May 8, 2014
Critics of the Central Library Plan react to New York Public Library’s change of course
by Claire Kelley
In a major reversal on Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan to sell off the Mid-Manhattan Library and destroy the historic stacks would not go forward as originally announced. NYPL President Tony Marx said “When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget.”
While the NYPL has not issued a formal statement about the developments (NYPL Vice President of Communications Ken Weine did not respond to a request for comment), there are some indications that the new plan for books at the 42nd Street main library may not allow them to be accessible as many had hoped. A Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Maloney includes a cryptic statement: “Under the new plan, the book stacks would be preserved but would remain empty of books.”
While some are cautious until further details emerge, those who had spoken out and advocated to protect the library buildings reacted with surprise, relief, and resolve to the news. In addition to the new tenure of Mayor Bill DiBlasio and an independent cost analysis of the Central Library Plan, it was the outcry from the public— including protests from scholars, architects, designers, writers and activists, as well as four pending lawsuits—that apparently convinced the library administration and board of trustees to change their minds. We owe these heroes our gratitude for their tireless work in this fight.
“We see this as a victory for the public, for common sense and for the preservation of our public assets. It shows how important it is to shed a bright light on these deals: The public was always opposed to this Central Library Plan, virtually unanimously, once they understood the facts. Too bad we were not in time to save Donnell, but now there are more libraries to save, SIBL (or what remains thereof), Brooklyn Heights, Pacific Street, Clinton Hill, the Northern Manhattan libraries, the BPL’s plan to “leverage” all the real estate it owns. As much of a victory that we hope this will ultimately prove to be, we can’t rest on our laurels because there is no assurance our other libraries can be saved without hard work. The good thing is that abandonment of this wastefully expensive plan frees up hundreds of millions of dollars that can be spent to go a lot further for other libraries around the city, hopefully in all the boroughs.” —Michael D. D. White, Citizens Defending Libraries
“I applaud the NYPL for courageously stepping in the right direction, and I hope that they will take the next step and save the Science, Industry, and Business Library. I look forward to doing what I can to help the NYPL, BPL, and Queens Library secure stable funding from the City and expand access throughout New York. Libraries are places of initiative and opportunity. We must cherish and defend them.” —Matthew Zadrożny, a member of the Committee to Save the NYPL and a Human of New York
“I’m thrilled and thankful that the administration and trustees of the New York Public Library had the courage to change their minds.” —Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors who offered sharp analysis of the Central Library Plan on his blog throughout 2012
“The NYPL decision shows the power of grass roots politics to change bad decisions!” —Joan W. Scott, Professor at the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton
“The leadership of NYPL has finally come to its senses. All of us at the Committee to Save the New York Public Library are gratified that the Mid-Manhattan Library will be saved and the stacks in the 42nd Street Library left intact. Now it remains for us to persuade the library leadership to fix the mechanical systems in the stacks so the books can be returned there. This great building, meant for readers and the books they love, can now fulfill its purpose for another century.” —Charles D. Warren, Architect
“This is huge victory not just for those who use and treasure the New York Public Library, but also for the larger principle of library as commons and public trust. It draws a line in the sand: Real-estate interests shouldn’t be driving library policy. It was incredibly inspiring to be part of this campaign and see how many people—from Pulitzer Prize winners to influential union leaders to ordinary library patrons—were willing to speak up to save New York Public Library from the mismanagement of its trustees. Now it’s time for a change in leadership at NYPL.”—Leslie Kauffman, founder, Library Lovers League
“I couldn’t be more thrilled that the voices of the writers and scholars who rely on the library for their work have been heard. It is a triumph for the people of New York, including future generations of researchers.”—Susan Bernofsky, Translator and Professor at Columbia University
“Somebody pinch me.” —Charles Peterson, n+1
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.