NEW YORK—”Books not Billionaires! Books not Billionaires!” shouted protesters in front of the historic Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue.
Adults and children donned costumes, held signs, and performed skits to protest against the New York Public Library’s plan to consolidate three popular library branches.
The protest was organized by the Library Lovers League, an informal network that defines its members as “library lovers working to save New York City’s public libraries from sale and shrinkage.”
The Central Library Plan, also known as the 42nd Street Library Renovation, calls for the merging of services and materials currently at the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry and Business Library into the Schwarzman Building, which houses the main research library in New York. According to the protesters, the vacated library building space will be sold to developers, or “billionaires,” and turned into luxury highrises.
The plan will cost more than $300 million to complete, but with real estate sales and the savings from operating from one building rather than three will amount to an additional $15 million a year for the NYPL.
“It essentially would allow them to sell a lot of valuable real estate, but the problem is that it’s going to have a negative impact on people who use the libraries,” said Zack Weinstien, a member of the Library Lover’s League. “Libraries are being shrunk, library users are being shortchanged, and all too often it appears that real estate is the driving motivation here.”
Protesters say that the main library will not have the capacity to handle the influx of books and a good portion of books will be sent to storage in New Jersey or Queens where it will take days for readers to access.
But the New York Public Library says that the protesters are providing misconstrued information. Indeed the plan calls for the combination of the two branches into the main building, but sufficient space will be built to accommodate most of the books at all three libraries, according to the NYPL. The rest of the books will be stored off-site, which is a common practice for research libraries.
The infrastructure at the Mid-Manhattan Library is aging and renovating it will mean shutting down the branch or at least most of it for 2-3 years.
“The renovation of the 42nd Street Library will provide a new circulating library, will allow us to continue to store millions of books on site, and will, overall, strengthen NYPL’s network of branch and research libraries,” said Ken Weine, a spokesman for the NYPL in an emailed statement.
According to the NYPL, the renovation is expected to create more public library space at the main building than all three locations combined before. Parts of the building that were not accessible to the public will also be opened up for the new circulating library. All three libraries will remain open during construction.
Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.