Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Great libraries have been destroyed by natural disasters, conquest and revolutions. Never has a great library been destroyed by its administrators. If the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan is implemented, we will witness such a catastrophe! Irresponsible administrators and trustees of the New York Public Library are planning the emasculation and evisceration of one of New York City’s premiere cultural institutions and landmark structures - The New York Public Library’s 42nd Street Research Library. How could this  have happened?

A NYPL “Staff Briefings on New Strategy dated March 2008,” states in part, “The new strategy: Fundamentally transform NYPL to drive increased use through better integrated service ...” Among “Facilities Plan Goals” it states “Make our Fifth Avenue building a greater international destination.” It further proposes, “A New Central Library, Move books to high-density stacks under Bryant Park ... Remove stacks ... Repurpose space for multilevel circulating library ... Draft Concept: Not a Design Plan.” 

This document further outlines a “$1.2 Billion Funding Strategy” with an accompanying Time Line from 2007 to 2014. Listed were “Benefits to NYPL:  A spectacular new library, A greater international destination in the heart of New York, Seamless service for all users in a single building, Better service through fewer service points. A more welcoming venue with inviting reading rooms, easier-to-access materials, expert guidance, better exhibition spaces, cafes, lounges, and computer labs.” It further states these objectives: “Increase visitorship to 3.5 million or more annually ... Put the People’s Palace back the center of New Yorker’s lives.”

On October 22, 2008, The New York Times reported that  “Norman Foster, the eminent British architect who has made something of a specialty out of inserting contemporary designs into historic buildings, has been selected for a renovation of the New York Public Library's  landmark 1911 main building, on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets.”

Over a four-year period, the NYPL never provided detailed plans; however, its few pronouncements were threatening. Alarm bells rang in many quarters. In 2012, The Committee to Save the New York Public Library was formed and circulated a petition obtaining signatures from over 1,000 notable authors and cultural leaders.  On May 24, 2012, there was a forum at The New School, “The Future of the New York Public Library” in which supporters and critics debated  what was publicly known of the plan.

Finally on December 12, 2102, a press release was issued: “The New York Public Library's Central Library Plan Takes Next Step With Release of Schematic Designs.” A printed brochure was made available and a video detailing the “Central Library Plan,” could be seen in The Library’s Astor Court and on its website.  http://www.nypl.org/clp

How are we to interpret four years of virtual silence followed by the sudden disclosure of a full-fledged plan of emasculation (books) and evisceration (architecture)? It appears that the administration and trustees are revising the mission of the institution with which they are associated to its detriment. Granted that cultural institutions must evolve in relation to societal transformations, such signals can be read differently. The NYPL staff and trustees have chosen to practice cultural denigration. 

According to the March 2008 document, they envision: “A greater international destination in the heart of New York ... cafes, lounges, and computer labs ... Increase visitorship to 3.5 million or more annually ... “ This announced policy promotes the lowest common denominators of cultural engagement at the expense of intellectual and cultural speculation.  We must ask: to what end are these policies being pursued?

Above top: New York Public Library Stacks, c. 1910. Above below: Central Library Plan stack replacement.

Ada Louise Huxtable, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2012

“There is no more important landmark building in New York than the New York Public Library, known to New Yorkers simply as the 42nd Street Library, one of the world's greatest research institutions. Completed in 1911 by Carrère and Hastings in a lavish classical Beaux Arts style, it is an architectural masterpiece. Yet it is about to undertake its own destruction. The library is on a fast track to demolish the seven floors of stacks just below the magnificent, two-block-long Rose Reading Room for a $300 million restructuring referred to as the Central Library Plan.

“Not surprisingly (except to the library), the plan is highly controversial. For most critics it's about devaluing the primary purpose of a research library by reducing the accessibility of its resources. ... 

"The plan would consolidate three libraries—moving the popular Mid-Manhattan circulating library (just across Fifth Avenue at 40th Street) and the underused Science, Industry and Business branch (in a 34th Street building that runs from Fifth to Madison Avenues) back into the main building to eliminate substantial operating costs. Two million to three million of the five million volumes in the stacks—including the more specialized material many of us depend on, and referred to by the library as the "least used" books—would be moved to Siberia. (Excuse me, to New Jersey, where the offsite storage is located.) Books would be returned in an optimistically estimated but unreliable 24 hours, by truck, on the traffic-jammed New Jersey Turnpike.” 


