July 18, 2014
NYPL President Tony Marx takes to public television to defend controversial Central Library Plan
by Claire Kelley
In an interview with Jack Ford on New York public television’s MetroFocus program, New York Public Library President Tony Marx defended the so-called “Central Library Plan” to convert the 42nd Street Main Branch into a circulating library and close the Mid-Manhattan Library, even though those original plans were abandoned a few months ago. He even went so far to call the original plan “ingenious.”
Citizen groups who have been protesting the proposed strongly disagree with that characterization.
“Having watched the interview now I am astounded how flush it is with unchallenged inaccuracies all bent toward a renewed pitch for implementing the discredited Central Library Plan,” commented Michael D. D. White, organizer of Citizens Defending Libraries, on the Metrofocus program page. “Why must anyone persist in inaccurately describing the sell-off of two central libraries, the destruction of the Central Reference Library’s research stacks and the exile of books as ‘an expansion’ when over 400,000 square feet of library space would have been contracted and squeezed onto just 80,000 square feet?”
Since the surprise announcement that the NYPL would not go forward with the plan that is estimated to have cost $200 million more than the library expected to spend, the plan has been revised to expand storage space under Bryant Park and to renovate (and keep) the Mid-Manhattan Library.
“What we realized is that instead of sending the books to New Jersey, we will put three million books under there and you can get them in a half hour. Then we’re going to take all the rooms in the main building that have been closed to the public and open them back up,” explained Marx in the interview.
When asked if he was surprised by the criticism of the plan, Marx said he interpreted the protesters’ argument to be “we don’t want the public in the main building, we just want the preserve of people who are professional researchers,” adding that his own reaction was “I thought that was a crazy argument.”
Critics of the Central Library Plan were baffled by this assertion, and have previously expressed concern that the process of decision-making in the Central Library Plan lacked transparency and public process. White also noted in the comments,”It was NEVER true that opponents of the Central Library Plan boondoggle opposed public use of the Central Reference Library. This disingenuous divide-and-conquer ploy is an embarrassment that ought to be roundly disavowed.”
Noted translator Susan Bernofsky added in the comments to the video of the interview, “I’m sorry to see that Tony Marx is still, even in defeat, trying to characterize those who opposed his plans to gut the research library as elitist… It is a profoundly democratic undertaking to preserve a high-level public resource for the use of the public (NYPL is the only open-to-the-public research library in all of New York State, and the finest in the country); stripping the building of its resources as Marx and the NYPL Trustees proposed to do is not in any way democratic.”
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.