What is the New York Public Library (NYPL)?
The New York Public Library (NYPL) operates the public libraries in Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx, as well as four research centers.
NYPL is a private not-for-profit corporation that contracts with the government to provide library services. It was chartered as the "The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations" by the Regents of the State of New York and is funded primarily by the City and State of New York.
What types of properties does NYPL control?
NYPL occupies most of its branch locations under free, long-term arrangements with the City of New York. The City retains legal title to the buildings, but “the properties are provided to the Library for its long-term use, free of charge, so long as the Library uses them as operating libraries” (as explained in NYPL’s 2016 Audited Financial Statements). Where the City or State do not have a building in a neighborhood that needs a library, the library rents commercial space just like any other business.
Who makes decisions for NYPL?
The NYPL operates under the diretion of between 25 and 44 Trustees who together as a Board oversee the management of its assets and affairs. Four ex officio trustee positions are reserved on the NYPL Board of Trustees for the Mayor, Comptroller, City Council speaker, and the president of the Library. New Trustees are nominated a Committee made up of at least three existing Trustees, and then elected by a vote of the all the existing Trustees. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find out information about the individuals serving as Trustees, as described in this article.
What rules apply when NYPL sells or leases public land or buildings?
If the Board of Trustees votes to sell or lease a space operated by NYPL, but owned by the City of New York, the Board must file an application with the City Planning Commission (CPC) and go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process, described here.
If a library space is owned directly by NYPL, its sale is not subject to the ULURP requirements. Instead, such sales need only be approved by the NYPL Board. As described in Article IV, Section 8 of NYPL’s bylaws, the Committee on Capital Planning and Facilities “develop[s] plans and projects and to advise and recommend to the Board and coordinate[s] actions concerning the reuse, acquisition, leasing, sale, restoration and renovation of Library-owned and other real and similar property.” The matter is then decided by a vote of the Board, and no public input is required (though the Board’s meetings are open to the public).
If a building has been designated as a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (“Central”), Muhlenberg, Ottendorfer, and Thompkins Square Branches have, any modifications to the building must be approved by the LPC, as described here.
What are the public notice requirements for NYPL projects, and how can community members influence what happens?
Where a NYPL property is owned by the City, it must go through the ULURP process, which provides several opportunities for public participation, as described here.
Where the property is owned by NYPL, the sale must be approved by the NYPL Board of Trustees at a meeting. Board of Trustees meetings generally take place at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street) schedule on NYPL’s website here. Members of the public can attend to observe but cannot participate. Individuals can express opinions to the Board in writing (as explained in this article).
If a library building has been designated a NYC landmark and an owner proposes modifications to the building itself , the owner must apply to the LPC for permission to make these modifications and the application must be reviewed at a public LPC hearing.
Groups can also advocate to have libraries that are not yet designated landmarks become designated. Although the status does not prevent a sale, it limits what owners are able to do with the building (as explained in this report).
Examples of NYPL projects
In 2007, NYPL announced the sale of the Donnell Public Library for $59 million, a deal that was kept secret until months before closing (as described here). The original building was demolished in 2009, and a 46 story luxury high rise, featuring 151 hotel rooms and 61 high-end residences, was built. A new library branch, which did not open until 2016, is now housed on the ground floor and basement of the building. The new library facility is less than half of the size of the original library, as critics complained.
In 2011, the NYPL’s Board of Trustees proposed to fund the renovation of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building by selling the mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue and 40th Street as well as the Industry and Business Library on 34th street and Madison Avenue. There was strong opposition to the plan, which was projected to cost $300 million, due to its expensive price tag, the dire needs of other library branches, and the drastic changes proposed to the iconic library building. On May 7, 2014, after being denounced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mr. Marx announced the cancellation of the Central Library Plan. (See more in this article in The Nation.)
For More Information
“New Scrutiny of City’s Library Trustees,” City Limits, June 18, 2014 – this article provides a helpful overview of the different structures of the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library