The New York Public Library Renovation: More Thoughts

Some interesting responses to Robert Darnton’s defense of the New York Public Library renovation (which I mentioned here) in the upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books. Everyone manages to talk past each other, and things just get ridiculous when Darnton starts to argue that the reason to do a $350 million renovation is that the City of New York won’t release it’s $150 million contribution for another, less disruptive plan now that the Library has committed to the full-scale renovation of the 42nd Street building.

While I’m with Darnton on the inevitable long-term shift towards off-site storage, that’s not necessarily a justification for the current plan. The $7 million saved is only 2.5% of the system’s annual operating budget year, and $350 million is a huge chunk of money (in fact, added to the endowment it would produce $14 million in annual income, at a conservative rate of 4%).

What neither the plan’s boosters or its critics are saying is that, even at a cost of $350 million, this is a band-aid solution. The New York Public Library doesn’t have enough money to operate both its research and its circulating collections, and no amount of rearranging the deck chairs will do it. It’s the new normal for cultural institutions in the age of non-boom neoliberalism, and we need to either accept the consequences or ask how to reverse the funding expectations.

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