The NYPL Charts a New Course

Monday, May 12, 2014

The New York Public Library's main branch currently houses its main research collection, May 7, 2014. (Thalia Beaty)

Last week, the New York Public Library announced that it was abandoning a controversial plan to renovate its flagship midtown building. Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, discusses the decision, and what comes next for New York's libraries.


Anthony Marx

Comments [36]

JanetE from Brooklyn

The NYPL nonprofit is different from Brooklyn and Queens. It always had an independent, self-perpetuating board. It has had two distinct divisions based on its history and separate sources of funding--Research and Branches. The Research Libraries, of which the 42nd Street Reference Library is one, are privately funded through NYPL's endowment and the NYPL has full responsibility for the book collection it owns outright, including paying its own staff to provide service. It occupies the city-owned 42nd Street building under the terms of a lease, guaranteeing free admission. There was once a small circulation collection inside the 42nd St. entrance but it was replaced and expanded by Mid-Manhattan, a branch. The Branch Libraries are mostly funded by the taxpayers under a CONTRACT between the city and the NYPL but people can donate as specified to them too, since the library is a nonprofit. The NYPL was trying to put a large, taxpayer-funded branch operation smack in the middle of its world-class, private endowment-funded reference library for the first time. Publicly-funded branch staff could then be quietly available to also work at the privately-owned divisions within the building. Such staff sharing might help the private library's bottom line but could shift costs from private fundraising to the taxpayers. Possibly to facilitate this sort of thing, the NYPL launched "We're All One Library" in 2007. The new slogan helped obscure the historic and very real, basic funding differences between the two divisions. The Branch Libraries' structure was dismantled, its separate director position eliminated, the departure of many veteran librarians was then facilitated, and the historically-female profession was dramatically undermined for those who remained--likely all at the behest of corporate consultants the NYPL hired. It was also 2007 when Donnell's sale for a song was announced, allegedly because the A.C. needed replacement, Pres. Le Clerc said. BTW, are they keeping the stacks empty in hopes of carrying out their plan at a future date? The NYPL owns those books and has a fiduciary responsibility to obtain capital budget funds from the city to protect its collection in the building's stack area. Marx repeatedly said there was no climate control, not true, but if an upgrade is needed--why hasn't the library seen to that before? Put those books back and let's not give up our Science Industry and Business Library either!

May. 13 2014 02:23 PM
Marilyn Berkon from Brooklyn

Brian Lehrer, usually well-informed and fair-minded, simply gave Anthony Marx a platform to present himself as reasonable man capable of changing his mind. Marx changed his mind because he was headed for defeat in four strong law suits against him. Along with his legal battles, he faced the outrage of people in this city and from all over the world. Various groups defending libraries exposed the truth and shamed him into capitulation. There were thousands of petition signatures, scornful twitter messages, speeches at public gatherings. There were incisive articles from Scott Sherman, sharp criticisms from Michael Kimmelman, multitudes in opposition to his plan. Marx never had benefits for the public in mind, but only for those invested in lucrative real-estate property on Fifth Avenue. He was quite ready to sacrifice the Mid-Manhattan branch, the SIBL, and the research stacks at the 42nd Street Library to build his useless little circulating library instead, one third the size of those two buildings. He has already wasted 18 million dollars on this misguided plan, damaged rare and precious books and photographs in shipping millions of books to New Jersey, and now he states that he will leave the stacks empty! He claims that upgrading the climate controls for them is 46 million as opposed to 22 million for extending space beneath Bryant Park. He tried to bamboozle us with numbers on the show this morning, but he has not accounted for millions of books that he cannot accommodate unless he opens the stacks for which they were designed. Does he intend to set the same absurd plan in motion, thinking he has appeased the public? Upgrades for stacks are done routinely at the large research libraries, including The Library of Congress. They have been done at the 42nd Street Library and should be done again, nor will the cost reach anywhere near what Marx tells us. Had he given this plan honest thought at the start, instead of thought influenced by the greedy interests of real-estate people, he could have avoided this miserable waste of time, energy, money. He could have avoided the hardships he imposed on people who needed the Library, avoided damage to irreplaceable public resources. The platform Brian Lehrer gave Marx to "save face" as a reasonable man was entirely undeserved.

