Main Reading Room

Last week I joined a protest against the proposed Central Library Plan, which would remove the stacks of the New York Public Library’s flagship building and replace them with the lending libraries currently housed in the Mid-Manhattan Library (across the street) and the Science, Industry, and Business Library (at Madison and 34th), at a cost of at least $300 million, with construction taking six years.

I oppose this plan for many reasons. I have been coming to the library for some twenty years. It is one of the jewels of New York, an architectural and institutional masterpiece that has few equals in the city, or world. And while I rarely request books from the stacks and could be persuaded that, with good software, only the least consulted books would be moved and retrieving these from the proposed off-site storage in New Jersey could be done efficiently — this project still troubles me.

Rather than listen to my reasons, I hope you will consider some questions (below), and read what prominent critics have to say (bottom). If you, like me, decide that this is a mistake, I hope you will join the protesters and galvanize others.

Please ask yourself:

  • How risky is this? Could the Main Reading Room collapse during the removal of the stacks (which currently support it)? Is this project likely to be completed on budget and on time? Could this turn into a political quagmire? Is the proposed plan to transport requested books between off-site storage in New Jersey and the library viable? Can the library entrances accommodate the resulting influx of users?
  • Is there value in preserving a pre-eminent analog research library?
  • Are the figures correct? Can the library really raise $150 million from the sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry, and Business Library; and $150 million from taxes (which the board claims it has secured)?
  • Why allot $150 million to a single, central library when branch libraries are being closed and NYPL management is complaining about $47 million in funding cuts?
  • Is this the best use of $150 – $350+ million dollars?
  • Was the process by which this decision was made transparent?
  • Do I trust the board and president of the library, Anthony Marx? Does Marx really believe in this, or is this legacy building?
  • Are there political or business interests driving this plan (which involves closing the Mid Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry, and Business Library; and selling the buildings that house them)?

Further reading (courtesy of Save the NYPL):

ARTICLES (in reverse chronological order):

The Historic Districts Council’s statement opposing the Central Library Plan: Historic Districts Council Statement (March 2013)

Michael Kimmelman’s scathing review of the Central Library Plan in the New York Times: In Renderings for a Library Landmark, Stacks of Questions (January 2013)

Ada Louise Huxtable’s attack on the Central Library Plan in the Wall Street Journal and her plea to keep the 42nd Street Library building intact: Undertaking Its Destruction (December 2012)

Charles Petersen’s in-depth article on the Central Library plan in N+1: Lions In Winter (May 2012)

Scott Sherman’s investigative article in The Nation which first brought the Central Library Plan to pubic attention and kicked off the uproar: Upheaval at the New York Public Library (December 2011)

Caleb Crain’s detailed, ongoing coverage of the Central LIbrary Plan on his blog: Steamboats Are Ruining Everything (March 2012 to present)

The New York Public LIbrary’s own presentation of the 42nd Street book stacks, with images and much historical background; an excellent introduction to the heart of the library which the NYPL now plans to destroy: A Tour of the Stacks

Our allies fighting the shrinkage of the New York City library systems and the selling off of library building for real estate development: Citizens Defending Libraries

The Committee to Save the NYPL is investigating all avenues of opposition to the Central Library Plan and we need your help! All donations are fully tax-deductable.


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