April 2024: Libraries In Motion

Column Description: Libraries and librarians are adapting, always in motion, particularly as the 21st century has extended the mammoth reach of technology and digital communication. Then, this year, we said thank you for the ability to stay home and still be able to communicate with our colleagues. As many librarians wondered how new responsibilities would play out when ‘normality’ returned, it was a daily challenge to prioritize decisions. Technology helped, but the goal remained how to meet user needs and anticipate patron requests. This fall, as libraries slowly reopened, we moved into a hybrid world. Administrators and librarians have worked overtime and collaborated fiercely to match estimated demand with physical distancing and health-related constraints. 

Here is a brief breakdown of temporarily closed New York Public Library (NYPL) branches and the reasons why they are closed:

A series of branch closures has been ongoing throughout the three boroughs of the NYPL system.  As part of an overarching and ongoing set of capital projects, the current set of baker’s dozen branches has caught my eye about town. Various construction warnings abound. Many I have never visited due to their locations in the northern part of the city, but mostly all of the currently temporarily closed libraries I have visited many times.

The one permanent closure is the Grand Central Library, which was just about at 46th and Lexington and had a great atmosphere and convenient location.  Because of the new meta-metropolis libraries – the 53rd Street Library and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), the smallish and transitory Grand Central Library branch was respectfully packed up and shut down. These larger libraries replaced the Donnell Library Center in 2016 and the former Mid-Manhattan in 2021, respectively.

When a library closes, even temporarily, it’s a bit of a nuisance for supporters and patrons. There’s a grieving process – the loss of the familiar, and a slight aggravation of needing a new routine. The library community shuffles a bit, having lost (even temporarily) the familiarity and charm of a neighborhood anchor. Having a warm, inviting location is one of the good things about daily life.

So, it’s a bit of a shock when the building you’ve come to depend on is closed – temporarily you hope, and it helps to understand why.

The City-funded Active Capital Construction Project is responsible for the significant overhauls of nine Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island NYPL branches. Ongoing capital projects include major renovations, outfitting, ramp rehabilitation, interior and exterior renovations, HVAC upkeep, and roof replacement. Two of these nine branches will receive fire alarm and life safety upgrades, and another two will qualify for major renovation. These last two are part of a cluster of seven Carnegie libraries currently and temporarily closed for upgrade.

Of the current batch of closed branches, four opened between 1901-1906, and another opened in 1914. Two libraries had dual locations (that is, opening twice): one in 1909, followed by a reopening in 1960, and the other in 1888, then 1915. One library started as a private collection in 1887 before it was absorbed into the NYPL system.

I’ve also categorized the temporarily closed libraries another way. Cute and quaint includes the now permanently closed Grand Central Library and the one that started as a private collection in 1887. The majority, though, I would call old, musty, and with gravitas. In other words, fun to inhabit when browsing and reading. I’m pretty sure that once they re-open, we’ll see a variation of information kiosk enhancements like so many other ‘re-imagined’ library sites. Bright lights and computer screens.  Progress.

Rajene Hardeman, MSLIS, is a committed community and library advocate with experience serving community groups throughout metropolitan NYC and the Hudson Valley. A graduate of Pratt Institute School of Information, Rajene currently works as an independent archivist while continuing to develop programs and raise awareness regarding the need for a balance between digital and non-digital activities. She is a trained mediator for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Rajene has partnered with the Mozilla Foundation and Tactical Technology Collective to bring workshops and supportive dialogue around the issues of online privacy and security, and, as a current trustee for the Mid-Hudson Library System, Rajene enthusiastically supports engagement and sustainability for all libraries and their patrons. She is a Metropolitan Museum of Art Library volunteer.  Rajene serves on the board of Wikimedia New York City and as a member of the Wikimedia and Libraries User Group steering committee. In a non-pandemic world, she coaches in-person Wikipedia edit-a-thons.

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