Mutilating The Main Branch Of The New York Public Library

Who Cares That New York’s Landmark Library Is About To Be Marred As Part Of A Sweetheart Land Grab Deal?

Library Protest1 May 8

Who cares? Apparently less than 100 people.

That is about the number of protesters who showed up on Wednesday, May 8 to try and bring about public awareness of the decision by the trustees of the New York Public Library to catastrophically alter one of New York’s greatest buildings, the main branch of  The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd street.

Library Protest4 May 8As the stoic group held up signs to the passing throng on Fifth Avenue, some pedestrians slowed or took photos, many just walked by without notice.

The group was protesting the closed door deal that will sell off the land and buildings of two libraries, the Mid-Manhattan branch at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue and the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. Their operations would be condensed and the main library would be remodeled into a circulating library in addition to being a research library. The main library would then store 3.5 million books off-site in New Jersey. This defeats the entire purpose of the building: to be a first-class, on-site repository of research materials critical to tens of thousands of patrons.

Library Protest2 May 8The small group of protesters was comprised of mostly older people. It is true that this was a weekday afternoon, but there were maybe ten people under the age of 40 in attendance and one or two in their teens.

Maybe this is a reflection of a generation that displays a vast ignorance and disinterest in architecture, history and the functions of libraries as a whole.

Oh sure, libraries are a good place to hang out, surf the internet and play video games at. Check any neighborhood branch after 3:00 pm on a weekday to see how the library is being used. But as far as books, the majority of the “E-Connected Generation” doesn’t care for them. They generally prefer their reading and information dispersed in short electronic doses.

With perennial fiscal cutbacks affecting the library, it is outrageous that the trustees are selling two buildings instead of leasing the land to a developer or better yet, remodeling the buildings themselves as skyscrapers and offering space to generate revenue. It is hard to measure what the greater offense is: the selling off of land and building assets or the mutilation of the main branch.

The trustees, made up of the upper echelons, have sold out the citizens of New York. It will surely end up costing more than the budgeted $300 million and the remodeling is just plain ugly.

The indifference of the public is in the fact that thousands show up for protests involving the Stop and Frisk Policy, Occupy Wall Street, The G-20 Summit and Immigrants Rights and yet only a few dozen people came to rally for an institution available to all and used by millions.

Library Protest3 May 8The protesters stood around chanting slogans and handing out flyers to the public to sign an online petition. Media coverage from what I saw in my observations was scant, with the exception of a brief in The New York Times. Skeptically I asked myself what good will this protest do?

What the protest organizers need is a powerful (read as famous/rich) spearhead who can galvanize public attention to this atrocious deal and stop the defacement of an architectural masterpiece before it is too late.

The people probably get what they deserve, banal architecture and cries of outrage after the disfigurement of a landmark and the pilfering of our resources.

UPDATE: May 2014 – The library board abandoned their plans to deface the main branch. In the process they wasted over $9 million of non-refundable money paid to the architect Norman Foster and feasibility studies. Money aside, the most important thing is that the library is saved from this colossal architectural and logistical mistake.

2 thoughts on “Mutilating The Main Branch Of The New York Public Library

  1. richard schmidt

    wow-i was coming out of the Strand bookstore last month when someone gave me a petition to sign about this- ( it didnt menttion the demonstration though-i surely WOULD have showed up for that) and they also mentioned that my favourite resource as an artist-the Donnell -across from M.O.M.A is in trouble as well-i cant believe that more people didnt protest the loss of such an important research source as the main building in Bryant Park-oh and i am 71 years old so i guess you DO have a point about what generation still cares aabout our buildings and our literacy

  2. Carolyn

    Hey, Mr. Author, do you know why no teenagers showed up to the protest? Because they were at SCHOOL!!!!! I’m sixteen and I care deeply about defending old architecture, but I couldn’t attend the protest because I had school! Think about that before you make a huge, condescending generalization.


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