At the New York Public Library: Consolidation and Education

April 26, 2012 at 4:00 am

This undated photo shows the New York Public Library stacks facing Bryant Park, which will be moved to make way for a new circulating library. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The way people consume information is changing, and the place where they’ve historically consumed it is changing, too.

Big plans to transform the New York Public Library’s central branch are in motion, which President and CEO Anthony Marx hopes will bring the library into the “information age,” as well as serve the needs of all New Yorkers.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful and smart about the resources that we have, and putting them to the best use for all the citizens of New York: scholars, schoolchildren, the public at large,” Marx told MetroFocus.

A cornerstone of the Central Library Plan’s mission is to engage a greater number of New Yorkers. In that respect, the library is introducing community spaces for people to work, educational programming including English as a Second Language courses and computer literacy courses, and after-school programs that include tutoring for city kids. It has already launched a pilot program with the Department of Education to increase schools’ access to the online New York Public Library catalog and give teachers a new “educator borrowing card” with extra privileges.

We were founded to make sure that those who can’t afford books, which is something like a quarter of this city, can have access to the greatest collection in the world, for free.

The Central Library Plan will also transform the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue by adding a circulation library for the first time in 50 years. In addition, the Mid-Manhattan Branch Library, now located across the street, and the Science, Industry and Business Library, on Madison Avenue at 34th Street, will be moved into the main branch. Marx said consolidating the three libraries will save approximately $15 million a year, funds to be used on curatorial staff and research collections, while the renovation of the central library will cost $300 million.


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Dr. Marx discusses the library expansion as well as the planned additional educational and community programming with MetroFocus. Video shot by Chie Witt and edited by Bijan Rezvani.

The New York Public Library gets 50 percent of its funding come from the city and 50 percent from private endowment and private giving.

Currently, a large portion of the central library is home to stacks that hold archives and research books. Those books will be moved to make way for the circulating library, creating 20,000 square feet more space. Roughly three million books will be moved: half into storage under Bryant Park, hundreds of thousands elsewhere in the building and the rest off site in a storage facility in Princeton, NJ. Marx has promised all research materials will be made available within 24-hours of a request.

Some of the more than 80 branch libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island have also seen renovations. $300 million has been spent on them over the last 10 years, with $125 million to $150 million more to be spent over the next five, according to The New York Times.

But not everyone is happy about the changes. Researchers and scholars across the city have come out against the plans, most recently in the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times where the biographer Edmund Morris opined about the library transformation and in particular, on the possibility of a cafe opening:

“There’s much to be said for caffeine, but it attracts tourists like flies (as does the souvenir shop beyond), and the marble floor nowadays is loud with the squeak of Reeboks.”

The Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library has hosted researchers for decades. The room will remain the same. MetroFocus/ Chie Witt

Andrew Coe, author of many books including “Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States,” has conducted research at the central branch of the library for many years. He says he is concerned the library will turn into a “themepark.”

“Scholars and serious researchers will stop using the library. It won’t be the place to do serious work with books,” he said. “It will be a place for visitors, so they can check their email and Facebook status.”

Marx said he understands that transforming a library that has for so long has stayed the same, is difficult for many to take.

“Not everyone’s always comfortable with change, I understand that,” Marx said. “But we have to keep moving.”




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MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Judy and Josh Weston, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Rosalind P. Walter, Jody and John Arnhold and the Metropolitan Media Fund. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America, your retirement company.

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