New York library gets funds to expand

NEW YORK • A happy ending is within sight. Last year, the New York Public Library released plans to fully renovate its mid-Manhattan branch that has long been the ungainly step-sibling to the magnificent beaux-arts building across Fifth Avenue that houses its world-class research collection.

The work began this summer and the library has secured the final US$55 million (S$75 million) in private money needed to pay for that makeover, which will also come with a new name for the branch.

The donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is the second largest single gift in the New York Public Library's history after the US$100 million given by financier Stephen Schwarzman in 2008.

Together with US$151 million from a long-standing city commitment, it will cover the upgrading cost of the mid-town facility, which will reopen in 2020 as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.

Mr Anthony Marx, the library's president, said the gift would help give the city "the great central branch it has never had" while also providing a timely boost to the library's broader mission.

"Here we are, the biggest library in America and the most-used New York City civic institution, at a moment when people having access to more facts, learning and skills seems rather pressing," he said.

"Not least if we're going to combat the growing inequality and divisiveness in the country."

The gift and the renaming are the latest developments in the New York Public Library's recalibrations following the withdrawal of its Central Library Plan.

That would have involved selling the mid-Manhattan branch, housed in a former department store, and moving its functions to the Schwarzman building across the street.

That plan, which included a design by British architect Norman Foster, drew criticism from scholars and the public so it was abandoned in 2014.

The 100,000 sq ft renovated library, designed by lesser-known Dutch firm Mecanoo, will not be without eye-catching design features, however.

Highlights include the only free, publicly accessible roof terrace in mid-town New York. Inside, there will be an atrium-like "long room" with five floors of browsable shelving and space for 400,000 items.

But Mr Marx was also eager to emphasise the building's full-floor adult education centre as well as the expansion of literacy programmes, computer training and citizenship classes throughout the New York Public Library's 92 branches.

The formal announcement of the Niarchos gift stated that the mid-town branch and research library would form "a seamless physical and digital 'mid-town campus'", despite remaining in separate buildings.

"The idea that there would be one hub, one campus, was very important to us," said Mr Andreas Dracopoulos, co-president and director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

It has also built a new national library in Greece, as part of a US$861-million cultural complex.

Mr Marx said the library would also announce new plans for renovations and improvements at the Schwarzman building at a later date. But for now, he noted, the focus was more on removing perceived barriers to access throughout the library system.

"It does feel like we're in a moment of people saying, 'We have to have a place where we all can be together'," he said. "And the library is that place."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'New York library gets funds to expand'. Print Edition | Subscribe