square foot terrace it is 28.5% the size of that replacement "library" space.)
• This apartment devotes 3.737% of its space to a 275 square foot (21' 7" x 13' 1") luxury private library. That 3.737% is several multiples of the percent of the NYC budget devoted to New York City's public libraries. On an all-in basis, (capital + operating expenditures), that percentage in the city budget, based on currently proposed figures, equals just 1% of the budget for Fiscal Year 2014 and, even less, 00.59% of the budget for FY 2015.

* * *

Operational subsidies for Libraries represent 0.47% of Total City Funds in Fiscal Year 2014 and 0.58% of Total City Funds in Fiscal Year 2015.

* * *

The last publicly available version of the Central Library Plan resulted in an 80,000 square foot space replacing the Central Reference Library research stacks. The $350,000,000 starter figure for that amount of space comes out to $4,375 a square foot, about seven times the cost of new construction.

* * *

All of the above are extracts from: Tuesday, April 29, 2014, What's Wrong With These Numbers?: The Baccarat Tower's $60M Penthouse and NYC's Library Budget

May. 08 2014 11:12 AM

great news, but what's happening with the stacks? Can WNYC get NYPL to give some answers?

Is it true that some of the research materials already trucked out to NJ will not be coming back?

How much control does the city have over the taxpayer $$ given to the libraries once it's handed over? I want our branch libraries taken care of -- both my locals are a mess.

May. 08 2014 11:06 AM

Thanks so much for covering this story again! I couldn't be more thrilled that NYPL is backing away from what Ada Louise Huxtable called an "extravagant and destructive plan." Please bring up the issue of returning the books to the stacks. According to Tony Marx's own figures in 2012, the 42nd St. Building then housed over 4.2 million books (over 3 million in the stacks, 1.2 million in BPSE, 300,000 - 400,000 in other parts of the building). NYPL says building out BPSE level 2 will add space for 1.4 million books - that adds up to only 2.6 million. Why not use some of the city's $150 million to update the HVAC and sprinkler systems in the stacks? Marx keeps saying an HVAC system can't be added, but that's not true - there ALREADY IS an HVAC system in there - but it dates from the 1980s and needs updating. The library's total research collection numbers 8.2 million volumes according to Marx - if the stacks are renovated and BPSE 2 added, that could mean 5.6 million books could be housed in the building, leaving plenty of room for Marx's "Education Corridor," which sounds like a great idea: there are a number of huge empty rooms on the 2nd floor of the building where staff offices/processing used to be. Thank you, Leonard!

May. 08 2014 08:34 AM
JanetE from Brooklyn

Wonderful that the Mid-Manhattan Library will continue and the "fabled stacks" (per NYPL description on their 100th anniversary in 2011) will remain in place. However, the first thing that needs to happen now, JOB ONE, is that all our books must be moved BACK into those stacks! If any upgrade is needed, use the $150 million towards that first! Second, WE DO NOT WANT to lose the Science, Industry, and Business Library. Call, write, demonstrate to retain it--there's lots of great public space there at that location, obtained at great cost to the taxpayers, and we must NOT allow it to be taken away from us. Tell the NYPL we want it to offer outstanding resources in economics, business, science, and technology there as it promised to do in 1996. When Mid-Manhattan was created in the former department store Arnold Constable, the renovation carried out with bonding from the NYS Dormitory Authority was seriously flawed--they didn't adequately redo the mechanical ventilation system resulting in daily, excessive heat buildup year round--starting on DAY ONE! The NYPL quietly hired an engineer who reported on what was wrong and what to do about it but although some changes were made helping certain areas, the NYPL did not make the necessary changes for the rest of the place, preferring to let employees and customers SUFFER instead, year in and year out. The NYPL fought staff who tried to turn things around every step of the way. Then, President Marx comes along and announces that now, only now! the place is "physically failing," whatever that means, and what do you know--it just has to go. Now that it's staying, there needs to be strong oversight of any renovation to insure that such a disaster does not happen again! There is a crying need for it because The City of New York cannot leave it to the opaque nonprofit to get it right. However, the City itself needs some independent monitoring by a reputable engineer. Somebody independently needs to carefully go over any plans with an adequate amount of air circulation in interior spaces being an absolute requirement and someone needs to stringently and expertly supervise the work to make sure it happens according to those plans. Otherwise, the NYPL may serve up another environmental wreck to the public and its own, now even more completely-silenced and helpless employees.

May. 08 2014 02:33 AM

Leonard, please ask Scott Sherman what the NYPL plans to do about the Mid Manhattan Library and the Science Industry and Business Library? Are these 2 libraries still facing the threat of being shut down?

The plan to remodel the 42nd St library was one of the dumbest ideas in the history of New York.

May. 08 2014 02:16 AM
Martha Rowen from Brooklyn, NY

This is excellent news. Now the $150 million of our tax money that would have been wasted on the ill-advised, destructive Central Library Plan can be used to support libraries throughout New York City. I hope the Mayor will halt all plans to shrink and sell library branches (e.g., the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, currently under threat of sale), subjecting those entrusted with our libraries to scrutiny and close oversight and that he will insist on transparency and meaningful public involvement in any such plans.

May. 07 2014 11:31 PM
Lynn Rosen

This is wonderful news. Closing a library is taking away the right to education.
Citizens Defending Libraries and other groups created public awareness of this issue.
A public library is for the public. Selling off public assets is so wrong
We need to reclaim what is rightfully ours

May. 07 2014 08:22 PM

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