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Your Library Needs You!

Testimony of NYPL President Tony Marx to the New York City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations

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SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 -- Good morning, I am Tony Marx, President of The New York Public Library (NYPL).  Joining me are David Offensend, the Library’s Chief Operating Officer, and Mary Lee Kennedy, Chief Library Officer. The NYPL system provides library services to the boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, as well as the research libraries for the entire City. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Before I begin, I would like to thank committee chairs, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Vincent Gentile, and the members of the committee for your support.
 
The New York Public Library is the nation’s largest public library system and accordingly it has never been and cannot be stagnant.  From a facilities perspective this is especially true.  Through the decades we’ve built buildings, sold buildings, and renovated buildings – as needs arise and modernization becomes necessary and eventually possible.  Today’s hearing appropriately focuses on the capital construction needs of this City’s three library systems.   I hope to highlight for you the work the NYPL has done and continues to do, to strive to meet the needs of those we serve as best we can with our resources.
 
A Thriving Environment for Libraries
 
Today’s libraries are about far more than just books. We are hubs of education and culture.  And we serve everyone.   That means we provide free services and programs for children and teens, immigrants and seniors, New Yorkers who lack access to broadband at home, people who need literacy services, New Yorkers who are actively looking for jobs and small business owners. 
We are also operating libraries amidst a digital revolution. The world of knowledge and information, and how people access that information both physically and virtually, is rapidly changing. The NYPL has undertaken the replacement of all desktops and laptops at its locations, as well as the upgrading of software, wi-fi and technology-related electrical infrastructure. This 5-year project called “Next Generation Desktop” is currently in its second year. It will cost approximately $15 million, with funding coming from the City and Federal government, as well as private sources. Second to longer hours, more computers is the top request of library users – and we are meeting this challenge. 
 
We have also launched three exciting new program expansions over the last year in response to the growing needs of our communities. 
  • The first is an expansion of our offerings of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.  Beginning in the summer of 2012, NYPL expanded its ESOL offerings from 17 to 28 sites and serves 6,400 class seats per year.  
  • The second program, NYPL TechConnect, was launched in April, and represents a new, streamlined technology curriculum.   NYPL TechConnect consists of 6 new technology labs with dedicated instruction space as well as technology training at more than 60 locations.    
  • Finally, today, the Library is officially launching formal after school programming pilots, serving over 2,000 students. These are very exciting pilots, offering enhanced homework help, project-based learning focused on Common Core standards, and credit-bearing courses for high school students to work with younger children on literacy. Additionally, with a generous $15 million gift from the Helen Gurley Brown Trust, we are launching a new educational program called NYPL BridgeUp.  This innovative program will offer services to 250 at-risk eighth-graders annually.
 
Capital Investment:  Building New Libraries, Restoring Old Libraries
 
Meanwhile, as we’re doing all this, the Library is challenged with an aging and, in some cases, failing infrastructure.   Many library locations were either built in the first half of the 20th century or are newer libraries with deferred maintenance and in desperate need of repair. System-wide capital needs aggregate hundreds of millions of dollars and far exceed annual capital allocations, making it difficult for the Library to provide the visitor experience our users deserve. 
 
Each year, the City provides approximately $10 billion in capital funding for thousands of projects, for everything from schools, to roads, to senior centers and parks, as well as libraries. These capital appropriations are allocated by the Mayor, City Council and Borough President’s in the City’s adopted budget.  As you are aware, there is no dedicated capital fund to address the ongoing maintenance needs, including boilers, roofs, windows, facades, air conditioning and technology, of the City’s 214 public libraries.  Every year we come to the Mayor, Speaker, Borough Presidents and Council Members and ask for funding.  With the generous support of a number of our elected officials, we are able to piece together the funds to make much-needed capital enhancements. Unfortunately, it is never enough to address all of our infrastructure needs. 
 
