NYC Library Drops Plan to Renovate Branch After Protests

The New York Public Library said it no longer intends to gut its book stacks and create a lending branch within its Fifth Avenue research flagship after community groups, scholars and Mayor Bill de Blasio opposed the plan.

Under a new proposal that administrators plan to present to city officials after a board meeting later this month, the library would instead renovate its largest book-lending branch, the Mid-Manhattan, library President Anthony Marx said.

The old plan would have ripped out a seven-level book stack of steel and cast iron that Scientific American magazine hailed as an engineering marvel when the Beaux-Arts building opened in 1911. The plan sought to draw more people to the iconic marble edifice while saving more than $7 million a year by selling the Mid-Manhattan and another less-used facility nearby.

“When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget,” Marx said today in an e-mail.

The two-block-long building adjacent to Bryant Park features pink marble lions, named Patience and Fortitude by former Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, that guard its front steps. Among the building’s 14 types of marble, some originated from the same Greek quarry used to create the Parthenon.

Mid-Manhattan Branch

It’s the centerpiece of a 92-branch system serving Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, including four research facilities. The city contributed $137 million to its $270 million operating budget this year, a 16 percent reduction from five years ago.

The Mid-Manhattan library, two blocks south of the main branch, draws 1.5 million people a year. It would be renovated and remain a lending library, leaving the main branch intact as a research facility. The New York Times reported the change in plans earlier today.

The Mid-Manhattan branch will receive a new computer lab and an adult-education center, and new book-preserving and comfort-enhancing environmental controls, Marx said.

The main branch renovation will retain the book stacks while reopening rooms that have been closed to the public, more than doubling its exhibition space, and creating an education corridor for teachers, children and teens. About 30 percent of that building is currently open to the public, Marx said last month in an interview.

Plan’s Opposition

Three lawsuits have been filed opposing the old plan. Scholars said it would no longer be the world’s pre-eminent free research institution, raising concerns about a future when about 40 percent of its 9.9 million hard-to-find volumes would be located more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. Neighborhood activists said the money for renovation would be better spent on the system’s 88 overused and underfunded local branches.

De Blasio joined the groups at a protest on the library’s marble steps last July.

In an April 22 statement, the mayor’s office said de Blasio “has been clear that the New York Public Library must provide the public with realistic estimates of the projected costs of any proposed renovation to insure it can be executed within budget; protect the accessibility of all of the library’s facilities and resources so that they’re available to every New Yorker; and ensure that any plan it puts forward strengthens the community branches in the NYPL system as well as its research system.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net Mark Schoifet, Pete Young

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