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NY library shelves revamp, won't move 1.5M books

  • Article by: KAREN MATTHEWS
  • Associated Press
  • May 7, 2014 - 4:35 PM

NEW YORK — The New York Public Library is shelving a $300 million plan to revamp its flagship midtown Manhattan building and move 1.5 million books to New Jersey, library officials said Wednesday.

The plan had drawn widespread opposition from scholars and was the target of four lawsuits.

Library president Tony Marx didn't detail the reasons for the change in plans but said library officials and New York City officials are discussing alternatives.

"When the facts change the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget," Marx said in a statement.

The plan involved closing and selling two midtown branch libraries. Their functions would have been consolidated inside the main research library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, which would have become a circulating library.

The New York Times, which first reported the library's about-face, said probable cost overruns were one factor in the decision. It said a study showed the project's cost would have been significantly more than the $300 million originally budgeted.

The renovation would have involved moving 1.5 million books from stacks in the Fifth Avenue building to storage in New Jersey.

Scholars complained that moving so many books would have created hardships for researchers.

"I was not happy with so many of the books being off site, and I think many people weren't," said Antony Grafton, a Princeton University historian who consulted with the library on the project.

Marx said the revised plan still will involve renovating the research library, formally known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, while keeping the stacks intact.

He said exhibition space at the library will be more than doubled and there will be new classroom space for schoolchildren, services for entrepreneurs and space for researchers and writers.

Grafton praised the library for changing its plans.

"I think it's really remarkable to see an institution of this size change course, as it's doing," he said.

The renovation was to have been partly financed with $150 million from the city budget. That money still will go to the library but now will be used for other purposes.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has spoken with library officials about providing realistic cost estimates and about protecting the accessibility of the library's resources, mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams said.

"The administration is pleased to see that the updated proposal addresses these priorities," Adams said.

© 2014 Star Tribune