Humans of New York photo sparks debate over NYPL renovation

Credit: Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York

The New York Public Library defended itself on Tuesday after a recent post on the popular street photography blog Humans of New York sparked a backlash against plans to renovate the 42nd Street branch.

The image, which showed a man eating chicken outside the library, was accompanied by a quote from the subject, who identified himself on Twitter as Matthew Zadrozny. In the caption, he called the branch his “favorite place in the world” and shared his disappointment about the toll he said upcoming renovations would take on the site’s famed research collection.

“Recently, the library administration has decided to rip out this collection, send the books to New Jersey and use the space for a lending library. As part of the consolidation, they are going to close down the Mid-Manhattan Library Branch as well as the Science, Industry and Business Library,” Zadrozny said. “When everything is finished, one of the greatest research libraries in the world will become a glorified Internet cafe.”

The photo, which has been shared on Facebook more than 49,000 times, reinvigorated the Save the 42nd Street Library movement and touched off such a debate that the library felt compelled to respond.

An NYPL spokesperson sent Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton a statement, which he posted on his page in a rare rebuttal to a previous entry.

“The vast majority of research books will remain on the site (in far superior storage conditions),” the statement said. “This plan will be greatly expanding access to the library. The renovation will allow all New Yorkers – scholars, students, educators, immigrants, job-seekers – to take advantage of this beautiful building and its world-class collections.”

Stanton encouraged his followers to read up on the debate.

“My captions are almost always stories, as opposed to opinions,” Stanton told Metro on Wednesday. “In this case the caption contained a rather specific set of allegations. So when the library asked to respond, I felt it would only be fair to allow them to present their reply.”

Follow Emily Johnson on Twitter @emilyjreports


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  1. To suggest, as the NYPL does, that the NYPL’s plan is NOT getting rid of and exiling books is to suggest something that is highly inaccurate. Manhattan’s flagship, destination libraries just recently used to house on the order of 13 million or more books. The Central Library Plan, getting rid of two libraries, Mid-Manhattan and SIBL, while ripping out the research stacks, downsizes that number down to maybe 4 million, maybe fewer, 3.5 million. They have to get rid of and exile books because they are reducing more than 380,000 square feet of library space down to 80,000 square feet. Books take up real estate and the people who have been allowed to make these decisions are focused on selling off the system’s real estate. NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman is the head of Blackstone, the world’s largest real estate investment firm.

    Removal of the research stacks will end practical, efficient access to most of the research books. The Central Reference Library itself, expanded at taxpayer expense in 1992 and again in 2002 is designed to hold at least 6.2 million books and can hold about 6.5 million. Not so by any means if the CLP ever proceeds.

    Don’t believe the PR nonsense the NYPL puts out. They have previously mischaracterized this shrinkage and sell-off as “an expansion.” Ha!