On May 23, 1895, an agreement consolidating three separate libraries was signed 
that gave birth to “The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden
Foundations,” to establish and maintain a free public library and reading room in
the City of New York.” Concurrently, with a gift of $1,000,000 from Andrew Carnegie, 
the branch system of neighborhood libraries in Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten
Island, was added. The former Croton Reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd
Street became the site for a new central library which opened to the public
on May 23, 1911.

From its origination, The New York Public Library has been a bifurcated institution having a central research library associated with numerous branch libraries in Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island serving distinctly different audiences. The central 42nd Street Library has served generations of authors, scholars, business executives, some college students and many graduate students. The branch libraries have cultivated different audiences, often within the neighborhoods in which they are located. They offer information-oriented library services, cultural programming and community services. 

In their muddled thinking, the NYPL administration wants to expand the neighborhood library profile at the 42nd Street Library and reduce the central research library functions. 

One is compelled to ask: "to what end?"

As indicated above in Ada Louise Huxtable’s article in the Wall Street 
Journal and confirmed by NYPL officials, in order to make room for new 
public facilities, it would be necessary to move half of the three million 
volumes currently in the stacks located below the main reading room, 
to storage space in New Jersey. The library has since received a grant
to store some of them in an existing space under Bryant Park. Millions 
of books will eventually be sent to a storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey.
The New Jersey Turnpike will replace the conveyor belt delivering books to 
the Rose Reading Room. How is one to read this? What is the message? 
Are extensive collections of books no longer considered to be an important 
resource for a major research library? 

These books are classified by the administration as those that are 
“least used.” It is the nature and purpose of a research library to have 
an abundance of such books in its collection. Researchers of all stripes 
see these books as essential to their investigations and pursuit of knowledge.

In line with the NYPL’s continuing deceit, it was recently heard that all of the books have been removed from the seven floors of stacks and sent to a warehouse facility in The Bronx. There has yet-to-be confirmation from The Library.

With removal of the heart of the library, its stacks for book storage, the space 
will be converted into a pseudo shopping mall with attendant facilities like 
coffee shops, lounges and gift shops. When I last visited the Astor Court, I 
spoke to several people asking them if they were regular library users. They 
replied that they were out-of-town visitors who came to see Astor Court 
where Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City was to be married. This appears 
to be the audience courted by the Central Library Plan.

In attempting to understand what has become the program of The New York Public Library, it is no longer viewed by its administration and trustees as a cultural institution. Rather, it appears that it is being transformed into an entertainment and consumer complex in which books play an increasingly less significant role.  Why are these least used books being treated with such disdain? 

Having accepted denigration of public culture as a guiding principle, the administration and trustees of the Library acknowledge that the new audiences that they are courting are not interested in the least used books, nor do these people care about the accessibility or the fate of these books.

On March 28, 2013, The Museum of Modern Art held a symposium related to its “Henri Labrouste” architecture exhibition. In one of the panel discussions, Dominique Perrault, architect of the recently completed Bibliotheque Nationale de France, was asked how they dealt with homeless people, a common problem in American libraries. With disdain, he said, “We don’t allow them in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. They go to the library at the Centre Pompidou.” Perhaps this is more of a class distinction than Americans like to make, but he articulated the clear separation of functions and audiences between research libraries and neighborhood libraries.

Recently, President Marx sent an email to all library members extolling his success in arriving at a formula with five major book publishers to make their ebooks available to NYPL users. The next day, the contents of his letter appeared on the op-ed page of The New York Times. Granted that this is a positive development in relation to providing library services to broader audiences, this bears no correlation to the fate of the least used books. The Library staff and trustees fail to recognize that they serve differentiated audiences who require differentiated services. Rather, they have created a smoke screen camouflaging their intents. 

On the one hand, they claim lack of funding for staff and book purchases. On the other hand, they speak of requiring billions to effect a planned transformation. The most obvious criticism to be made of the staff and trustees is a total lack of coherence in their plans. 


Above: Architectural Eviscerator Daniel Leibiskind’s adaptation of  a 19th century building in Dresden as a military museum. Below : View of 19th century Dresden.


Above: Baron Foster of Thames Bank, 2010. Below: Remodeled Great Court of The British Museum, 2012.

“In 2008, the Library announced the selection of the famous British architect Norman Foster to undertake a vast project to replace the stacks under the Rose Reading Room with a new circulating library that is now housed in the Mid-Manhattan Library, Fifth Avenue and 40th Street. The books now housed in that space will be moved to the stack space created in the late 1980’s under Bryant park. At its inception the project was expected to cost $250 million.” Page 46, The New York Public Library, Henry Hope Reed and Francis Morrone, WW Norton and Company,  2011. 