May. 12 2014 04:00 PM
Library Girl

Marx should have been challenged on the assertion that the 42nd Street Library is not now serving the public at large. It has never done otherwise—anyone can do research there with a library card (as opposed to most research institutions),the excellent exhibitions mounted by the library are free of charge and NYPL Live has very reasonable admission prices for the world-class writers it presents. The New York Public Library is anything but an institution for the elite. If anything, that label would fit the attitudes of the Board of Trustees.

May. 12 2014 02:27 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

I agree with Amy from Manhattan that Brian’s comparison of “removing of books” to “kidnapping children” was not at all appropriate. It was, I think, over-the-top, sounding much less impartial or thoughtful than I might have hoped.

May. 12 2014 12:53 PM

Brian, this interview wasn't up to your usual standard. You left it to listeners to challenge President Marx on the Library’s absurd plan to keep the stacks empty rather than bring the existing environmental system—already in place, but 30 years behind the times--up to date. Why would the Library put this off instead of including it, at least theoretically, in any plans for the future? The Wall Street Journal, among others, has raised that question. Could it be that the administration still hopes to use that space for other purposes, once the furor has died down?

And what is going to happen to the users of SIBL, the science, technology, and business research library, which is now apparently destined to be folded into the 42nd Street building? SIBL doesn’t serve as many people as Mid-Manhattan, which is visited each year by millions of members of the public. (Forget the books: it was nuts to think that all those users could be crowded into the 42nd Street building without destroying 42nd Street’s credibility as a research library: that was what Edmund Morris’ deservedly notorious Op-Ed piece, to which you alluded, was really about.) Nevertheless, SIBL, too, has a huge public user base as well as millions of books. Now that 80% of the building that houses SIBL has been sold off, where is SIBL going to go—the basement on 53rd Street that’s now supposed to house the vanished Donnell branch?

Much of the criticism since 2008, when the Library first touted its unworkable and poorly thought-out plan, has been rightly directed at the vagueness, secrecy, and lack of specificity in which its top administrators and trustees have shrouded their intentions. What I took away from President Marx’s presentation is that the Library will continue in that course unless something is done to make those who run it more accountable to the city and the public for decisions affecting a beloved and important city institution.

It was fair and reasonable of you to give Tony Marx a chance to present Library’s evolving view of the situation. (Even though that view is apparently now being retooled to promote the ridiculous implication that the thousands of grad students, writers, scholars, teachers, and researchers, and other New Yorkers who use the 42nd Street research library every week don’t want a research library that’s “friendly to the public.”)

However, your own public—of which I remain a faithful and devoted member--looks to you for informed discussion. That means raising appropriate challenges and questions founded on a solid grasp of the issues, such as what de Blasio’s $150MM is actually for. It shouldn’t include giving a platform to a Library president who seems to have no clue that the “lesson the Library learned” needs to include being transparent and accountable when planning what’s going to happen in the future. You are our salt, Brian--don’t let lose your savor. Even if you have to raise somebody’s blood pressure.

May. 12 2014 12:44 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

On the whole I am very appreciative of Brian Lehrer’s normally consistent acumen and willingness to zero in to ask what may be hard questions about the choices that we as a society must sometimes make.

I heard Brian in this segment pose a “choice” between supporting scholars in their work and addressing the needs of children who may be less advantaged using our branch libraries.

Is this a true and necessary hard choice to be made, . . . or the selling of a false sense of manufactured scarcity?

Brian’s theoretical and, I think, falsely assumed “choice” sets up and presumes a dichotomy where the less advantaged, including Brian’s figuratively envisioned child (who will mature), are presumed never to be among the scholars advancing the culture and the great work and goals of our society. Unlike university libraries the 42nd Street Central Reference Library is equally accessible to all and, among other things is an important support for CUNY students.

Brian’s “choice” also ignores the fact that the demise of the Central Library Plan frees up hundreds of millions of dollars for use that will support the branches. That money, about to be wastefully spent on the CLP to sell and shrink libraries producing REDUCED space at a phenomenally high square foot figure, will go much further when spread ou amongst other library projects that cost a fraction of that square foot amount to build.

Why has the NYPL’s never-out-of-the-gate Central Library Plan now already cost $18 million, as much as many completed construction projects?- because $18 million has been the very high cost of straining find a way to make a tremendously bad idea look good.

