How Will the Public React to NYPL's Latest Shot at Renovating Its Historic Main Library?
On Wednesday, November 15, the New York Public Library proudly unveiled a new $317 million “master plan” for the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the NYPL’s crown jewel located at Fifth Avenue an 42nd Street in Manhattan. And for New Yorkers, there's a lot to be excited about: library officials say the plan, which was unanimously approved by the NYPL board and will be funded largely with private donations, will translate into a 20% increase in public space for research, exhibitions, and educational programs.
But as good as that sounds, the question remains: how will the public, and particularly the library's most ardent supporters see the project?
As PW columnist Brian Kenney wrote in his November 2013 column, the NYPL’s first stab at overhauling the main library, dubbed the Central Library Plan, was a disaster. Renowned architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable slammed Norman Foster’s plan in a pointed review in the Wall Street Journal. Michael Kimmelman followed suit with a pastiche of objections in the New York Times. And more than 1,000 scholars and authors, including bigwigs like Salman Rushdie and Mario Vargas Llosa, signed a letter of protest. Then came a rally on the library steps, and a couple of lawsuits.
Even worse, the public felt like they had input into the plan. The battle, which also involved a plan to sell off some key NYPL real estate, was chronicled in Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library (Melville House), by Nation writer Scott Sherman (which recently came out in paperback).
So what went wrong with the library’s first attempt to update the main library? “NYPL’s first glaring misstep was poor communication,” Kenney wrote in 2013. “Long gone are the days when library management can paternalistically change services and facilities and expect the public’s grateful approval,” he added.
With a public hearing set for next week, we’ll soon get a sense of how the public feels about this new plan. But communication issues aside, here is another question that could arise: is the NYPL’s main library the right place to be focusing so much time and money?
In 2013, Kenney pointed out what he saw as one of Central Library Plan’s biggest flaws: it committed "well over $300 million for one building, when branches in some of New York’s neediest neighborhoods are failing.”
The renovation of the NYPL’s main library is an exciting prospect. Still, New Yorkers outside of Midtown Manhattan would be justified in asking NYPL officials what they can expect for their local libraries, too. Stay tuned.
House Judiciary Committee Chair (and Leader of ‘Copyright Review’ Effort) Announces Retirement
Virginia Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a 13-term incumbent and the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced late last week that he will not seek reelection once his term ends in December of 2018. In a written statement, Goodlatte, who has served 25 years in the House, said the coming end to his term leading the Judiciary Committee provided a “natural stepping off point.”
For publishers and librarians, Goodlatte’s departure could be significant. During his time in the House, Goodlatte had made copyright reform a priority—although without much to show for it.
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet during the 112th Congress, Goodlatte co-authored the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was abruptly pulled in 2012 after a public outcry. And in 2013, he announced he would lead a massive review to “determine whether the copyright laws are working in the digital age,” citing then Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante’s policy tract “The Next Great Copyright Act” as his inspiration.
But after more than 20 hearings (including a “listening tour” in various cities and testimony from over 100 witnesses) little has come from Goodlatte’s ambitious review. In December of 2016, the Judiciary Committee released its first and only policy proposal from that extensive review, a one-page document on the modernization of the Copyright Office. And earlier this year, Goodlatte did manage to successfully push a narrow bill through the house that sought to make the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee (The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act H.R. 1695). That proposal, however, now appears stuck in the Senate.
In a public statement released this week, Maria Pallante, now the President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, praised Goodlatte for his “principled leadership” and his “astute oversight of, and significant contributions to, the nation’s copyright laws.”
What does Goodlatte’s impending departure (on top of Pallante’s departure from the Copyright Office last year) mean for the future of copyright reform? Observers this week told me it’s unclear, and that anything could happen over the next 12 months. Of course, there are apparently more pressing issues requiring Goodlatte’s attention at the moment—for example, pressuring the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton.
2017 Man Booker International Prize Winner to Deliver Brooklyn Public Library’s Inaugural ‘Message from the Library’ Lecture
The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) this week announced that it has commissioned Man Booker International Prize-winning Israeli author David Grossman to deliver the inaugural address of its new “Message from the Library” lecture series on Sunday, December 10 at 7 p.m.
BPL officials say the new biannual series will host leading cultural figures “to reflect on today’s most critical issues in our local and global communities,” as part of the library’s “mission to convene diverse voices in the Library’s safe space to have meaningful dialogue about the political, economic, social, and cultural issues of the day.”
Following the lecture, audience members will be invited to “reflect, argue, debate and discuss the issues” presented in Grossman’s remarks in breakout conversations moderated by noted writers and intellectuals.
Grossman is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, including To the End of the Land and Falling Out of Time. He was awarded the 2017 Man Booker International Prize in conjunction with translator Jessica Cohen for his novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar (Knopf, 2017).
Is this new Chinese Library the ‘Coolest’ in the World?
New Yorkers may have high hopes for the renovation of the its historic main library building, but check this out—the new Tianjin Binhai Library, a new 33,700-square meter library, which is being billed by some as the world’s coolest new library. And yeah, it’s pretty amazing.
And here’s something else amazing: in a press release, the Dutch architectural firm that collaborated on the building, MVRDV, said it was their “most rapid fast track project to date,” taking just three years from the first sketch to opening day. Apparently, it’s been a hit with users, as well as on social media.
How Librarians Can Be ‘Digital Mentors’ for Teens
Good read at the JSTOR Daily, from tech writer, Digital Voyage columnist, and author Alexandra Samuel on the role of librarians in “fostering a healthy digital world” for the future generations of kids. The column is based on a set of questions from Information School students to one of Samuel’s earlier columns “Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying A Generation, But Not Of Kids.”
Most kids learn their digital habits at home, which should be a little frightening considering the digital habits of adults today. Samuel neatly makes the case for why information professionals must play an important role in teaching kids how to live in our increasingly digital world.
“It’s crucial that the work of mentorship take place beyond the imperfect and unequal world of private families,” she writes, “and extend into the spaces that can level the playing field,” including libraries.
Reference Librarians Get Some Love in the Wall Street Journal
We’ve written quite a bit about the transformation of reference in the digital age, and the thorny questions of how reference librarians approach their jobs. One thing we know: reference librarians in today’s digital don’t get the love they deserve. Which makes this article in this week’s Wall Street Journal worth pointing out. (Note: subscription required)
“Even in the internet age,” writes John Hagerty, “reference librarians still dig up answers that require extra effort, searching old books, microfilm and paper files, looking for everything from owners of long-defunct firms to 19th-century weather reports.”
Editor's Note: The Week in Libraries will be off for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. We will return Dec. 1.