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New York Public Library Unveils Plans for Massive Renovations

By Nina Mandell | December 19, 2012 3:31pm

MIDTOWN — The New York Public Library's flagship Fifth Avenue branch is getting a major makeover.

On Wednesday, NYPL President Tony Marx and architect Lord Norman Foster presented plans that they said will give the library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street more natural light, resources and protection for its archives while doubling the space available to the public inside the library's iconic building next to Bryant Park. 

The renovations, which will consolidate two other Midtown branches into the Fifth Avenue flagship, are also expected to save the library a whopping $15 million a year.

"Our aim is straightforward," Marx said during the presentation. "To provide to New Yorkers and visitors the greatest single library facility in the world here at the central crossroads of New York in the capital of the information age."

The plans have drawn some criticism from writers and architecture critics who have expressed fears that the library's iconic building will morph into a glorified Internet cafe. In light of those critiques, Marx said one of the main reasons for Wednesday's presentation was public transparency.

"We think it's important for the public to see these views because, as Mr. Thomas Jefferson said in the quote," he said, pointing to a board behind him. "'This is the public library, open to the public.'"

Foster said he expects the plan to be finished in 2018, and officials hope to keep the construction confined mostly to nights and weekends to avoid disrupting patrons.

The plan calls for the deteoriating main circulation mid-Manhattan library branch, on Fifth Avenue near East 40th Street, and the Science, Industry and Business Library, on Madison Avenue and East 34th Street, to be integrated into the iconic Bryant Park branch, which now mostly features exhibits and office space.

It will also add more room to house teen and children's collections and computer labs and will increase space available for writers, scholars and researchers.

"Our design does not seek to alter the character of the building, which will remain unmistakably a library in its feel, in its details, materials and lighting," Foster said in a statement.

"It will remain a wonderful place to study," he added. "The parts that are currently inaccessible will be opened up, inviting the whole of the community — it is a strategy that reflects the principles of a free institution upon which the library was first founded."

The NYPL expects $15 million will be saved annually by closing the two branches. Officials said that money will go toward added technology and the hiring of more librarians.

Once the library is renovated, it will stay open many nights as late as 11 p.m., Marx said.

The late hours, he said, will help open "the opportunities to the world of information throughout the day and evening and [revitalize] the evening experience of this entire neighborhood."