Big picture: Nicole Gelinas appearing on the next segment of this show to give an overview of the city’s finances eloquently decried the Central Library Plan as a senseless money pit in her New York Post opinion piece on the subject. Big picture: Libraries with their huge economic benefit to the city cost a mere fraction of the city’s budget.

For more on this see: Tuesday, April 29, 2014, What's Wrong With These Numbers?: The Baccarat Tower's $60M Penthouse and NYC's Library Budget.

All this said, this “choice” referenced to during the show has been a talking point in the script of those who, looking to plunder library real estate, have argued that libraries should be sold and shrunk. Is that why we sold Donnell? SIBL?

May. 12 2014 12:44 PM
Retired NYPL Librarian from Forest Hills, NY

Hey, Tony, it doesn't speak well of you if you and the NYPL administration congratulate the NYPL Board of Trustees for going along with changing the CLP (aka the 42nd St. Plan), since many of the trustees are only on the board to promote their real estate interests and don't really care about serving the public. It doesn't speak well of you that you and the NYPL administration eliminated many Librarian positions and replaced them with Information Assistants who do not have masters degrees in library science, thereby saving lots of money, while eliminating the Library's institutional memory and depriving the public of many experienced and dedicated professionals. It doesn't speak well of you and the NYPL administration that the 42nd St. plan was hurriedly pushed forward before all of these suddenly important cost analyses were done, so that Mayor Bloomberg could sign off on the plan before he left office. Your performance today makes me think you're slicker than P.T. Barnum.

May. 12 2014 11:31 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Thanks, Michael & sweetdog2 for bringing up SIBL. I didn't even hear it mentioned. This is a great resource that not only holds books but serves as a resource for people looking for work. It has classes on using various computer programs & other job skills & on how to look for work & how to get it. It shouldn't be sold off. (Maybe WNYC can find out how many people it's helped to get jobs & report on that.)

May. 12 2014 10:40 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Let's get the facts right: It wouldn't take "a day" to get the books from New Jersey, we are talking perhaps three to four days, maybe more. (Plus, the books were rushed out of the building so fast for the real estate deal planned to go forward at the end of the Bloomberg administration that many were lost and harmed. There is significant disarray.)

The difference between 20 minutes and three or four days is that research that could have been done in a day would take perhaps a month- So flying into to New York to do research at the library may no longer make any sense at all.

May. 12 2014 10:31 AM
Allison from Brooklyn

Another thing -- this guy is talking about how there isn't enough money to do this, that and the other. In the meantime, the heads of the library systems are receiving gigantic 6-figure salaries and other perks like luxury cars to drive around. This all comes out of library funds. They say it's coming from private funds, but I'm sure the people who donated these private funds to the libraries didn't do it so the library heads can drive around in luxury.

May. 12 2014 10:27 AM

What is happening to SIBLE? Why is this loved and useful library being closed

May. 12 2014 10:26 AM
Bowery Bhoy

Location, location, location. Does every darn issue in this City have to be driven by the monetization of every inch of space and turned over to real estate developers? Enough with them!

May. 12 2014 10:25 AM
Suran from Queens

Thank you so very much for opening up a truly welcoming feeling in the iconic library for self-study students. The Rose Reading Room is a gem of a place for city citizens in love with sitting and studying in a communal, beautiful space, seated beside others, famous or not.

May. 12 2014 10:25 AM

Note that Anthony Marx did not answer the question of how much NYPL pays for offsite storage of books.

May. 12 2014 10:24 AM
Marsha Rimler from Brooklyn Heights

I was a patron of the Donnell Library while in college as I was intimidated by the Main Library. In my mind the destruction of that branch is on par with what happened to Pennsylvania Station. We should all be ashamed of ourselves for this.. We need to make sure this is not repeated in Brooklyn Heights. The Brooklyn Public Library
continues to steam ahead with the destruction of the Brooklyn Business Library and the Brooklyn Heights Branch.
BPL needs to follow the lead of NYPL and withdraw their ill advised plan.

Secondly we need to rethink if one city needs 3 public library systems. This is duplicative and unnecessary.
We need to become more efficient and use funds for services not inflated executive salaries. All of the Library Execs
earn more than the Mayor. Tell me does this make sense.

