I wanted to reach out to give you an update on our plans regarding the 42nd Street Library renovation.
As you have probably heard, The New York Public Library has decided to pursue an updated plan for renovating its midtown libraries. We made this decision following a review of the plan with fresh eyes — looking at its program, design, and costs, as well as listening to library users and a wide variety of our stakeholders.
We have always approached this project with three goals for the Library:
creating the circulating library that New Yorkers deserve;
ensuring the preservation of our treasured research collections, keeping them safe and quickly accessible for generations to come; and
expanding access to the iconic Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (today, only a quarter of the building is open to the public).
Our new plan will accomplish all three of these goals — renovatingthe deteriorating Mid-Manhattan Library where it stands and transforming it into an inspiring place for the over 1.4 million patrons who come from throughout New York to use that library each year. We’ll also be reopening long-closed rooms in our beautiful Schwarzman Building to increase the space open to the public by 50%, while keeping our research collections safe in storage space underneath Bryant Park. These two libraries — renovated, expanded, and mere steps from each other — will promote access to knowledge, education, and opportunity, creating a centralized campus that we think will benefit all of our users.
And our patrons from throughout the city will benefit from a host of expanded services, including educational programs (new after-school programs, pre-K literacy initiatives, computer skills classes) and increased digital access to books at home. Overall, this plan will be just what all New Yorkers — scholars, students, readers, parents, job seekers, and more — need.
This is a very important project for the Library’s future, and I am tremendously proud of the leadership that the Trustees have shown in taking the time to get this right. Library Journal asked me to share how we came to this decision, and to describe the plan in detail. I hope you have the time to read the piece.
The Library has never been more heavily used or more deeply needed. We are excited to continue our conversations with all of you as we further develop our plans.
More than a decade ago, The New York Public Library looked at the changing needs of our patrons and realized bold action would be required. Particularly, we recognized that we needed to improve the programs we offer in midtown. Here, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, New Yorkers from all boroughs come to use our largest circulating collection at the Mid-Manhattan Library; across the street, researchers from all over the world use the amazing collections in the iconic building behind the lions—the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building—while local, national, and international visitors browse our many exhibits.
The Mid-Manhattan Library, which as our busiest branch sees 1.4 million visitors each year, had fallen into disrepair from such heavy use, and offered too little space for the growing demand for classes and programming. Meanwhile, less than 25 percent of the Schwarzman Building, the jewel of our system, was open to the public. And we needed to find a durable solution for storage and preservation of our research collection, currently vulnerable to decay from inadequate humidity and temperature controls.
In 2007, the library devised a plan to solve these problems: move the books from outdated stacks in the heart of the Schwarzman Building and clear out that space to make room inside for a new Mid-Manhattan library, designed by visionary architect Norman Foster. The plan also called for much more, including the creation of an exciting Education Corridor for young readers and teens, and doubling the work space for scholars and innovators—a vast expansion of the amount of space in the main library accessible to our patrons.
We spent years developing and exploring this plan, trying to see how it could work, and opening a public discussion to inform our efforts.
Along the way, the world changed. With the financial collapse of 2008, the economy shifted and the library system faced years of decreasing city funding. The revolution in information technology has radically altered how ideas are accessed and how we can provide educational programs. And the plan to replace the stacks with new public space, after much study, has proven more difficult, less flexible for the future, and more expensive than we had hoped for.
The Library’s trustees patiently explored all of these issues, listened to concerns and critics, studied all options and, based on the new facts on the ground, decided to alter the plan. This is as it should be: when the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and react to the facts as they present themselves.
But we also know that our goals of a renovated Mid-Manhattan Library, better protection for our research collection, and more access to the Schwarzman Building were the right ones. That’s why we have announced changes to the plan that deliver on those goals at less cost, and with greater flexibility and less risk. Instead of removing the Schwarzman stacks and placing the Mid-Manhattan Library in that space, we’ll renovate the Mid-Manhattan Library at its current site. This renovation will add much-needed computer labs and an adult education space, and an inspiring, comfortable space for browsing our largest circulating collection.
At the Schwarzman Building, in keeping with the original plan, we’ll undertake the most comprehensive renovation in the building’s history, reopening long-closed rooms to the public while leaving the stacks intact. This beautiful, rededicated library will feature more than double the exhibition space, including a Treasures Gallery to showcase our most incredible items, from Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence to Columbus’s 1492 letter to King Ferdinand. The new Education Corridor will create space for students and teachers to engage with our research collections, and researchers will enjoy more space and staff support. And because we will expand and modernize our storage space under Bryant Park, we will have the capacity to ensure that the research collection housed at Schwarzman will be at once better protected and quickly accessible.
As we build this vibrantly integrated campus of library services in the center of New York, we’ll also be making key improvements at our branch locations across the city. With the city’s support, we’ll provide much expanded educational programs, from new after school and pre-K help, to massively expanded English language and citizenship classes for immigrants, computer skills and coding instruction, digital access to broadband and books at home, and much more. We’re excited to begin working toward this great outcome in partnership with the city and with our remarkably generous private donors.
