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Reimagining The New York Public Library

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Frequently Asked Questions 

 

“I keep getting appeals from the library saying that if City funding is cut, branches will have to reduce hours, cut book acquisition, etc. Yet the ‘re-imagining’ plans described on your site will clearly cost billions, and speak of expanding hours, services, technology, etc. Is the library rich or poor?”

Susan E. Fridie, a regular NYPL patron who got her first library card in 1958.

 

The New York Public Library operates four research facilities and 87 neighborhood libraries, and has both short- and long-term financial needs. The plan for 42nd Street is an investment for the future. It is a way for us to ensure that our libraries remain strong for years to come. That is why the plan’s financial benefits are so important, supporting both collection development, staffing, and other priorities over time.

The Central Library Plan is estimated to cost about $300 million, not billions. And no, the Library is not “rich,” with that money at our disposal.  The cost would be paid for by real estate sales and public money earmarked for the plan; without the plan, that money is not available. In addition, the plan will eventually create up to $15 million per year in additional resources for the Library (from operating savings out of the consolidation of three buildings, as well as added endowment income). This money can be used for library priorities, from research curators to branch needs. To ensure that our libraries are strong in increasingly difficult financial times, we have to make smart, strategic decisions, and this plan is one of them.

Still, the immediate reality is that we do have very significant operating costs to worry about, especially as we face proposed City budget cuts that would greatly impact the branch libraries. As part of its original pact with Andrew Carnegie, the City is committed to funding the branches.

Unfortunately, the City has gone through difficult financial times, and while the Mayor and City Council have worked to maintain adequate funding for the branches, the reality is that the Library has been cut $23.7 million since Fiscal Year 2008, or 16 percent. We have also lost hundreds of employees through attrition who have not been replaced.

The harsh reality is that the Library — which is in the business of providing programs, books, computer sessions, and so on for free — has high operating costs and is mired in a tough economic climate. We are trying to survive budget cuts in the short term (and we need the public’s help) but with the Central Library Plan we are also working to create a more viable and sustainable economic model for the future. In doing so, we are also solving two huge problems — stacks that no longer protect our collections at 42nd Street, and a crumbling Midtown branch that needs replacing. To fix these issues — while also planning for the future at a time when libraries are more important than ever — is a key responsibility we are taking very seriously.

 

Why is The New York Public Library undergoing change now?

 
The New York Public Library — just like all libraries across the world — is facing a critical moment in which our role and services must evolve for the Information Age. People need libraries for free access to knowledge and ideas more than ever, and we must meet that need with nothing short of a reimagining of the one educational institution that serves us all.
 
For example, published reports show that 3,500 New York City students eligible for after-school tutoring will be left without access. The number of available tutoring slots has dropped from 85,000 to 27,000 in the past three years alone. The Library — which has branches in communities across the city — can help meet that need by offering extended learning.
 
In another example, about 500,000 people, or 20 percent of the population in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island (the boroughs NYPL serves), lack English proficiency, with only 60,000 ESOL class spots available in the entire city. The Library can expand its ESOL offerings in branches to help New Yorkers learn, grow, and succeed.
 
Can you explain your recent capital expenditures, particularly for the project to transform the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building?
 
In a continuing effort to improve service and meet user needs, as well as enhance our branches as critically important community hubs, we have already invested $300 million in 50 branches across our system in the past 10 years. In the past two years alone, we have opened totally renovated High Bridge (Bronx) and St. Agnes (Manhattan) libraries, a brand-new Battery Park City Library (Manhattan), and a new and very much improved Kingsbridge Library (Bronx). Over the next year, we plan to open a new Mariners Harbor Library (Staten Island) and renovated Stapleton (Staten Island) and Washington Heights (Manhattan) libraries. This is just a small sampling of the work we have been doing and continue to do to enhance branches throughout the system that are all part of the Library for the Future plan. We anticipate an additional $125 million to $150 million for branch renovations and other capital projects over the next five years.
 
As part of this overall plan, we are planning to create a reimagined central branch costing about $300 million. The plan would allow us to better preserve our research materials, consolidate our three Midtown locations, open up the Schwarzman Building even more to the public, enhance the research process for scholars, and save money over time. The City has supported this vision, understanding the benefits to the entire city and earmarking capital funding specifically for this project.
 
The reimagining of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and the rest of our library system is not just a capital effort, but will include an analysis of community needs and an expansion of critically important educational and cultural programming for both children and adults in New York City. The Library’s vision includes extended school-day programs, expanded ESOL and literacy programs, and a new technology education curriculum developed by staff, among other ideas. The Library is preparing to launch this effort with a series of pilot programs; read more about that here.
 
Where is the money coming from for the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building project?
 
The proposal in development involves funding from city sources, real estate sales, and private donations.
 
