Mark Lamster | Essays

Save the Library Redux

Could it be that the sour economy is the best friend of the good old library? According to a report in the Times, the NYPL may be forced to (temporarily?) table its plans to move the stacks out of the Humanity and Social Sciences Library (the main branch) because of a real estate deal now in grave jeopardy.

The library had agreed to sell the fine modernist building housing the now shuttered Donnell Library on 53rd Street to Orient-Express Hotels, who would demolish it in favor of a larger hotel building, with a new library installed as tenant. (Instead, now, we have no library there.) The NYPL also planned to help finance its alterations to the main branch by selling the Mid-Manhattan Library building, on the southeast corner of 40th and Fifth. The MM's collection and programming would then be shifted to the reconfigured main branch, across the street.

This is an incredibly ambitious plan; it's nice to see the NYPL taking a leadership position as libraries reinvent themselves for a new century, when even the future of the book is unclear. That said, the plan has some very serious implications for those who rely on the library, for one of New York's most prized works of architecture, and for the city itself. It's disappointing (if understandable) that library officials have been relatively reticent to comment in the press about this project (a "no comment" in the article above, for example), and that it has for the most part flown under the radar of the press. In other library building news today, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and American Library Association (ALA) announced their annual awards.

You'll excuse me for noting that there was not a single writer on the jury. Nevertheless, there appear to be some fine works, especially the Starr Library at Berkeley by Williams/Tsien and Marlon Blackwell's work in Gantry, Arkansas. Also winning were mega-buildings for Chongquing and Minneapolis, and a small branch library in the Bronx for the NYPL, by 1100 Architects, which seems at once serene and antiseptic. Check out our pals over at Unbeige for some links.

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