The library has never been more heavily used or more deeply needed. Making the right decisions about how to renovate and integrate our midtown campus is just a part of the larger endeavor of positioning the New York Public Library system for the future—but it’s a part we had to get right. Now, thanks to careful study and public engagement, we have.
As you are a close member of the Library family, I wanted to reach out to give you an update on our plans regarding the 42nd Street renovation.
Several months ago, we shared with staff, friends, and the wider public that the Library was committed to reviewing all aspects of the plan — its programming, the design, and all costs — to ensure that the renovation was the best possible way to fulfill our three goals: to create an improved space for our largest circulating branch, to provide a superior storage environment for our treasured research collections, and to expand public access to the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
Ultimately, the facts have changed, and, over the last few weeks, the NYPL Trustees have deliberated over an analysis of the renovation’s original elements as well as alternative plans. This week, the Board authorized the Library to propose an alternative to our partners in City government. This evolved plan would renovate Mid-Manhattan Library where it is and undertake the most comprehensive renovation in the Schwarzman Building’s history, dramatically increasing public space and the capacity to store the building’s research collections in state-of-the-art storage under Bryant Park — preserving them for generations to come. This proposal aligns with the Library’s programmatic vision, offering even more space for books and educational and cultural programming for all.
Most important in all this is our commitment to get this project right, and to ensure that it reflects the wisdom of our phenomenal staff, our users, and all who contribute to and advocate on behalf of this remarkable institution. We are excited to continue our conversations with the City, with the public, and with all of you as we further develop our plans.
I write with an update on the 42nd Street Renovation. Several months ago, we shared with staff and externally that the Library was committed to reviewing all aspects of the plan — its programming, the design, and all costs — to ensure that the Renovation was the best possible way to fulfill our three goals: to create an improved space for our largest circulating branch, to provide a superior storage environment for our treasured research collections, and to expand public access to the iconic 42nd Street Library.
As you know, this is a high-profile topic that has been the subject of much public discussion. Accordingly, the New York Times has posted an article reporting that the Library is exploring an evolution of our plans. As we shared with the paper, we have undertaken a very rigorous review of all aspects of the Renovation, and are now in the early stages of entering into conversations with our Trustees and our partners in City government. No final decisions have been reached. That said, we wanted to share the article with you, which may be found at the following link: http://nyti.ms/1o79Sph
Mostly important in all this is our commitment to get this project right, and to have that process led not only by our leadership but by the wisdom of our phenomenal staff and our users. We will continue to provide updates as information is available.
Q: Gertrude Tredwell lived her entire life here until she died in 1933 and many say she’s still floating around, making this what many consider the city’s most haunted house. What is it?
a) Gracie Mansion b) Chelsea Hotel c) Merchant’s House Museum
A: Merchant’s House Museum
Q: Theater people know that this theater is haunted by its namesake, who used to have an apartment at the top of the building. Which theater?
a) The Bernard Jacobs b) The Belasco c) The John Golden
A: The Belasco
Q: A few blocks away, Ziegfeld chorine Olive Thomas (once called the most beautiful girl in the world) died of poison—either by her own hand or another’s. Even after Disney renovated this theater, Thomas is seen here, sometimes with a blue glass bottle (a clue, perhaps). What’s the name of this theater?
a) The Ziegfeld b) The New Amsterdam c) The Benay Venuta
A: The New Amsterdam
Q: This poet hung out at the White Horse Tavern and, even if the legend that he downed 18 whiskies before dying may not be quite right, it makes for good copy. Many claim he’s still around. Name him.
A: Dylan Thomas
Q: Mickey, the ghost that haunts this 1817 building, was a sailor who lived upstairs. It’s been everything from a boarding house to a smuggler’s den to a brothel. It’s now a bar. Name it.
A: Ear Inn
Q: There have been several ghost sightings at the Dakota (it would be surprising if there hadn’t been): a young girl, a young boy, and John Lennon. Rosemary’s Baby was, of course, set here. Who wrote the original novel?
A: Ira Levin
Bonus A: The Alwyn Court
Q: This park is said to have been an Indian burial ground as well as the place where public executions drew reliably large crowds. Which park?
A: Washington Square Park
Q: This restaurant is housed in what was once Aaron Burr’s carriage house and Mr. Burr, as well as his daughter Theodosia, have been seen here. What’s the restaurant?
a) One if By Land, Two if By Sea b) Capsouto Freres c) Il Mulino
A: One if By Land, Two if By Sea
Q: 14 West 10th Street is known as the House of Death. Twenty-two people have died here. It was home to Joel Steinberg, convicted of the beating death of his daughter. It was also home, for about a year, of a beloved author. What’s the name of the novelist who lived here?
music‣ We have a pair of tickets to see Lee Ritenour on June 3 at Iridium in honor of Les Paul's birthday celebration (it would have been his 98th). To enter, email us with ‘Lee’ in the subject line. We’ll announce the winner today by 2pm on our blog.
The winner is: James Eich! Congratulations, we’ll email you the details.