Without question, Foster is one of the world’s most distinguished architects. He has received numerous awards. He and his firm (1,300 employees) command respect for both technical and design innovations. In New York he is best known for the stunning metal and glass tower that he perched atop the flat non-distinctive Hearst Magazines building at West 57th Street and Eighth Avenue.

Although he designed the new Great Court at the British Museum, architectural renovation is not his strongest card. The British Museum project gets mixed reviews. While technically innovative, it is felt that he neglected to respect the architecture of the historic building. His evisceration here, perhaps not as spectacularly brutal as Daniel Leibskind’s historic building in Dresden, Foster’s British Museum project suffers from a neglect of and detachment from the humanism of the institution while favoring  technological feats. He  is said to be the wealthiest architect in the world. 

Some might want to cast Foster as a villain; he is only the hired gun taking orders
from the NYPL administrators and trustees. They dictate the program and he provides 
the design solution. In this case, he is being given compromised directions, so he cannot  
create a good design.


It is not a legally punishable crime in American society; however, such offenses can
be tried in the court of public opinion. 

Great cities germinate great libraries. The New York Public Library, as it currently exists, contributes to New York’s preeminence as the cultural capital of the world. An emasculated, eviscerated library threatens New York’s future as a magnet for creative people in the arts, commerce, communications, science, and many other currently established constituencies. 

At a panel discussion held at The New School in May 2012, the subjects of 
books was the main focus. Joan Wallach Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor, 
School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 
presented a petition signed by one thousand writers, scholars and artists 
protesting the plan. Anthony Marx, President and CEO of the Library, and 
Robert Darnton, an NYPL trustee, Professor at Harvard University and director 
of the Harvard University Library, defended the plan. Both said that the Library 
was in dire financial straits, stating that since 2008 the number of curators had 
been reduced from 64 to 51, while annual book acquisitions had declined from 
$15 million to $11 million. There was no attempt to correlate these figures with
a total estimated renovation cost of $300 million. Of that, Mayor Bloomberg has 
offered $150 million in New York City funds. 

According to the NYPL chairman, Neil L. Rudenstein, the budget plan for the 
Central Library Plan is preliminary and imprecise. The Library has suggested 
that the plan would produce $15 million in savings a year, allowing the library 
to extend hours, acquire more books and hire more librarians system-wide. 
These are the same kind of mumbo jumbo arguments used by the George 
W. Bush administration to sell the country on the disastrous Iraq war. Similarly, 
the Board of the NYPL and its administrators are playing a hidden missile 
deception game with the citizens of New York. They are hiding their budget 
figures so that no one can correlate the estimated costs and cost benefits of 
the Central Library Plan with reality. Most of this looks like Swiss cheese. The 
millions of books in the library’s collection are being held hostage to financial 
chicanery being practiced by the NYPL board and administrative staff.

The proposed denigration and destruction of the 42nd Street Library must be viewed as a
"cultural institutional crime." Those responsible must be named and criticized for their

Paul Leclerc, Former President and CEO, The New York Public Library.Anthony Marx, 
President and CEO, The New York Public Library.Catherine Marron, Former Chairman 
of The New York Public Library Board of Trustees.Neil L. Rudenstein, Chairman of The 
New York Public Library


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, 
the New York City Council, the Empire State Development Corporation,
 Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Stephen A. Schwarzman, 
Abby S. Milstein and Howard P. Milstein.  List incomplete

Trustees of The New York Public Library / As of November 2012

John H. Banks III. John P. Birkelund, Samuel C. Butler, Sila M. Calderó, Joan Hardy Clark,  Evan R. Chesler, Sol Neil Corbin, Lewis B. Cullman, Robert Darnton, Gordon J. Davis, Anne E. De La Renta,Vice-Chairman, James H. Duffy, H.R.H. Princess Firyal, Barbara G. Fleischman, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Barbara Goldsmith, William Gray, Alan C. Greenberg, Louise L. Grunwald, John H. Gutfreund, Ralph E. Hansmann, John B. Hess, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos, Patricia D. Klingenstein, Robert Liberman, Harold McGraw III, Raymond J. McGuire, Scott Malkin, The Honorable Victor Marrero, Catherine Marron, Anthony W. Marx, Robert B. Menschel, Abby S. Milstein, Susan Morgenthau, Toni Morrison, Suzanne C. Mueller, Susan M. Newhouse, Jessye Norman, Carl H. Pforzheimer III, Richard L. Plepler, Harold Prince, Katharine J. Rayner, David Remnick, Elizabeth Rohatyn, Marshall Rose, Sandra Priest Rose, Neil L. Rudenstine, Chairman, Stephen A. Schwarzman, Robert B. Silvers, Dinakar Singh, Gayfryd Steinberg ,Joshua L. Steiner, Vice-Chairman, James S. Tisch, Calvin Trillin, Luis A. Ubiñas, Edgar Wachenheim III,  Sue Ann Weinberg. List incomplete


Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker, Justin Davidson, New York. List incomplete


Ada Louise Huxtable (deceased), Wall Street Journal, Michael Kiimmelman, The New York Times, Jason Farago, The Guardian, Scott Sherman, The Nation, Charles Warren, Theodore Grunewald,, Thomas Bender, Mosette Broderick, Rosemarie Bletter, Elisabeth Broome, Martin Filler, Joseph Giovannini, Stanley Katz, Carol Krinsky, Mark Lamster, Paul Makovsky, Cathleen McGuigan, Mary McLeod, William Menking, David Morton, David Nasaw, Victoria Newhouse, Joan Ockman, Clifford Pearson, Mildred Schmertz, Joan Wallach Scott, Suzanne Stephens, Carol Willis, Gwendolyn Wright.
List incomplete


We live in a society where deception is an accepted practice. Think of the political fact checking industry. Politicians lie with abandon. If and when they are caught, they contrive another lie. Are they punished? Only if their deceptions break the law. Do they lose stature if and when they are caught? That is a variable to which there is no fixed response. Deception is practiced in the cultural realm as well. The extended scandals involving American art museum purchases of stolen ancient artifacts from Greece and Italy made good newspaper copy. The Italians attempted to prosecute and failed. Even though exposed, there is no guarantee that the practice has been eradicated.

Can we see parallels with the board and staff of the NYPL? Yes, but at the moment it is difficult to prove because they hold all of the cards and have exposed few of them. In order to resolve what appear to be glaring disconnects between their proposals and reality, we need to demand full exposure of all their budgets. They need to present a cost/benefit analysis of their plan, not the vague promises that appear to have no foundation. I can’t imagine that the New York City government, as well as the foundations which have promised funding, will not ask for substantiated figures.

Lets assume that they show their figures. There is going to be enormous pressure to accept them because the NYPL is a noble and respected institution. Like the museums that trafficked in stolen art, the NYPL is camouflaging facts. We must demand that their figures be made public and that the NYPL Board and staff is prepared to answer questions regarding these figures. They cannot be trusted any more than the curators and museum directors who were unscrupulous in their acquisition policies.

And what about their promises of increased services? Like so many other details of the Central Library Plan, this is another smoke screen. 

No one denies the laudable goal of providing more and better services to expanding audiences; however, there is the issue of differentiated audiences which appears to escape the NYPL administrators and trustees. What works for some does not work for all! Yes, high school, college students and the general public deserve access to the NYPL’s resources; their needs have been served by the Mid-Manhattan Branch and should continue to be offered. 

However, authors, researchers and professionals seeking detailed information from books and periodicals have different needs. And what about the people wanting to have their photographs taken on the Astor Court stairway where Carrie Bradshaw was to be married? They are not serious library users and should be evaluated accordingly.

In summation, the current administration and board of trustees are not to be trusted to serve the well-being of the New York community. Their plans to emasculate and eviscerate the 42nd Street New York Public Library should be thrown in the waste basket. A new plan should be developed in concert with New York’s intellectual community, professional library community, architectural community and a broad network of city-wide library patrons.


We are constantly reminded that we live in the digital age in which modes of electronic communication and storage are replacing generally accepted norms that have existed for thousands of years. What we, in the Western World know as books (physical objects with inscriptions), originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia. They have evolved over centuries. First, there were clay tablets; then scrolled parchment rolls appeared in Greece around the Fifth Century B.C. Soon after, scriptoria began to produce multiple copies; libraries, some public, some private, were created to store and retrieve them. When the Hellenistic Greeks conquered Egypt and established their capital in Alexandria, one of their first initiatives was to create the Museum, which later became known as the Library. It was an intellectual center that encouraged some of the greatest minds of the time to live there. At its zenith, the Library of Alexandria had acquired some 490,000 scrolls. It was here that alphabetical indexing was invented. Mark Antony, when courting Cleopatra, in one of his exaggerated gestures of affection, gave her 200,000 scrolls from the Roman conquered Hellenistic library at Pergamum. Public and private libraries were common throughout the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, heavily illustrated manuscripts promoted religious doctrine. They were stored in monastery libraries. Since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, printed and bound books have been the norm for over six centuries. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, printed books became commodities available to all classes. Access for readers. storage and retrieval have been basic  functions of all libraries. In the United States, Andrew Carnegie’s generosity created a network of neighborhood and community libraries across the country. 

