Library plans extensive, controversial renovations

April 18, 2012 9:28:24 AM PDT
The New York Public Library is making big plans for its future, but the renovations are massive and not without controversy.

The plans include closing the Mid Manhattan branch and the Library of Science, Industry and Business in order to put those resources in the main building on 5th Avenue.

The New York Public Library first opened in 1911, and it has been a sanctuary for scholars and researchers. But now there are plans to better use the magnificent building to put the "public" back into the public library.

The majestic marble lions grace the entrance to one of New York City's most revered buildings. It is primarily a research library, the rose reading room offering an inspiring backdrop for students working on a thesis.

Across the street is the Mid Manhattan branch, where the public can actually check out books and materials. But it is in dire need of expensive renovations, so the library wants to move its contents to the main building, along with the Library of Science, Industry and Business.

"By consolidating three facilities, we'll generate about $15 million a year that we can spend to buy more books and hire more curators to help New Yorkers do their work," library president Dr. Anthony Marx said.

Two million books would remain at the main library, while one million would be stored off site. And that has been the source of concern among scholars, that certain materials won't be readily available.

The library says off site materials should be available within 24 hours. The new circulating library would be where the stacks are now.

The underground storage, where close three million books have been housed for 100 years, is off limits to the public. There are eight levels of books, with the stacks two city blocks long and a quarter of a block wide. The hidden space would be transformed to public space.

"We will have double the number of people in this building, and the building has the space for it," Dr. Marx said. "We'll also have books that you can browse and can circulate. We haven't had browsable books in this building in 50 years."

Once the renovations, which are expected to take several years, are complete, the Mid Manhattan branch building will be sold. The profits will go back to support the library.

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