Digital age or not, New Yorkers make 40 million physical visits to the city’s public libraries every year, tallying more visitors than the city’s many cultural institutions and professional sporting events combined.
“The library is the one place in New York where you have the student and the immigrant and the homeless and the Nobel laureate and the Pulitzer Prize winner – everybody’s using the library,” said Marx.
In 2008, the library announced plans to renovate the iconic, central Steven A. Schwarzman building. The ambitious plans involved removing the research collection from beneath the main reading room and transferring those 1.5 million books
to a New Jersey storage facility. The renovation was projected to cost $300 million – more than $150 million in funding from the city, in addition to proceeds of the sale of two library buildings. The project lost steam during the economic downturn but regained momentum after Marx was appointed in 2011.
“It was actually an ingenious plan. And as you say, a controversial plan for many reasons,” Marx said.
The plan was unpopular with community activists and various library stakeholders across the city, generating several lawsuits and garnering disapproval from Mayor Bill de Blasio. In May 2014, the library announced that it would be abandoning the central library renovation. Instead, books will be moved to a storage space under Bryant Park which spans two square city blocks. The Mid-Manhattan Library will be renovated,
and more of the Schwarzman building will be opened to the public.
“I think people love the library, and people are worried about change. And they want us to get it right,” Marx said.