What will happen to the Science, Industry and Business and Mid-Manhattan libraries? Are they closing? What will happen to books, collections, staff, and programs?
 
Both the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and the Mid-Manhattan Library — including their collections, books, staff, services, and programming — would be moved into the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. By combining these three key Midtown libraries, we are not only ensuring better and more efficient service for our patrons, but we are also reinforcing the Schwarzman Building as the intellectual hub of New York City. Currently, only about 30 percent of visitors to the Schwarzman Building use the collections, as compared to 70 percent and 50 percent at Mid-Manhattan and SIBL, respectively.
 
Despite combining the three libraries, we anticipate the new Stephen A. Schwarzman Building could actually offer approximately 20,000 square feet of additional public space over that currently available in all three libraries put together. The number of visitors to the new Schwarzman Building will likely triple, and the percentage of people using the collections will soar.
 
The SIBL and Mid-Manhattan buildings would be sold once the new Schwarzman Building has opened.
 
Will the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building still be a research library? How will the process for accessing research materials change?
 
Yes, it will still be a world-class research library. Proposed additions including providing more dedicated spaces for up to 500 NYPL-affiliated writers and scholars, doubling the capacity and enhancing the Library’s research services. As for research materials, we anticipate at least 1.5 million research volumes will remain on-site, along with millions of other items, including 40,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 250,000 prints, 450,000 maps, close to 1 million photos, and more. The 6 million items stored off-site would be available within 24 hours, and certain materials could be requested for online delivery. Of course, the iconic Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam R. Rose Main Reading Room, as well as special collections rooms, will remain.
 
Are you moving out all of the stacks? Why?
 
For improved preservation, we are considering moving out stacks built in 1911 that are currently under the Rose Main Reading Room and which are outdated in terms of conservation technology. The Library currently has a research collection that includes items stored off-site for both space and preservation reasons, so as we think about continuing that practice, we are involving teams of experts to determine which items must stay on-site. All told, a reimagined Stephen A. Schwarzman Building would hold at least 2 million volumes.
 
Are you moving out all of the books?
 
No. An entire circulating collection that the public can borrow and browse will be added to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. In addition, of up to 5 million research collections volumes currently housed at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 2 to 3 million could be moved to a state-of-the-art preservation facility. At least 1.5 million volumes would remain in our underground stacks and storage facility, which opened in 1991 under Bryant Park. Library curators would determine which categories of research volumes are used most often and would stay (last year, only about 300,000 of 5 million volumes were requested). At moments when those other items are needed, they will be available within 24 hours. It is important to note that the Library already houses 3.5 million materials at off-site storage facilities, so this is an expansion of an already existing service.
 
What will replace the stacks?
 
Books! Actually, an entire circulating library — which would be the largest in the country — including books, computers (a survey of NYPL users showed that 40 percent want more computers), community spaces, and so on, would be moved into the building and allow the public to actually check out and browse books from the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on a large scale for the first time in decades (the building does currently have a circulating children’s room). Altogether, once the construction is complete, there would likely be 2 to 3 million books in the Schwarzman Building. So even with general research materials moved to a more appropriate, existing facility, we would keep a huge number of books in the building, moving toward the original vision of the building as a democratized “People’s Palace.”
 
Does this have to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process?
 
No, it does not. However, certain design elements could possibly need to go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which requires at least one public hearing, and presentations before local community boards.
 
 
 
Will construction be done during the day, and will the Library need to be closed at any point during the course of the project?
 
Yes, construction — which, pending all approvals, could start in 2013 — will be done during the day. However, the most disruptive work — such as noisy work — will be scheduled for hours when the library is closed. The goal is to complete the project as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to the public. It is possible that the 42nd Street entrance of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building could be closed for short periods of time during the construction process, but it is too early to tell. (It should be noted that necessary renovations to Mid-Manhattan Library would otherwise require the closing of our largest branch library for years, at a cost of up to $200 million.)
 
Is NYPL working on any virtual or digital initiatives?
 
Yes, The New York Public Library has been working actively in the digital arena for many years, launching major online resources such as the Digital Gallery and In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience. Our strategy is twofold: to accelerate the growth of our digital collections and to build tools that will empower new forms of digitally enabled research, exploration, and lifelong learning around collections and content. More recent endeavors, such as NYPL's iPad app and website Biblion and NYPL Lab’s “What’s On the Menu?” project, reflect our goal of inviting deep community participation. We have many prototypes in the works, so keep watching this page for updates.
 

 

We want to hear from YOU! Join the conversation about NYPL’s plan to build the Library for the Future and let us know what is important to you. Don’t forget to check back often for more information and for more ways to contribute input. You can also sign up for NYPL News, the Library's monthly e-newsletter, to get updates on this project and other Library happenings.