Meet Me in Manhattan: A $55 Million Gift That Will Keep Giving | Editorial

The New York Public Library is having a moment—a very good one. September saw the debut of Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, a long-anticipated documentary by renowned director Frederick Wiseman that is sure to expand the appreciation of the impact of this great institution and libraries as a whole. As if that weren’t enough, there was also the announcement of a gift of $55 million from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to help bring the radically reenvisioned Mid-Manhattan Library into being.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is having a moment—a very good one. September saw the debut of Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, a long-anticipated documentary by renowned director Frederick Wiseman that is sure to expand the appreciation of the impact of this great institution and libraries as a whole. As if that weren’t enough, there was also the announcement of a gift of $55 million from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to help bring the radically reenvisioned Mid-Manhattan Library into being.

The fate of Mid-Manhattan has been a point of both controversy and promise. In 2014, after pushback on its initial choice to merge the Mid-Manhattan’s circulating collections with those in the historically significant Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, NYPL president Tony Marx described in LJ the library’s decision to return to a “Midtown campus” approach, with a separate Mid-Manhattan library—and a commitment to its reinvention. This major investment from SNF makes it real. The renovation, anticipated to cost $200 million, is projected to be completed in 2020 and will be named the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.

The name change may bring its own backlash—though New Yorkers will simply call it what they want, as witness the RFK/Triborough Bridge and the Hugh L. Carey/Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel—but to me it seems more fitting here than in some instances. SNF, a global entity that also enabled the stunning new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center for the National Library of Greece in Athens (designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop), has been involved in New York libraries for a long time—including, recently, by helping to support the engaging annual NYC Neighborhood Library Awards—and other projects are in the works. I don’t mind the standing reminder of what philanthropy can accomplish.

For those of us in New York City who have used Mid-Manhattan (photo left), and yearned for its update, this is a personal gift, one that will make our lives a bit easier. If the project lives up to the promise of the design drawings by Dutch architectural firm Mecanoo and the New York City–based Beyer Blinder Belle (center and right), it will also provide another vibrant place in which to explore ideas and be together. For the city and beyond, it means a stronger commons and validates the library as that commons to be worthy of investment. Libraries that are functional, current, and usable are unmatched community assets. When they are beautifully designed, they can also be inspiring as spaces in and of themselves. I hope this will be among the models we can admire.

Among the features in the works are an adult learning center, spaces for kids and teens, the five-story-high “long room” with browsable stacks, and a rooftop terrace. These and other elements promise to be places for people to learn, convene, collaborate, and reflect—right in the heart of the city. I’ll meet you there.

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