June 21, 2012

A new plan for the NYPL?


Writer Caleb Crain here pushes hard for compromise on the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan (which has been covered previously on MobyLives here, here, and here). In Crain’s analysis, there are good signs that a “a meaningful point of compromise” could be achieved that would keep some 1.5 million volumes on site. (The original plan called for moving some 3 million volumes in the humanities research library to Princeton, New Jersey.)

But Crain also looks closely at a more deep alteration to the Central Library Plan, one that would keep the Mid-Manhattan branch library in operation. About the alternative plan, he investigates:

[W]hat the savings from building consolidation would be if the library were to compromise by closing and selling SIBL [the Science, Industry, and Business research library], renovating MML [Mid-Manhattan], and leaving the 42nd Street building alone (I outlined such a plan on my blog recently, but I believe the library itself was the first to come up with it).

[NYPL President Anthony] Marx replied that the library’s administrators have actually done a financial analysis of a proposal along the lines I suggested, and for a number of reasons, they believe the benefit would be lower. He said that he doubted, for example, that a renovation of MML would attract donations as readily as the Central Library Plan, which is a more charismatic project. He said that estimates for a renovation of MML were now “north” of the $150 million that was the library’s own estimate until very recently, though he didn’t give the new number. He expressed concern that the city of New York might not permit the library to alter plans for the $150 million that the city has already committed. In making the comparative analysis, he said, the administrators added in a capital expenditure for upgrading the preservation conditions in the stacks. Their results: In the Central Library Plan, which consolidates three buildings into one, the operational savings are estimated to be $7 million a year. In the alternative plan, which consolidates three buildings into two, the operational savings are estimated to be $2.5 to $3 million a year. Over all, Marx said, “at our best estimate at this point, the financial benefit of the alternative plan is a third of what is estimated for the Central Library Plan.”

Despite the opposition from library officials, Crain remains optimistic that library will consider his alternate plan, or another “alternative to the Central Library Plan altogether.”


Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.