Despite this inefficient capital funding process, over the past decade alone, we have invested over $300 million in dozens of projects in 50 locations throughout our system, and we anticipate investing at least another $125 million over the next five years.  Most of this spending is to maintain all our existing facilities but some is for expansions and new facilities.   
Here are some of the highlights of the work we have completed over the last decade, and work that is ongoing:
 
Completed:
  • Reopening Stapleton. We fully restored the original, historic Carnegie building that was built in 1907, turning the original space into a dedicated children’s room and expanding the branch by building a modern, light-filled 7,000 sq. ft. addition that has more than doubled the branch’s library space to better serve this growing community on Staten Island.
  • Branch additions in Manhattan include the Mulberry Street library in Soho, which opened its doors in May 2007, and the brand new Battery Park City library, which opened in March 2010. Mulberry Street is a 12,000 sq. ft. branch that now serves over 160,000 patrons and circulates more than 300,000 materials each year. And the new state-of-the-art Battery Park City library was constructed with a focus on environmental sustainability and was our first “green” library in Manhattan. In FY12, this branch received 186,637 visits and circulated 289,734 materials.
  • We completed a major renovation of the St. Agnes branch on the Upper West Side, an original Carnegie building. Attendance at the branch doubled following the renovation.
  • The Bronx has also benefited from a number of major projects. We opened the brand new Kingsbridge library in June 2011. This 12,600 sq. ft. library replaced and older building that was nearly 6,000 square-feet smaller.
  • We also opened the Bronx Library Center in January 2006. With five floors and 78,000 square feet of space, it is the largest library in the Bronx. This building replaced the old and crumbling Fordham Library.
  • And in May 2010, the High Bridgelibrary reopened to the public after a major renovation. With an additional 2,100 sq. ft., the branch now boasts expanded adult and children’s areas and a new community room.
 
In Progress:
  • On Staten Island, we’re nearing completion of the new Mariner’s Harbor branch. The branch will include 10,000 sq. ft. of library space.
  • In Manhattan, we are close to finishing a major renovation and update of our Washington Heights branch. The first and second floors have been renovated to include new children, teen, and adult spaces. The branch has also received an ADA upgrade.
  • Also in Manhattan will be a new space for the 53rd Street Library.  In 2007, the Library agreed to sell the building housing the Donnell branchso that it could be replaced with a new library in the same location.  We are elated to report that the project is moving forward and a new library is expected to open in 2015.  As to why the library sold this building:  in addition to operating as a branch library, Donnell contained the library’s IT staff, plus various collections (world languages, historic children’s books and a media collection) and a central children’s library and a teen library.  The new building will be devoted solely to being a community library branch as we’ve relocated other services and collections to locations that make far better use of those services and collections.  The amount of public space available for general patron use in the new 53rd Street library will in fact be approximately the same as its Donnell predecessor (15,200 square feet v. 16,000 square feet).
 
Planned:
  • To complete our branch expansions on Staten Island, we’re working with the City’s Economic Development Corporation to include a new branch as part of a larger development project. The new Rossville branch will be approximately 11,000 sq. ft. and will serve this quickly growing community on the Island.
  • In Manhattan, we’re in the process of relocating the Roosevelt Island branch into a new space that will be double the size of the old branch and better-equipped to meet the demand for library services on the island.
  • We’re also currently in Phase II of a major renovation at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In 2007, we completed Phase I, which created a new lobby and scholar’s center and refurbished its reading room.
  • In the Bronx, we have three major renovations on the horizon including a renovation at Woodstock, an expansion at Woodlawn Heights, and a new Westchester Square.
 
However, even with these tremendous improvements, the Library still continues to have significant capital needs that are not fully met by current funding sources.  As a result, we have had to find ways to be more efficient with less money and find creative solutions to improve library service for all of our users. 
 
Creative Solutions to Better Serve a Growing Public
 
Decreasing Non Public Library Space
 
Over the past decade the Library has been reviewing all of its facilities across the three boroughs we serve, to figure out better ways to align our facilities with the best possible service to our users. We discovered that many of our facilities required modernization, many had far too much space allocated to non-public uses, some facilities had significantly underutilized space, and some services were poorly located for optimal access.  These findings precipitated a series of changes to improve and enhance spaces that are open to the public and to reduce underutilized and nonpublic spaces.
 