May. 12 2014 10:23 AM
Angela from Smithtown

What are current plans to reopen a new, smaller Donnell Library? Will it still be focused on childrens services?

May. 12 2014 10:23 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Brian, *please* don't compare removing books to kidnapping children! I know, you were referring to the reaction, but I found that completely inappropriate.

On the library, yes, of course they should have asked for public response before deciding on their plan. The report on this I heard on WNYC in the last few days sounded as if the books from the main stacks under the bldg. *had* already been moved to NJ & that the decision to take out the stacks themselves was reversed only because it was found that they were necessary structurally but that the books weren't going to be replaced. If this is just a delay so atmospheric conditions could be improved to preserve the books & they'll be returned to the stacks after that's done, that's fine, but I'd like to have this clarified.

May. 12 2014 10:23 AM
pliny from soho

More "epub" books please.

May. 12 2014 10:22 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Let's remember that under Bloomberg other libraries were proposed to be sold and shrunk as well.

Donnell was the first library sold for shrinkage. (It was sold suddenly, secretively and to net a pittance- and that has still not been adequately investigated.)

Other libraries on the block under the sale for shrinkage regime? The Brooklyn Heights Library (in a transaction closely resembling Donnell) and Pacific Street with a list of other libraries given to the development community that has never been publicly released.

May. 12 2014 10:22 AM
Nick from UWS

"How can we do more for New Yorkers?" Meaning, how can we turn the libraries into malls and cafes to get that revenue in?

May. 12 2014 10:21 AM

Brian, please interview Nick here. He seems to a whole lot more than the person you're talking to right now, among others.

May. 12 2014 10:20 AM
The Truth from Becky

Glad you guys chose to "change course" and leave the library as is...for now.

May. 12 2014 10:19 AM
Nick from UWS

His plans for the library sounds like every other mall-carnival-cafe-ization real estate plan wrecking this city.

May. 12 2014 10:19 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

The NYPL still wants to sell ALL of SIBL, the Science and Industry and Business Library. (at 34th Street in former Altman building.)

We spent $100 million to complete the new facility in 1996.

Although 87% was secretively sold off for just $60.8 million in 2012, shouldn't the public get to keep that library or at least have input into keeping it?

Is selling it a effort to keep parts of the Central Library Plan in place for future reactivation?

May. 12 2014 10:16 AM

Isn't this just another issue, like sooo many others, that all goes back to real estate and greedy developers? Supply & Demand for a place on this island is soooo off kilter that almost every problem comes back to real estate and attempts to make space available for new development so that a small business sector can make even more money. sad, sad, sad.

May. 12 2014 10:15 AM
Nick from UWS

Nobody wants carnivals and crowds and tourists and exhibits and cafes in the libraries. People want peace and quiet for Christ's sake.

May. 12 2014 10:14 AM
Steve from Manhattan

A question for Mr. Marx:

I frequently use the Schwarzman Building resources and have noticed that very few of the users in the main reading room are actually doing so. I would estimate that at least 90% are using the free wi-fi and their own computers. And although the last six tables are supposed to be reserved for those not using computers, this is rarely if ever enforced limiting space for those actually need to use the library resources.
I was wondering why this service needs to be located in the library. Why can't the city simply hire a hall to provide free wi-fi. It would seem that this would reduce wear and tear on the library and make it easier for those who actually need its resources to use them.

May. 12 2014 10:14 AM
Nick from UWS

Allison from Brooklyn has hit it exactly....let's talk about the back room deals being done between the library system and real estate interests who don't give a shit about libraries.

May. 12 2014 10:12 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

An important question, important to pin Marx down about, is the reducing number of books that library is accommodating. Capacity “for all the books that we ever had” says Marx? . . .

. . . Unlikely. The Central Reference Library was designed to hold between 6.2 and 6.5 million books.

May. 12 2014 10:10 AM
Seth Pecksniff

Where's the apology for totally mis-reeading what this man's audience really wants? I'm sorry, but he sounds so condecending and talks like the change in plan was what he meant to do all along. Please, dude, save yourself and extend a mea culpa to the citizens of nyc.

