Lions in Winter, Part One

ImageNYPLCharles Petersen in n+1:

In March 2008, the New York Public Library announced a $100 million gift from private equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman and a sweeping plan to radically remake its landmark main building on 42nd Street. Six months later, Lehman Brothers collapsed; the plan, to no one’s surprise, was put on hold. Now, the administration has announced that the renovation, its budget increased from $250 to $350 million, is back on track. The proposed designs developed by British architect Norman Foster have not yet been made public, but the basic scheme remains the same: to tear out the steel stacks that occupy almost half of the main building—and that literally hold up the famed Rose Reading Room on the top floor—and replace them with a new circulating library. This library will offer plenty of books, DVDs, and other materials, which any patron will be allowed to take out of the building, unlike the current research collection. The plan will be financed through the sale of two of the library’s nearby branches—the Mid-Manhattan Library across the street and the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) at Madison and 34th—and through a $150 million grant from the City of New York. The new super-library will also be designed for a time when the idea of physically circulating books becomes a thing of the past and practically all library “materials” will be available exclusively through digital devices.

That, however, is in the future. What the present will bring is the removal of the majority of the library’s outstanding collection of research-level books, which for most of the past century have rarely if ever been allowed out of the building. These books will be moved to a storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey. Some will remain in the stacks beneath Bryant Park, but the rest of the books in the library’s core collection will be available only by putting in a request and waiting for them to be brought back to New York.