NYPL Changes Plans For Fifth Avenue Library

From the New York Times: Responding to objections raised by scholars, writers, artists and others, the New York Public Library has revised its plan to remove most of the books from its flagship Fifth Avenue research center to make room for a circulating library. Library officials said that an $8 million donation would help pay for enough new storage space to keep 3.3 million of its 4.5 volumes.

The change, approved by the library board on Wednesday, marks a significant shift in the Central Library Plan, a $300 million proposal to turn the historic building into the world’s largest combined research and circulating library.

“I’m very pleased both by the outcome but also by the process,” said Anthony T. Grafton, a Princeton University history professor who serves on the plan’s advisory panel. “It seems to me we saw a great public institution and its leader actually listening to the response of its public.”

The gift, from Abby S. Milstein, a lawyer and trustee, and her husband, Howard P. Milstein, a banker, will cover the cost of building 30,000 square feet of storage space to keep 1.5 million books that would otherwise have been sent to a warehouse in New Jersey. Scholars and others have protested plans to send the books away, arguing that research would be inhibited by the inevitable resulting delays in retrieving books, and that the changes would diminish the library’s role as a leading reference center.

“This is a great outcome,” Anthony W. Marx, the library’s president, said in an interview. “We’re investing in good old-fashioned books for research, but we’re also working to ensure digital access and provide more education programs in branches.”

Under the plan two Midtown library locations will be merged into the Schwarzman Building: the Mid-Manhattan Library, the system’s largest circulating library, and the Science, Industry and Business Library, where the use of print materials is decreasing because of digitization. The library expects the project to save $15 million annually in operating costs.

Some critics said Wednesday that the expansion of book storage at 42nd Street does not address their concerns that the building be used for lending as well.

In developing one of two floors of storage space under Bryant Park adjacent to the main building, seven floors’ worth of aboveground stacks built in 1911 that are closed to the public are to be removed. Some architecture experts have questioned the feasibility of doing this, given that the stacks support the Rose Reading Room, directly above.

Mr. Marx also said that most of the books to be moved away from the site are available digitally, and that delivery of stored material to the Fifth Avenue building would improve. But Mr. Katz said the quality of these digital versions was often poor, and that the speed of delivery was unlikely to change.

In addition Mr. Marx said the library would start raising money for new curatorial positions in the research divisions. The library has been criticized for cutting back on curators and librarians.

Mr. Marx said the library is trying to rebuild a staff eroded by budget cuts. Although he has gathered reaction to the plan from various sources, critics say they still feel largely in the dark about specifics. “There hasn’t been the kind of transparency we argued for from the start,” Mr. Katz said. “There are still no numbers for any of this, still no architectural plans."

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