May. 12 2014 10:09 AM
Nick from UWS

What is not discussed is that New Yorkers are so emotionally bruised and disgusted from the wholesale destruction over the last decade of so much of the New York that they knew and loved by "development", that any meddling with such a beloved thing as the Main Library will throw salt and ground glass directly into the wound carried by all New Yorkers. New Yorkers are beyond sick and tired of having their city destroyed in front of their eyes by rapacious real estate interests.

May. 12 2014 10:09 AM
Allison from Brooklyn

The people leading our library system are trying to sell off our public libraries below cost to real estate developers to turn into luxury condo highrise buildings at extreme profit for the developers. They are planning to close many local library branches. They already sold the Donnell Library at well below its value, and that has been turned into, yes, a luxury condo highrise. This is real estate stealing public assets.

May. 12 2014 10:08 AM
Bonn from East Village

Do not mess with our libraries. There are still so many of us who use my branch for computers and taking out books (Yes, real books), DVD's, etc. My small branch no longer has as many books on the shelves (the librarians said that's because some higher-up decided that people here don't read). That's absolutely not true, as you can see by the volume of people who come here. I used to love browsing through the stacks to find new treasures. Now I just go online and reserve something I have heard of. The mystery and wonder is gone. We are being shortchanged in every way possible.

May. 12 2014 10:08 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Consider this reported in the Wall Street Journal:

"It's the right thing to do," said [New York real estate mogul] Marshall Rose, a library board member who spearheaded the renovation plan. "Time, economics, there's a whole series of reasons. And it's a different world."

Wasn’t it ALWAYS “the right thing to do”? What’s remarkable about the failure of this plan is the way it foundered on its lack of basic real estate and construction managerial sense in terms of what the public was NOT getting and was still being asked to pay for.

How could that be if it was being spearheaded by the like of Marshall Rose and Blackstone’s Stephen A. Schwarzman? Because it was attractive to people in real estate even when t wasn’t good for the public.

May. 12 2014 10:05 AM

Thank you so much for featuring the ongoing battle around the NYPL's future on the show!

Please see the Wall Street Journal's recent coverage of NYPL's "new course":

Unfortunately Anthony Marx seems determined not to return the library's research collection to the 42nd St. Building. Apparently he was forced to say he would not demolish the 7 floors of shelving (stacks) that used to hold over 3 million books so as not to be cut out of the Mayor's budget last week. But he's leaving the door open to demolishing them later by refusing to put any books on them!! Despite the fact that NYPL desperately needs storage. The library pays ReCAP in Princeton, NJ to store its books - currently around 7 million volumes in storage. Please ask him what this storage costs.

Marx will tell you that he'll solve the storage problem by building out BPSE2 (Bryant Park Stacks Extension). BPSE 1 has been in operation for years, and holds 1.2 million books. Marx has said for years that building out BPSE 2 (second subterranean floor) would add storage for 1.5 million more (the differential is because a small part of BPSE 1 is office space - otherwise the 2 floors of BPSE have the same footprint). Suddenly he's saying he can fit many more books down there. Having seen the facility myself, I doubt that is true.

NYPL says BPSE 2 would cost $22 million, and retrofitting the stacks would cost $46 million. Given the library's storage needs, upgrading the stacks' HVAC system is a no-brainer. The existing HVAC system (installed in the 1980s) is outdated. Marx keeps saying the stacks cannot be climate controlled, and that's not true - they already were.

So why is the President of the city's (and state's) only research library open to the public (and as such a public treasure, a truly democratic institution) so determined to have as few books as possible in his library?

May. 12 2014 09:57 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Citizens Defending Libraries was one of the groups that fought the Central Library Plan together with other similar proposed sell-offs and shrinkages of NYC libraries originated under the Bloomberg administration. (The first sale for shrinkage- at a substantial loss- under the Bloomberg administration was the Donnell sale suddenly announced in 2007 and still inadequately investigated.)

Citizens Defending Libraries has made available this -one-stop shopping page with links to all the very many articles and headlines about the demise of the NYPL's Central Library Plan. Hope it is a helpful resource to those wanting to know more.

Thursday, May 8, 2014
May 7th & 8th 2014- Our Press Release and Breaking News Headlines As NYPL Does About-Face Abandoning Its Central Library Plan

May. 12 2014 09:29 AM

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