Updates on the NYPL Renovation Plan (updated)

Glass Slide of New York Public Library

The New York Public Library renovation plan has generated a number of articles in the media and online. The plan, which was subsequently modified and partly withdrawn by the Library’s board, involved selling the Mid Manhattan and SIBL branches and using the sale proceeds to renovate the Schwarzman building at 42nd Street. The renovation for the Schwarzman itself (which included emptying and re-purposing the original stacks) engendered much of the controversy. There were quite a few articles, and almost as much smoke as fire, but I think the better ones are these:

  • The Nation‘s Scott Sherman seems to be getting some credit for good reporting and information. This is a very good article. Although the editors’ introduction is a bit self-congratulatory, Sherman himself is very fair-minded and notes *all* the substantial stuff that happened. He also notes the Donnell Library sale, which got under the radar. (One almost fears what would come out if the NYS AG office conducted a detailed examination of conflicts of interest in the Donnell sale.) At best the NYPL was not well-served by its advisors. (The Nation, June 2, 2014.) 
  • New Yorker writer Caleb Crain puts a very positive perspective on Anthony Marx and the NYPL administration: “Last week’s news, therefore, took me by surprise. On hearing it, I felt thankful that Marx’s administration was willing to reconsider its position, and thankful that the activists had kept up the pressure for it to do so. A new third-party analysis, commissioned by the library, has confirmed that the cost estimates for reconfiguring the Forty-second Street building were indeed too low, and that the estimates for a stand-alone renovation of the mid-Manhattan branch were too high. “I heard the criticism, and we’ve learned from the criticism, which I think is absolutely appropriate for an institution that’s publicly supported and public-serving,” Marx said in a phone call on Friday afternoon. “When the third-party analysis made it clear that, actually, this was going to be much more difficult, much more expensive, and was not going to meet our program needs, then it was time to reëxamine other approaches.” I can think of two New York institutions—Cooper Union and the American Folk Art Museum—that have damaged themselves in recent years by barreling ahead with imprudent construction projects, and, to me, Marx’s change of mind seems remarkable, and worthy of praise.” (New Yorker, May 12, 2014)

June 13, 2014: The stacks. It should probably be noted that the current revised plan for the Schwarzman building stacks leaves them entirely empty, which is a very odd decision. The stacks don’t have the state of the art storage now provided underneath Bryan Park, and the administration claims that updating environmental controls for the old stacks would be prohibitive. Still, I recall the comments of the preservation specialist and conservation consultant, the late Paul N. Banks at Columbia’s School of Library Service, who noted that the old stacks were designed to provide air circulation sort of like a chimney, with the air circulating from the base to the top. Obviously, this presents a terrifying scenario in the event of a fire–a genuine possibility with renovations taking place in the building–of the building acting like a chimney to feed a fire and defeat any strategy of fighting a fire floor-by-floor. (The shelving has always had gaps between floors to promote air-flow.)

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By Paul Romaine

Paul Romaine is a grant writer and independent curator in New York City.

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