September 23, 2014

NYC think tank looks to the future of library branches


The Center for an Urban Future has a plan for New York's libraries. © Evgeny Dubinchuk / via Shutterstock

The Center for an Urban Future has a plan for New York’s libraries.
© Evgeny Dubinchuk / via Shutterstock

The Center for an Urban Future (CUF) released a lengthy report last week that details the issues facing New York City’s various library branches and how to address them, Lisa Peet writes for Library Journal.

The 56-page report by the CUF states that between the city’s three library systems (the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library), there’s a staggering $1.1 billion needed to repair, renovate, and construct buildings. Fifty-nine branches (more than 30%) need $5 million or more to bring things up to snuff.

The report paints a fairly dismal picture, as Peet summarizes:

The average branch is 61 years old, and many suffer from poor light and ventilation, broken HVAC systems, and water leaks, leading to service disruptions and closings. Even libraries built in past 40 years are not designed for the populations they now serve, particularly seniors and teens, and often cannot accommodate new technology needs. Many of the buildings are too small—100 of the branches are 10,000 s.f. or smaller—and many existing layouts do not reflect the needs of either patrons or staff, including a lack of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

New York lags significantly behind other major American cities — including Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle — when it comes to improving and expanding libraries, partly because of an ineffective system for obtaining funds. Libraries don’t have a capital budget, so it falls to individual branches to go to city council representatives and borough presidents to ask for money, one project at a time. CUF’s research director David Giles says, “We’ve got to change the funding system and there are no shortcuts to that. It’s something only the mayor’s office can do. They can decide to give the libraries a capital budget instead of starting from zero every year. Libraries deserve to be treated like city agencies.”

Giles is optimistic about the trajectory for city libraries with Bill de Blasio as mayor, though, in part because his first budget as mayor, he increased funding for libraries. On working with members of the current political administration, he says, “There’s a real interest in coming up with solutions… There is a need for libraries to get better at transparently engaging their communities and envisioning the future.”


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.