February 27, 2014

On the Central Library Plan, Humans of New York interviewee Matthew Zadrozny kills it


Matthew Zadrozny is a hero to thousands. And not only because he looks good wearing a oilskin duster coat and eating chicken from a camping saucepan in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Zadrozny is a hero because, when he was interviewed by Brandon Stanton for Stanton’s immensely popular Humans of New York blog earlier this week, he asked for a favor in return. Here’s the exchange as it happened:

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The internet blew up (a little): Zadrozny had perfected the elevator pitch against the Central Library Plan. He had combined passion, information, and condemnation… and then, he’d demanded to make sure he was being quoted correctly, like a real New Yorker. Or, possibly, just a person aware of how wide Humans of New York’s reach is—it has, for instance, about three and half a million followers on Facebook, compared to the New York Times’ 5.6 million.

And it got results: when the group organizing opposition to the plan, the Committee to Save the NYPL, posted Zadrozny’s interview on their website, www.savenypl.org, it spurred so many people to send an email to Mayor de Blasio (who’d come out against the plan during his mayoral campaign but hasn’t commented on it lately) that it crashed the site. Metro covered it, saying that it had “reinvigorated the Save the 42nd Street Library movement.” Susan Bernofsky, noted German translator and vocal opponent of the CLP, wrote “This eater of chicken couldn’t be more right about what’s going down at the library.”

It also spurred debates on Facebook, ranging from the appreciative but critical (“I admire the succinctness and passion with which he speaks, but those seven floors of books are printed on high-acid paper, and are disintegrating in those non-climate controlled stacks”) to the totally bonkers (“Message Delivered. HONY is a trusted communicator. 100% safe and reliable!! His loyal followers will do all they can to stop this atrocity from occurring. THAT LIBRARY NOW BELONGS TO HONY!”) to the irrelevant but turned-on (“This is seriously the sexiest thing I’ve read in ages”).

And the NYPL responded, something they have been noticeably loathe to do at other points in this debate: architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable detailed in her very last article for Wall Street Journal the stonewalling she’d experienced when she was trying to gather information about the plan.

Because of all the attention the post garnered, and because it was different from other Humans of New York posts in that it advanced a cause instead of conveying a snippet of someone’s life (though it did that too), Stanton decided to put the NYPL’s response up on his site.

The Library’s response follows:

*The man says “I work at this Library.” Ends up, he doesn’t “work” for the library in the sense of being an employee. He is probably doing his work at the library (millions do each year!). We fear the confusion might make people think he is offering his opinion as an employee.

*The vast majority of research books will remain on the site (in far superior storage conditions)

*None of the public spaces he and others enjoy will change, and we’ll be returning a circulating collection to this main library (it had one for its first 70 years).

*This plan will be greatly expanding access to the library. The renovation will allow all New Yorkers — scholars, students, educators, immigrants, job-seekers — to take advantage of this beautiful building and its world-class collections

This response doesn’t address a lot of the points made by Zadrozny and others: for instance, according to the Committee to Save the NYPL, “if the CLP is completed, approximately 60 percent of the Research Library’s books will be stored off site.”

It ignores the major question of whether or not returning a circulating collection to the main library is a good idea. It continues to advance the false metonymy that links opening up more of the library’s square footage to the public with greater figurative “access” to its resources. It’s hard to assess its comments about superior storage conditions, since upgrades to the current storage conditions haven’t been part of the discussions so far.

And the Library is silent on Zadrozny’s comment about the Mid-Manhattan Library and SIBL; the Committee to Save the NYPL has pointed out that “the new circulating library would be less than 1/3 the size of Mid-Manhattan and SIBL.”

In other words, the man eating chicken out of a saucepan still seems like he’s had the last word here.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.