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Update on the Renovation of the 42nd Street Library


July 8, 2013

We write to share some updates on the renovation of the 42nd Street Library. 

Restoring and Improving a Great Library.  The 42nd Street Library was built to serve many critical roles for our city – and, indeed, our nation.  Itself a work of art, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is simultaneously a premier free research library and a showcase for citizens to learn from our treasured collections, including millions of books.  It was also designed to house a circulating library for patrons.  Today, the building is falling short of its mission:  books have resided in inadequate storage conditions (and are degrading at five times the rate of materials in more modern storage); its circulating function was moved offsite to a space that is now substandard; and the Library’s services for scholars deserve improvement and expansion.  The renovation of the 42nd Street Library will restore this iconic building to the grandeur that New Yorkers expect, providing an unparalleled experience for scholars, circulating patrons and visitors.

A Thorough and Responsive Public Process.  The New York Public Library has recognized that the renovation is a complex project that deserves thorough public deliberation, which will in turn help improve the ultimate design and program.  This project was introduced in 2008, when the NYPL presented to city leaders and the public.  Fast-forwarding to September 2012, in response to concerns from the scholarly community, the Library announced that it would greatly expand the number of research volumes kept at 42nd Street. In December 2012, the Library released preliminary renderings of the new circulating library design in anticipation of public hearings at the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Board 5.  In January 2013, CB5 overwhelmingly approved the Library’s plans to proceed with the renovation, and Landmarks approved the proposed changes covered by the city’s landmarks law.

2013 Listening Process.   Upon the release of the schematic renderings, the NYPL began an extended period of collecting feedback from the public.  Over the past six months, the Library has met with a wide variety of architects, historic preservation groups, community activists, and city and state officeholders. Most recently, NYPL President Tony Marx testified at a public hearing of the State Assembly’s Libraries and Education Technology Committee, chaired by Assemblyman Micah Kellner, taking questions and listening to a wide range of testimony.  Throughout it all, NYPL has continued to offer interviews and tours to local and national media.

Our Most Recent Update.   In late June, NYPL President Tony Marx shared a number of updates. First, that in response to the feedback we have gathered over the past six months, the Library is working with Foster & Partners on revised designs to ensure that the next iteration of plans for the circulating library includes even more of the original stacks.  Second, NYPL shared that it expects the next round of designs to be ready for public release in fall 2013. Finally, acknowledging concerns that have been raised as to whether the Library has engaged in sufficient due diligence, NYPL volunteered to secure and release cost reviews of alternative options, including renovating the stacks and renovating the Mid-Manhattan Library, plus a second cost estimate for the overall renovation project. 

Approvals Will Precede Construction.  The main construction work for the renovation will not start until the deliberative and approval process has run its course. This includes obtaining all relevant city and state approvals, and the completion of the city’s environmental review. The Library did recently submit applications to the city for approval of plans for early, preparatory construction work, yet even this work will not begin until the appropriate approvals have been secured.  Related, the renovation will not impact historic public spaces in the Library, such as the Rose Main Reading Room, and will more than double the amount of public space available in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The Library has instructed its construction team that the Schwarzman Building must remain open throughout the renovation process.

Improving Research Services.  The only work the NYPL is engaged in now is improvement to its research service.  We have barcoded our research volumes and moved them to better preservation environments, both on- and off-site, while keeping the heaviest-used volumes close at hand. We are also focusing on improving retrieval time for off-site material, and we are exploring additional ways we can support the research community with improved access to manuscripts and archives and global studies, collaborative digital collection building, and more independent study space.  Irrespective of the renovation of the 42nd Street Library this work will continue to be a priority, and will be informed by formal and informal meetings with members of the research community.

The Road Ahead.  The New York Public Library serves millions of New Yorkers and our 42nd Street building is an iconic gem – and a world-class research facility.  We will continue to collect feedback and work tirelessly to make sure that the renovation achieves the important objectives of improving service for the scholarly community, preserving the library’s collections for future generations, and providing a state of the art circulating and business library – all while generating more funds for the entire NYPL system, to support more books, librarians and services.