July 28, 2021
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library opens thanks to years of activism
by Carl Bromley
In 2011 Scott Sherman wrote the first of a series of powerful Nation articles which disclosed that the trustees of the New York Public Library had hatched a covert plan to flog off library properties in mid-Manhattan so they could take advantage of the city’s property boom. Sherman also revealed that the trustees were also planning to renovate the flagship branch on 42nd and 5th which “would undergo a $300 million renovation entailing the demolition of its historic book stacks and the removal of 3 million books.”
Sherman’s article helped usher in several years of activism from a hardy and “indefatigable group of citizens … independent scholars, freelance writers, professors, architects, historical preservationists, book worms and retired librarians” who were vehemently opposed to the so-called Central Library Plan and the corporate capture of the library system. In 2015 Mayor Di Blasio killed the plan off.
Sherman went onto chronicle this veritable David and Goliath tale in his critically acclaimed Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library (published by Melville House in cloth 2015 and paper in 2017). Combining vivid reportage and brilliant sleuthing, the book showed that democracy and neoliberalism do not mix.
As Maureen Corrigan noted in her review on Fresh Air, Patience and Fortitude is “[g]ripping…a slim, smart book packed with a colorful cast of moguls, celebrities, intellectuals and Internet crusaders… [it] not only tells a classic ‘New York story’ about real estate and money, but also shines a light on why libraries, as physical repositories for books, are still crucial, even in an age when all knowledge seems just a mouse-click away.”
The Nation has just published a new article from Sherman which recounts many of the efforts to resist the corporate makeover over the New York Public Library system. The occasion for the article is the re-opening of the old Mid-Manhattan Library, now called the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library” and the kudos the trustees have won in the wake of its expensive refurbishment. Sherman reminds readers in his new piece that this was one of the branches that was on the trustees chopping block from 2007 to 2014. This new $200 million, 180,000 square foot library owes its existence to the activism of those opposed to the Central Library Plan and not the munificence of the Trustees of the library.
Carl Bromley is an editor at Melville House.