NEW YORK – The New York Public Library’s Main Branch, known for the two stone lions that guard its imposing entrance, is about to undergo the most complete renovation in its history, a $317 million project that has not been free of controversy.
The library, located at 476 Fifth Avenue and popular among tourists, is one of the top research libraries in the United States, drawing scholars from across the country.
The renovation of the flagship building, which opened in 1911 and was constructed in the Beaux-Arts architectural style, will not be completed until late 2021.
Four years ago, when another renovation project was proposed, a group of scholars threatened to sue the library if it proceeded to remove its century-old book stacks and turn part of the research library into a circulating library.
The new renovation project is designed to increase the space available for research, exhibit and study rooms by 20 percent, as well as adding a coffeehouse, shop, elevator and terrace.
The master plan, however, avoids the touchy issue of the stacks, which were installed in 1911 and do not meet modern preservation standards for temperature, humidity and fire safety.
The majority of the flagship library’s valuable holdings have been moved temporarily to the Bryant Park branch, with the collection from the Mid-Manhattan branch, which is undergoing a $200 million renovation, in the stacks.
New York Public Library president and CEO Anthony Marx said during a recent public workshop that the institution’s administration would take its time in deciding the fate of the stacks.
Some members of the public who attended the workshop questioned putting off the decision on the stacks, arguing that a master plan should address that issue.
Marx said that even if books were housed at another branch, the average delivery time was just 27 minutes.
The New York Public Library chief said, moreover, that an agreement had been reached with the libraries at Harvard, Columbia and Princeton universities, giving patrons access to 7 million additional items.
Some members of the public also opposed having a coffee shop at the iconic flagship branch, drawing applause from the audience.
Of the $317 million going into the renovation project, $144 million was spent over the past decade, with most of the funds coming from gifts to the library system.
The New York Public Library has 92 branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.