Saturday, June 20, 2009

Donnell Library Part 3

Although I'm not the foremost expert and I live as far away in Manhattan as you can, I have been able to write twice in the past year about the saga of the closing of the Donnell Library in midtown. In July I mentioned that the library, which is located right across the street from the Museum of Modern Art (which was recently extensively remodeled), was slated for closure to make way for a new hotel; the majority of its holdings, including the New York Public Library's main film/video and children's collections (with the original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls), would be moving to other branches, while the NYPL would be maintaining a small general collection on the ground floor of the hotel. Specifically for our purposes, the children's material has returned back to its original location in the main library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue, where it was housed for decades before the Donnell's construction. 

Then this April I gave a quick update: the library closed on schedule, but with the recession gutting the real estate and tourism industries in New York City the NYPL's deal with the hotel fell through and the building is now standing essentially vacant. Many residents were upset when the library was slated for replacement, but now that it's simply been eliminated with no financial restitution for the NYPL or potential for even a small branch on 53rd Street, there are quite a few New Yorkers who are up in arms. 

So here for example we see a protester at the opening of the new Grand Central branch on April 29, even though it was supposed to alleviate some of the displeasure over the Donnell's closing. Now people have begun to coalesce together to advocate city and state officials to refurbish and reopen the Donnell. 

Now I am not an expert by any means--I've been focusing all my "political" spare time advocating for better school zoning and gifted and talented options for District 6 with the NYC Department of Education--but I do have some links and cursory info that can point people in the right direction if they want to get involved, or delve into the library's perspective in all this. This comes from Helen Chirivas, one of the chief organizers--so I'd like to thank her for contacting me and for her work despite my inability to be more involved myself. So here it is:

It's no secret that libraries across the country are in crisis as municipal governments run out of funds. I've written very briefly about what's going on in Philadelphia, for instance, but New York is no different. So the blog/site Save NYPL is written by an anonymous librarian with a brief insider perspective about what's going on inside the library, especially the extreme measures that are taking place to keep the entire system above water. This is the reality with which activists and administrators will have to work. And it puts the Donnell in the larger context of keeping the extant branches open six days a week, etc. (It appears this blog may have had more entries in the past that the poster has since deleted, though I'm not sure about that.)

To complement that, however, here is a pdf of a presentation given about the city's One Library Plan last March (2008). It also shows the overall strategy of the library, at least at the beginning of the recession. (I'm most concerned--and intrigued--by the proposed hub library in northern Manhattan; that sounds like a great idea for us northerners as long as it doesn't come at the expense of any existing branches. The Inwood branch, where I spent about forty minutes today with my daughter, is fantastic and essential for this neighborhood.)

Also from last year is this article from the New York Times blog about the library's closing; given that it's now old news it's mostly interesting for the comments included afterwards showing the range of emotions New Yorkers are having over the closing. 

Bringing us much more up to date is a recent article in Library Journal by Norman Oder. It has good information on the collapsed deal and is also well linked to other sources.

The deal with Orient Express Hotels is not going to go through--they're closing hotels throughout the world just to stay in the black. It makes more sense for the city to request the NYPL to spend a few million dollars to refurbish the Donnell (technically it's a private nonprofit but I'm told it's 92% funded by the city). To do that people need to contact their city council representatives, state representatives (if they ever get back to work), Manhattan borough officials, Mayor's office, and even national congressmen and senators; doing so en masse will carry more weight, and by that I mean individual emails sent by dozens to hundreds of people rather than all of them just attaching their names to a petition. Helen Chirivas' group can help coordinate that, however.  You can look for a website soon, but in the meantime the group can be contacted at 

Librarians and patrons--and lawmakers--should be on the same side on this issue. No one wants to see libraries disappear or diminish services; it's just a matter of figuring out how to best serve the city while functioning with reduced resources. 

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