Blog Post

The NYPL Renovation and the Future of Libraries


The New York Public Library has, for some time, been wanting to change the central branch at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue, known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, into a more public, open space. How could this be a bad thing? The news is that virtually everyone in the scholarly, literary, and journalistic community thinks it is.

The renovation plan has existed since 2008, but -- delayed by the credit crisis and the Great Recession -- only recently has gained funding and momentum. The NYPL, it turns out, has proposed to expand the public space in the central location by removing over 1.5 million books from the central 42nd Street branch and turning it into what Princeton Historian Anthony Grafton calls a "vast internet cafe" (NYT).

Is the research library, then, an endangered species? Any librarian involved in any planning effort would tell you that putting in a cafe cuts down on the space for books. The question's flip side is: Is the NYPL -- or any public library, for that matter -- a research library to begin with?

The NYPL aims to split the difference. By selling the Mid-Manhattan (5th Avenue at 40th Street) and Science, Industry, and Business (Madison Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets) branches and moving those locations' operations into the central location, the NYPL hopes to raise millions. "We see this as an investment in the research collection," NYPL President Anthony Marx said to the New York Times last month, but the outcry from a variety of individuals and organizations attests to the fact that many have yet to be convinced

For those of you who are interested in the future of libraries, the NYPL, and who reside in the New York metro area, please consider attending next Tuesday's public discussion, organized by the literary magazine n+1, about the future of the NYPL. As you can see from the event description, reproduced below, a terrific cross section of speakers from the social sciences and the humanities will be represented.

While opposition to the plan is fairly well entrenched in academic and literary circles, there should be lively debate!

Further reading about the plan: Pro:, and con:


Event information:

In an effort to open a public discussion of the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan, the organizers of a petition calling on NYPL President Anthony Marx to reconsider the $350 million plan are holding a meeting at the Theresa Lang Community Center at the New School.

The Central Library Plan and the Future of the New York Public Library
6:30 to 8:30 PM, Tuesday, May 22
Theresa Lang Community Center, New School University
55 W. 13th St., New York, NY
Sponsored by n+1 and the New York Institute of the Humanities

National Book Critics Circle President Eric Banks will moderate a panel consisting of Joan Wallach Scott, professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton; architect, preservationist, and architectural historian Mark Alan Hewitt; David Nasaw, professor of history at the Graduate Center at CUNY; and Charles Petersen, an n+1 associate editor and author of a piece on the NYPL, online now and forthcoming in Issue 14. 

The NYPL has been invited to send a representative to join the discussion.

Facebook link:

HASTAC event link:









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