MAY 7, 2014 In a striking about-face, the New York Public Library has abandoned a renovation plan that would have turned its research flagship on
MAY 7, 2014 In a striking about-face, the New York Public Library has abandoned a renovation plan that would have turned its research flagship on 42nd Street into a circulating library and instead will rebuild the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue, several library trustees said. “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,” Tony Marx, the library’s president, said Wednesday in an interview. The renovation, formerly known as the Central Library Plan, would have required eliminating the book stacks under the building’s main reading room and was to have been paid for with $150 million from New York City and the proceeds from the sale of the Mid-Manhattan, at 40th Street, and the Science, Industry and Business Library in the former B. Altman building, on Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. The change in course comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio prepares to announce his final budget on Thursday. The library is still expected to receive the $150 million that had been allotted to the project under the Bloomberg administration, but it will now be used for other purposes, several library trustees said. Mr. de Blasio had expressed skepticism about the library’s renovation plan during the mayoral campaign and recently met with Mr. Marx to discuss his views on the project. This shift is something of a defeat for the library, which had long defended its plan against a roster of prominent scholars and authors who said the introduction of the circulating library in the research building would diminish its capacities as a center for scholarship. The library had heralded the renovation as part of a significant new chapter in the library’s effort to rethink its physical plant in preparation for a digital future in which public access to computers would become as important as books. Several factors contributed to the library’s decision: a study that showed the cost of renovating the 42d Street building to be more than expected (the project had originally been estimated at about $300 million); a change in city government; and input from the public, several trustees said. (Four lawsuits have been filed against the project.) Scholars and others objected to the plan in part because it required the books in the stacks to be moved to New Jersey — which could cause delays in retrieving them — and many questioned the cost as vague and wasteful. Under the new plan, all of the books will remain on site; the library has found a way to free up additional space in its storage area under Bryant Park. The stacks — which critics called architecturally significant and the library had said were unworkable because they lacked humidity and temperature control — will be left alone. But there will be improvements made to open up more public space in the building, library officials have said. The science library will continue to be sold or leased under the revised plan; several floors above that library have already been sold. The library had said the consolidation of its buildings would generate annual operating savings of $7.5 million, some of which would be directed toward its 88 branches in the city. Mr. Marx and library officials briefed the board on the change of plans on Monday during a closed-door session. The plan was initially announced in 2008, then languished because of the economic downturn and changes in the library’s leadership and finally gathered steam when Mr. Marx became president in July 2012. In December 2012, the library unveiled a design by the British architect Norman Foster that turned the stacks area into a four-level atrium overlooking Bryant Park, with bookshelves, sitting areas and desks. Mr. Foster has so far been paid $9 million in private funds for his work on the project. “Obviously I respect the decision of the trustees and whoever’s been involved in the decision,” Mr. Foster said. “If I have any kind of sadness on the thing — besides obviously not having the project going ahead and having spent a huge amount of passion on the project with colleagues — it is that the proposals have never been revealed, and there hasn’t really been a debate by those involved, including those who would have benefitted from an inclusive approach to the library.” After the design was widely criticized — the critic Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times called its curved staircase “more suited to a Las Vegas hotel” — the library agreed last June to re-evaluate the plan’s design and cost. The library has yet to reveal its conclusions and confirmed Wednesday that it had switched gears only after inquiries from The New York Times. Under the original plan, Mid-Manhattan would not have closed until the new space was ready, so that its operations as the city’s busiest circulating library would not be interrupted. Now the library plans to complete Mid-Manhattan’s renovation in stages, so that part of the building can remain open during construction. Reaction among board members to the change in course was mixed. “Given all the complexities, I do think this is a reasonable and good solution,” said Robert B. Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books, who is a trustee. 1. From what you can tell based on the article, analyze Tony Marx’s social network. How would you characterize his network? Is there a gap between his current resources and those needed to do his job? What are your recommendations for him, such that he can better achieve his goals in the future? Provide evidence from the article to support your position. 2. Leadership at the New York Library wants to implement a new software platform to facilitate online lending. You’ve been hired to create a change management plan to get all relevant stakeholders to buy in and adopt this system. Obviously, because of the renovation debacle, resistance from some stakeholders might be particularly high. In your plan, make sure that you address what the Library should do in the short run, as well as in the long run.
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