October 13, 2014

New York Public Library officials signal that the new master plan will be revealed next spring


"But where did they put the books?" Fortitude asked.

“But where did they put the books?” Fortitude asked.

After scrapping the Central Library Plan earlier this spring—a plan which would have cost over 500 million dollars and met with major public protest—library officials including Mary Lee Kennedy, the new chief library officer, and Iris Weinshall, who became chief operating officer in September, told the New York Times this week that a master plan for the library would be announced in April of 2015.

“We’re figuring out how and what the space is going to be,” Irish Weinshall said in an interview, presumably referring to the plans for the overhaul of the Mid-Manhattan Library and the update for the flagship library on 5th Avenue.

One thing is clear—the process to hire an architect and the decisions of how library space will be used will be decided internally by the NYPL administration. Other library systems, such as the Seattle Public Library, hold design competitions or, in the case of the Calgary Public Library, spend time listening to and soliciting information from the public about what needs and services the library should incorporate.

This unwillingness to engage with the public—or even librarians who work for the NYPL—and to be forthcoming about the planning process was one of the main criticisms of citizen groups who protested the Central Library Plan. Why can’t there be a public forum about the library’s plans this winter?

Another concern, as Scott Sherman (author of forthcoming Melville House book Patience and Fortitude:  Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library) wrote in The Nation, is to find out what will happen to the three million books that were removed from the stacks when the plan was to demolish them. And he notes, the source of the $9 million dollars paid to Norman Foster for the uncompleted Central Library Plan was never revealed: “Marx has refused to reveal the source of that money. Did it come from the NYPL, or from one or several of its trustees?”

The NYPL administration and trustees may be wise to conduct the planning process with more transparency this time around.


Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.