An example:  for approximately 50 years NYPL owned a warehouse on West 43th Street that was used for sorting, processing, distribution and storage.  Concluding that this work was much better suited in a state-of-the-art facility in an area with much lower real estate costs, the Library sold the building to the NYC Department of Education, which will be building a new school at the site.  From that sale and significant support from the City we created the Library Services Center in Long Island City, Queens. We have immense pride in this new facility. It provides the Library with its first central location for cataloguing, processing, digitizing, preserving and distributing materials.
 
Perhaps most exciting is our partnership at the facility with the Brooklyn Public Library – as our two systems are now for the first time combining resources to accomplish our shared needs – saving us millions annually, so we can spend more on books, librarians and library programs. 
 
Another example: the gorgeous Schwarzman Building, nicknamed “the people’s palace” has, over the years, housed library staff serving important roles – but those jobs don’t need to be located in that building.  So, starting this fall we’re moving the development, legal, web, capital planning and other teams across the street, together for the first time, so we can open this space to the public. 
 
Growing Public Space in Existing Library Facilities
 
The other side of this coin is, importantly, over the past eight years, the amount of public square footage we have provided to patrons has increased by over 91,000 sq feet (see attachment – “More Public Space and More Libraries”). This number will rise even more as a result of the 42nd Street renovation.   And the number of open NYPL facilities has increased from 86 to 91.  That’s more space for reading, learning and convening – allowing the Library to do an ever better job of serving New Yorkers. 
 
42nd Street Renovation
 
I would now like to talk about our largest capital project, the renovation of our Stephen A Schwarzman building at 42nd Street. This exciting project will restore the 42nd Street location to its original mission as both a great research facility and a state-of the-art circulating library, while preserving, improving and increasing public spaces and enhancing research services. It will also allow us to better preserve our historic materials.  
 
As observers of the Library know, the renovation of the 42nd Street Library is a complex project.  In terms of building changes, the renovation involves (1) moving out about 100 non-public service staff from the Schwarzman Building, so we can significantly increase the amount of public space in the building (2) building a new Mid-Manhattan Library (MML), as the circulating library will return to the 42nd Street building, where it resided for the first 72 years of the building’s 102 year history; and (3) building a new Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), as those services will also return to the Schwarzman Building.  At the same time, with private funds, we will be expanding the book storage beneath Bryant Park, so we can safeguard our collections.
 
Again, as I mentioned earlier, this project will result in more public space than the three existing midtown buildings combined, 96,000 compared to 81,000 (see attachment – “Space Comparison”).  This will allow us to increase space and services for researchers and writers, expand our children’s library and create a new teen library.
 
Additionally, the heavily used MML is badly deteriorated. Its patrons need better space.  While the 42nd Street building is magnificent, it has a serious inadequacy - the seven floors of bookshelves under the Rose Main Reading Room where the research books that were housed in those stacks have suffered without modern temperature and humidity controls.  By moving the research books into proper storage, the Library can better preserve these materials for the future, meanwhile freeing up space in the 42nd Street building in which to create a new circulating library to replace MML and SIBL. At the same time, the historic spaces within the building – such as the Rose Main Reading Room –will not be altered.
 
With more public spaces, the integration of circulating services and an opportunity to reimagine Library as place, the 42nd Street renovation project opens up our ability for every person to use the building, to use even more public space than the three combined today, and to leverage the resources in the building for every person throughout New York City.  
 
We are committed to securing third party estimates for this project and are currently in the process of obtaining these.  We are also working with the City on an environmental review process.
 
Conclusion
 
As you can see, these are exciting and challenging times for libraries. Libraries are being challenged to meet the growing demand for their services with less public funding and an aging infrastructure. In addition, we are being forced to rethink our missions in order to stay current in the digital age.  We are meeting the challenges head on.
 
What drives me and my colleagues across our library system is providing unmatched library services to the millions of users who depend on us every day.  Our most important metrics are users, circulation, and program attendance – all of which I’m elated to report are up and growing.  Being strategic in how we use our facilities is a very important means for achieving these results – and, again, we are proud to share that the Library is increasing the amount of square footage available to patrons, and is increasing the number of branches in the system.  We are proud of what has been accomplished and even more excited about what lies ahead.
 
Again, thank you Chairs Van Bramer and Gentile and members of the Committee for holding this hearing on this very important topic and for your ongoing support of libraries.
 
I remain available to answer any questions you may have.

  

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