The New York Public Library to Unveil Renovation Plans For the Schomburg Center at a Ceremonial Groundbreaking

The world-renowned research center will undergo $22 million in improvements, including increased storage and research space, improved programming space, and a new modernized facade 

DECEMBER 18, 2015 -- The New York Public Library will today unveil plans for a $22 million renovation of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, one of the world’s leading research and cultural institutions devoted to the black experience.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the project will be held at 10 a.m. at the Center, a vital part of The New York Public Library that has for 90 years collected, preserved and provided access to one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of materials documenting black life.

“The renovation planned for the Schomburg Center will make its programs, collections, and expert staff more accessible to all: residents of Harlem, researchers from across the globe, and to anyone who wants to learn,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “We are so thankful to those who made this possible, and are excited to get started.”

“One of the Schomburg Center’s core missions is preservation. Everything we do flows from preserving the rich legacy of black people here and around the world,” said Schomburg Director Dr. Khalil Muhammad. “If the building isn’t preserved, if the infrastructure isn’t modernized, then we cannot ensure that our treasures will survive another 90 years. We are so grateful to New York City, the Ford Foundation, and Citi for being major funders of this essential renovation project.”

The multi-year renovation project -- led by Marble Fairbanks Architects, Westerman Construction Company, and the City Department of Design and Construction -- will involve a series of improvements to the Center, including:

  • An increase in square footage of the Center’s popular gift shop, which will be relocated to the front of the building on the ground floor.
  • A complete renovation of the Schomburg’s second floor reading room and an expansion of its Rare Book Collection vault. A new conference room connected to the reading room and improved staff spaces will also be added.
  • The 9,000 square-foot interior of the Schomburg’s landmark building (built in 1905) will receive exterior renovations and have its interior reconfigured to provide improved public areas, a new interactive gallery space for youth and teens, and compact storage for Schomburg’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division and the Art and Artifacts Division.
  • The addition of a high-definition LED signage system in the Schomburg lobby that will be visible on the street, bringing Schomburg’s programming and collections into the Harlem community.
  • Video displays and artifact vitrines will be added to the building’s east façade, allowing for outdoor digital exhibitions.
  • Streetscape and landscape improvements--sidewalk paving, benches, and vegetated landscaping--to give New Yorkers a quiet space to congregate and view the screens and outdoor exhibitions.
  • Upgrades to the Center’s Langston Hughes Auditorium -- including a state-of-the-art sound system and better central controls -- and the Schomburg HVAC system.

The current project is actually phase II of a broader renovation of the Schomburg Center. Phase I was completed in 2007, and included a new lobby and scholar’s center, and a refurbished main reading room. The current phase is expected to be completed in early 2017.

The renovations come at a time of record use at the Schomburg Center: the Center saw a 26 percent increase in overall attendance in the last three years, and a 39 percent increase in program attendance. The Center, celebrating its 90th year, was also awarded the prestigious 2015 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, presented by First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, D.C. in May.

The current phase of the project is made possible with funding from City Councilmember Inez Dickens, the City Council Speaker, the Mayor’s Office, New York State construction grants supported by State Senator Bill Perkins and State Assemblyman Keith Wright, and the Ford Foundation. Additionally, the Schomburg Center received a Federal New Markets Tax Credit towards the project. The $10 million allocation was facilitated by Citi in partnership with Carver Federal Savings Bank, the largest African-American operated bank in the United States. The financing was structured by Monge Capital.

“New York City’s Schomburg Center is one of our city’s treasured research institutions focused on the black experience, and we're proud to provide major support for this center’s essential renovations,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Every New Yorker deserves access to high quality research libraries where they can expand their knowledge and learn more about the rich history of our city’s diverse communities. This renovation will ensure thousands of local residents and visitors will have access to this crown jewel of Harlem for years to come.”

"The Schomburg Center is a critical part of Harlem and of New York City as a whole," said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "This renovation will allow The New York Public Library to continue serving and enriching the surrounding community in the future. The Council is proud to support this effort and I look forward to the continued contributions of the Schomburg Center for many years to come."

“Throughout history, the sons and daughters of Africa have contributed mightily to the global society their wisdom of art, science, culture, and technology,” said Councilmember Inez Dickens. “During that same period our achievements were undermined by people who chose to be closed-minded. Arturo Schomburg sought to chronicle the accomplishments of Blacks around the word in order to educate not only white society but other African decedents who were trapped in colonialist thinking. Over the 90 years of its existence, the Schomburg has amassed the largest collection of works dedicated to the African Diaspora. Through its resources of books, journals, movies, art, and now interactive media, millions can gain a better appreciation for historical figures feared lost to society and time. Today, The New York Public Library and Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad will reintroduce the Schomburg to a new generation who deserve to know our history in order to better understand how we fit within the global community. This groundbreaking will help to expand our knowledge and understanding of the universal truth: all people are created equal and all can do so much good. I am thankful for the support Schomburg received from my colleagues City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assemblyman Keith Wright, and State Senator Bill Perkins, whose efforts help make this day possible.  I also want to thank the Ford Foundation, Citi partnership, and the largest African American bank, Carver Federal Savings Bank for all their financial support in growing this cherished institution.”

“The Schomburg Center is a world-leading center of research and conversation on black culture – a subject that’s key to our borough’s identity as the home of Harlem and the heart of one of our nation’s most diverse cities,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “The capital improvements announced today are a worthy investment in one of our city’s cultural and intellectual treasures.”

“I’m proud to be Chair of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee and part of a Council that significantly invests and expands access to The New York Public Library,” said New York City Council Majority Leader and Chair of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee Jimmy Van Bramer. “This $22 million investment expands access to one of our City’s greatest archives while ensuring the rich legacy of the black experience is preserved for future generations of New Yorkers.”

“Libraries are very important centers of learning for children and adults,” said Council Member Andy King, Chair of the Subcommittee on Libraries. “By renovating and modernizing the Schomburg Center, the facility becomes even more inviting for New Yorkers and tourists to visit and experience the world’s leading source of African-American and African Diasporic culture.”

“There is no more valuable gift we can leave the future than lessons from the past,” said Gina Nisbeth, Director of Citi Community Capital. “Utilizing the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, Citi is honored to provide part of the needed financing to house, preserve, and display the rich American legacy available at the Schomburg Center so that it may be shared with neighborhood school children and world-renowned scholars alike for generations to come.”

The Schomburg Center is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem.

The Library is grateful to Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Inez E. Dickens, former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the New York State Education Department and the Ford Foundation for their support of this project, as well as Citi and Carver Bank for participating in New Markets Tax Credit financing.

For more information, please contact:

Adenike Olanrewaju,