Thursday, November 18, 2004


The New York Public Library on the comeback!

At least the news isn't all bad!
Public Library to Expand Hours and Services, and Restructure Branches


The New York Public Library, forced to cut services after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hobbled the city's economy, is preparing to expand its hours and services and to restructure itself to coordinate the neighborhood branches more closely with the library's central operations.

As part of the changes, the library's landmark building, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, will adopt a six-day schedule next month, opening on Sundays for the first time since 1970, library officials said yesterday.

In addition, the library will lengthen operating hours at nearly half its 85 neighborhood branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island beginning next month, adding one to four hours a week, mostly in the mornings, when demand is highest. Assuming the city does not cut financing unexpectedly, a sixth day of service will be restored at 14 additional branches early next year, the officials said. The changes do not affect libraries in Queens and Brooklyn, which operate independently. The money for the expanded hours comes from recent additions to the library's budget from New York City.

The library also announced yesterday that it received $25 million, its largest single-party donation, from Robert W. Wilson, the financier and philanthropist, who is a former chairman of the New York City Opera. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave another $5 million.

The additional hours restore some but not all of the cuts in service caused by reductions in the city's budget after the terrorist attacks in 2001. They also represent an expansion of operations being planned by Paul LeClerc, president of the library, and Catherine C. Marron, who yesterday was appointed chairwoman of the library, succeeding Samuel C. Butler.

"We had a serious situation after 9/11," Mrs. Marron said in an interview. "But we are changing to fit the needs of the public." Mrs. Marron, 48, a former investment banker who has served on the library's board since 1993, recently led an effort that raised $18 million in less than three years to buy books and materials for the branches.

About $8 million of the $25 million from Mr. Wilson would support the cataloging of collections that have been unprocessed and inaccessible to researchers at the Library for the Performing Arts, the research branch at Lincoln Center. The other $17 million would pay for materials and technology and preserve existing collections at all the research libraries, including the Schomburg Center, the Science, Industry and Business Library in Midtown and the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, at the main building. The Mellon grant would also support acquisitions and the operating budget of the research libraries.
I spent many hours while in college and grad school doing research at the NYPL's Slavonic Research division, a dusty reading room whose unique musty atmosphere I can still call up in my mind's nostrils (with all due respect to Hamlet), and as a teenager I hung around a lot at the Library for the Performing Arts. The New York Public is one of the world's truly great treasures, and I am delighted to see it start to make a long-awaited and much-deserved recovery. I only hope this is not a false dawn but a permanent improvement.
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