New York Public Library Renovations: Good or Bad?


The New York Public Library has been working double time to boost positive P.R. about $300-million in planned renovations to its lion-fronted flagship on Fifth Avenue.

Indeed, NYPL President Anthony Marx, in addition to penning many pro-change op-eds, has also agreed to field the public’s questions in the New York Times this week.

If you haven’t been following anti-revamp flack, critics largely claim that the project — which also calls for the sale of two beloved branch libraries — might give the landmark location a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble vibe, discouraging the studious atmosphere and serious scholarship for which it was originally designed.

That’s because the Central Library Plan would turn the building into a mix of research and circulating collections. Not only would seven levels of stacks under the Rose Reading Room get demolished and replaced with computers. Some texts would get shipped to a storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey, a move which academics fear would create research delays.

This might make you wonder: Is there anything positive about the proposed changes?

To be fair, Marx’s move might come from the right place, but the idea sounds like it has the potential to be very poorly executed.

Yes, money-wise, times are tough: The Nation reports that the NYPL’s operating budget has been slashed by 20 million over the last two fiscal years, and the system has suffered from the loss of 300 positions. And cash for growing collections has been cut by 26 percent. The planned change up could save $10-15 million a year that the library system seems to need.

But, good intent does not address a lot of potential problems.

For starters, Marx needs to explain why, amid austerity measures, it would be more beneficial to pour so many resources into this project rather than inject much-needed monetary lifeblood into struggling branch libraries.

Former and present library staff have also wondered whether the main location will suffer the same fate as these branches. The Voice‘s Steven Thrasher noted one past staffer’s concern: “It will all come here — the noise, the teenage problems, the circulating DVDs.”

And, as the Nation article also pointed out, little is being done to assuage fears that collections will be properly curated and staffed — and to ensure that a push for web-savvy users does not alienate traditional academics.

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