MANHATTAN (CN) - Ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg approved a plan that would "permanently disfigure" New York Public Library's central branch and displace millions of rare books, a coalition of library supporters claim in court.
Citizens Defending Libraries and eight scholars and authors, including biographer Edmund Morris, sued New York City, the Office of the Mayor, the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development, the New York Public Library, its President Anthony Marx, and its board of trustees, in New York County Supreme Court.
The lawsuit is the third effort to stop the renovation of the library's Fifth Avenue building, which is to include demolishing book stacks completed in 1911. The Carnegie book stacks have become an historical landmark and an integral piece of the Central Library, the preservationists say. Two other lawsuits, filed in July 2013, are pending in Manhattan.
"In the waning days of the Bloomberg administration, the Office of the Mayor of the
City of New York and/or the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development ('outgoing mayoral administration') issued what amounted to an approval of an application by the New York Public Library ('NYPL') for permission to proceed with a plan entitled the 'Central Library Plan' ('CLP') that would permanently disfigure the NYPL's Central library branch ('Central Library') -- a New York City landmark, a National Historic Landmark and a property listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places," the complaint states. "The CLP would also eliminate from the NYPL system, the Mid-Manhattan Library ('MML') and the Science, Industry and Business Library ('SIBL') -- two critical satellite branches that are heavily frequented by New Yorkers every day.
"Worse, the CLP would require demolition of seven stories of historic Carnegie Steel book stacks ('Carnegie stacks') and permanent displacement and diversion of millions of volumes of rare books and other historic research materials shelved there ('historic materials') to remote locations in Princeton, N. J. and Patterson, N. Y. ('distant offsite storage'). By eliminating the Carnegie stacks -- themselves a critical and historic architectural feature of the Central Library and an indispensable component of the book delivery system designed specifically for the NYPL at the turn of the century -- the CLP would essentially transmogrify the Central Library into an oversized circulating library, with an atrium that has been described by the architectural critic of The New York Times as having 'all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall.'
"As shown below, in addition to the abject mutilation that the CLP would inflict upon one of the world's most beautiful architectural masterpieces, the reorientation of purpose contemplated by the CLP threatens to frustrate the NYPL's original mission, which was to create what would become, along with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., one of the foremost research libraries in the world."
The New York Public Library was formed in 1895 by the merging of three libraries previously owned by private philanthropists John Jacob Astor, James Lenox, and former New York Gov. Samuel Tilden. With nearly 53 million items, it is the second-largest public library in the United States, after the Library of Congress, and the third-largest in the world.
The coalition claims that the library's original board pledged that historic materials and books would always remain in the library.