For generations public libraries in the United States have served each new wave of immigrants, as much with books, often in their native languages, as with services to assist them in their adaptation: English as a second language classes, immigration and citizenship counseling, along with serving as social centers for groups to meet.  New Asian immigrants arriving in Queens  have been advised in their homelands that it is mandatory to first go to their nearest Queensborough Public Library branch 
to get advice about every possible problem that arises. 

It appears that the Central Library Plan attempts to address the evolutionary nature of libraries. There is no doubt that this is a noble gesture; however, there seems to be some misreading of the cards. The Astor Tilden Lenox Library was created as a public research library. In New York City with its legions of information specialists, there is the need for such a library. Granted that there are a number of private and university libraries in the five boroughs of the city, each one of them requires some kind of access as faculty, enrolled student or paying guest borrower. New York is a city in which a high percentage of the population is employed in creative and information oriented occupations. Access to specialized printed books is essential for them to live and work in New York. Should the Central Library Plan be implemented, it is possible that a considerable number of this cohort will seek residence in other places. Not only will the Central Library Plan destroy the luster of one of New York’s cherished architectural monument, it will decimate New York’s intellectual population.

As the Great Library of Alexandria served as a magnet for some of the greatest minds of the Hellenistic world, so does The New York Public Library serve a magnet for some of the greatest minds in the world today. 


There is no question that libraries whether public or private are undergoing radical transformations as the world adjusts to the new era of digital communication. The publishing industry, the provider of all books, is experiencing similar tensions. How to resolve these issues is a common concern among all libraries. The Huffington Post has a continuing series, “Libraries in Crisis.”

When transformative cultural issues suddenly appear, often conferences are organized to  discuss these concerns. A major conference on the future of libraries in the New York city area could explore the transformative pressures facing New York City libraries.  Within The City, there are three public library systems: New York Public, Brooklyn Public and Queensborough Public. There are major university libraries like Columbia and New York University. There are museum libraries like: The Metropolitan. MoMA, Morgan Library, American Museum of Natural History, New-York Historical Society and Museum of the City of New York. In addition, there are specialized private libraries for medicine, law, architecture, and religion.

As an outgrowth of this conference, it would be desirable to form a cooperative league of New York City libraries; it could assist The New York Public Library and others in developing coherent policies that would be of benefit to the New York City community and  beyond. Hopefully, The Institute of Museum and Library Services might be interested in supporting such a plan.


Introduction - Susan H. Hildreth, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services

Keynote - Scott Turow, President, The Authors Guild - 
Books and the Future of Publishing

Merchandising a Cultural Institution, Thomas Campbell, 
Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Merchandising Cultural Services - Barry Diller, Chairman 
and Senior Executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp

The role of the Research Library - presenter to be determined

Neighborhood libraries in New York City - representatives from The Brooklyn 
Public Library, Queensborough Public Library and New York Public Library 
branch libraries.

Panel discussions focusing on the speakers’ five topics.

It should be mandatory for NYPL trustees and senior staff to attend all sessions.


Above: Penn Station exterior c.1910.  Middle: Penn Station interior. c.1910. Bottom: Demolition of Penn Station, 1963.

Completed in 1910, Pennsylvania Station with 150 foot ceilings was one of America’s grandest public spaces. It was the victim of changing times and real estate speculators. It took six years to build and three years to demolish. From the moment that its demolition was threatened, protests began and continued for years. The tragic loss of this great building gave birth to the architectural preservation movement. 

The challenge being faced with the Central Library Plan resonates beyond the corner of Fifth Avenueand 42nd Street. It embraces the entire City of New York and the humanitarian values espoused by those who see their city as a beacon where cultural institutions are its life blood, and are admired locally, nationally and internationally. What is being offered as cultural enhancement must be exposed for the raw truth of its deceptions, half truths and disregard for the legacy of human creativity leading to a deleterious impact on the citizens of New York. This highly orchestrated onslaught must be stopped!

In The New York Times of March 21, 2013 Michael Kimmelman said, “Next to never does a city have  the opportunity to rectify a mistake as colossal as Penn Station.”


Suggested reading list:

The New York Public Library, Henry Hope Reed and Francis Morrone, WW Norton and Company,  2011.