New York Public Library Renovation Plan Sparks Criticism From Supporters

Criticized by scholars and writers, the New York Public Library is defending its plan for a $300 million renovation of its landmark Fifth Avenue flagship building, the New York Times reports.

In response to the criticism, the library's president, Anthony W. Marx, has written op-ed pieces, established an advisory panel that includes critics of the proposal, and appeared on radio and television to defend the library's plan, which include the sale of two popular branch libraries, the Mid-Manhattan branch on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street and the Science, Industry, and Business Library in the old B. Altman Building on Madison Avenue at 34th Street. Marx told the Times that the plan, which had been back-burnered because of the economic downturn, incorporates a continuing commitment to books and research but also represents an effort to better serve the needs of the general public.

The renovation of the main library building is to be financed by $150 million from the city, proceeds from the sale of the two branch libraries, and private donations. The project would convert the main library, which today is strictly a reference operation, into a hybrid that includes a circulating library, computer terminals, and, possibly, a caf�. To accommodate the new services, up to half of the three million volumes in the stacks below the main reading room would be moved to storage in New Jersey — a point of particular concern for scholars, who doubt the volumes can be retrieved within twenty-four hours, as NYPL officials claim, thus diminishing its role as a premier destination for serious scholars.

Marx argues that the plan would enable the library to improve its services and address concerns about the relative lack of humidity and fire control features at the main branch. The library also would be able to add barcodes to the books moved to storage, allowing them to be requested online and after business hours.

"The project will produce a greater single facility that includes the crown jewel of the branch system — Mid-Manhattan," Marx said. "People come from all over the city now to use the library, and the system will end up with significant additional resources."

Robin Pogrebin. "New York Public Library Defends Plan to Renovate." New York Times 04/15/2012.