November 14, 2014
The New York Public Library goes back to the drawing board
by Claire Kelley
A month ago, it seemed like we would have to wait until spring to hear any more news about the New York Public Library’s new plans for the flagship library at 42nd Street and the Mid-Manhattan Library. So far we know that the plan will involve a 300 million dollar renovation of the Mid-Manhattan Library and seems to intend to preserve the historic stacks at 42nd Street that would have been removed as part of the previous controversial Central Library Plan. What will happen to the books that were removed from the stacks is still unclear.
A story by Jennifer Maloney this week in the Wall Street Journal may not include many new specifics and address unanswered questions about the plan, but it does offer information about the library’s process. Unlike the last time around, the NYPL is apparently planning to solicit input from the public.
The library’s first survey, targeting users and potential users of the Mid-Manhattan Library, is scheduled for late November or early December. Distributed online and in person, it will ask people what library materials they use, and whether they are interested in using the branch as a place to meet others, take classes, work alone or attend talks and exhibitions.
And a NYPL committee that has been formed is drawing inspiration from McNally Jackson bookstore, the Apple Store, and museums like the Museum of Mathematics. They’re also thinking about how to make the 42nd Street library more “inviting.”
About 40 library staffers have been deployed on so-called secret-shopper visits, taking notes on how other venues engage visitors. Among the things they observed is how people are greeted when they enter.
The Central Library Plan was criticized because decisions were made behind closed doors by the board of trustees. The WSJ article quotes Stanley Katz, director of Princeton University’s Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, who acknowledges the frustration this caused for scholars, citizen groups, and preservationists —“They’ve alienated a lot of people,” he said.
Perhaps through a process where patron concerns are heard and addressed, the library will be able to win those people back.
Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.