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JOEL Joel's Blog

A New Library

07/28/2021

A New Library 1

We have come a long way since libraries in monasteries chained their books to tables. Since the invention of the internet and the rise of the e-book, librarians and scholars have been wondering about the future of the modern library. Firsthand evidence suggests that reports of the death of the library have been greatly exaggerated! Nationwide, libraries are more packed than ever. Some of this crowding certainly has to do with free internet access, a quiet place to study, and an orderly environment. But people are still reading books. They really, really are. And the concept of the free circulation of books is as wonderful as ever. In New York, the NY Public Library system lets you reserve a book which you pick up at your branch when it arrives.

But this is a blog about woodworking and related fields, so this post about my visit this week to the newest branch of the NY Public Library, the renovated Mid-Manhattan library, will look at the library from an architectural standpoint.

Since 1970s, the Mid-Manhattan library branch has been in a library-owned building on 5th avenue and 40th Street, across from the main branch (the one with the lions Patience and Fortitude). Whereas the main branch is primarily for research, the Mid Manhattan was a large circulating library. It was a converted office building, and very institutional in its approach and look. About 5 years ago the library toyed with the idea of selling the building to a developer, consolidating everything in the main branch, moving some of the research materials in the main branch out to New Jersey. The plan was greeted with a public outcry. It also made no sense. The library retreated, and decided to close the mid Manhattan and remodel it top to bottom.

The new library opened this month. It's named after the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (I vaguely remember that Niarchos was a Greek shipping billionaire and a rival to Aristotle Onassis), a large foundation that is active in Athens and New York. It's really impressive. I think the photographs give a fairly good idea of how open an area it is. It has more books than ever, and as the pandemic fades it'll get more and more crowded. The top floor is an open terrace and coffee bar which is very nice. When I told a friend about the library, her first thought was, "This sounds like a great place to meet a friend for some coffee." True! The stacks are well done, and there's plenty of space to sit read and study. What a very interesting to me is the use of wood. The overwhelming surface treatment of everything is stone, or things that look like stone. But in areas that are supposed to be more welcoming there are wooden tables, and wooden chairs. These aren't the Victorian wooden chairs of the other branches; these are modern Danish-inspired designs. The chairs are comfortable. In recognition of the importance of laptops and other devices, the tables are filled with outlets into the tables. You have plenty of tables onto which you can spread out your reading material or research. Or just comfy chairs to curl up with a book.

The library has a good selection of books on art, architecture, and some craft. But sadly the demand for some of the more involved books on woodworking aren't considered mainstream enough to be on their shelves. We can help you if you are building your own private library of woodworking books. It was nice to see that even in the new and shiny setting many of the books were mature veterans. Great to see that they were not discarded!

I can't tell you what the library of the future will look like and what services it will provide, but I can say this new incarnation of this branch is a welcome addition to the city, and shows confidence that even in the future we will need books, places of learning, and oases of calm.

A New Library 2
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More books than ever! all over the place!
More books than ever! all over the place!

The view from the terrace and fairly priced coffee bar
The view from the terrace and fairly priced coffee bar
Join the conversation
07/28/2021 Norb Kelly
Looks like the library board did their homework after listening to their public. Beautiful space and gathering area. If I have a choice between a book and anything electronic, I will always go for the book in my hand. Books won't be replaced!
07/28/2021 Ira Kopilow
I sincerely hope that brick and mortar libraries will remain for time in memoriam. The library is the place where facts live, as opposed to the internet where oftentimes random thoughts are manufactured to resemble facts. Cold flickering screens displaying characters are poor substitutes for the warmth of holding a book of words flowing off the page. The intoxicating smell of the stacks of dusty books cannot be replaced by anything you get online.

Veritas. Virtus. Libertas
07/28/2021 Danny A Batchelor
It’s good to see cities are still investing in libraries. NYC has set the bar with this rendition.
07/29/2021 Tom Hitchner
Glad they are keeping the library. Libraries are one of the symbols of civilized society, which is In great need these days.
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