Under the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan (CLP), the collections of the Mid-Manhattan Branch, a circulating branch library, and the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), a research library that opened in 1996, will be transferred to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the other two buildings will be sold, and a circulating library designed by British architect Norman Foster will open on the ground floor of the Schwarzman Building. The New York Public Library (NYPL) now estimates this enormous project will be completed in 2018 and all three libraries will remain open during construction.
Writers both for and against the CLP have given different figures for how many millions of non-circulating reference books the NYPL will move from the Main Branch, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, to the ReCAP (The Research Collections and Preservation Consortium) facility in Princeton, New Jersey and possibly to expanded stacks under Bryant Park, as well. [ReCAP is shared by Princeton University, Columbia University, and the NYPL] Some have said the NYPL will move over 1,000,000 books, while others have said the NYPL will move 3,000,000 books.
In the December 19, 2011 issue of The Nation, journalist Scott Sherman placed the financial strain the NYPL is under and the development of the CLP in a national context. He wrote, “These are arduous times for public library systems. More people are using libraries during the economic downturn, but state and local legislators are steadily cutting their budgets.”
An unidentified official told Sherman, “Our sources of revenue from the city and state are not keeping up with inflation. We’ve got to find ways to structurally reduce our costs. And one way to do that is to have less overall square footage systemwide, because every square foot of space costs money to clean it, to maintain it and to staff it.”
Sherman explained the American Library Association (ALA) “notes that since 2008, ‘more than half the states have reported a decrease in funding, with cumulative cuts averaging greater than ten percent.’ Library systems of all sizes are under pressure. The Los Angeles County public library system, which serves 3.7 million citizens, faces a structural deficit of $22 million a year for the next decade. Budget cuts have forced the Seattle Public Library, one of the nation’s finest, to shut down for a week in late summer. Thomas Galante, CEO of the bustling Queens Library, which serves hundreds of thousands of immigrants in New York City, spoke reverently about one healthy and outstanding public library—in Toronto.”
Sherman related that Anthony Marx, who became President & CEO of the NYPL in 2011, “faces an additional challenge with the CLP, devised by his predecessor [Paul LeClerc] and scheduled to be completed in 2015.”
The centerpiece of the CLP—expected to cost anywhere from $250 million to $350 million—is the construction of a state-of-the-art, computer-oriented library… in the vast interior of the Schwarzman Building. To make space for this library within the library, the seven levels of original stacks beneath the third-floor Rose Reading Room—stacks that hold 3 million books and tens of thousands of adjustable and fixed shelves—will be demolished (the exterior of the building is landmarked; the stacks are not)...
NYPL officials have grand hopes for their new high-tech circulating facility: it will be ‘the largest comprehensive library open to the public in human history,’ LeClerc wrote in… 2008. How will it be paid for? The City of New York will provide about $150 million for the project. The NYPL expects to raise another $100–$200 million by selling off two prominent libraries in its system…
The CLP raises thorny questions. Will Forty-second Street remain a serene environment for scholars, serious readers, intellectuals and book lovers, or will it be converted into a noisy, tumultuous branch library? Might the $250–$350 million designated for the renovation of Forty-second Street be better spent on the eighty-seven branch libraries…? Finally, there is the question of the public good. NYPL executives say the objective of the CLP...is to democratize the [Main Branch,] incorporate the latest digital technology and serve the public. They emphasize their desire to expand public access to Forty-second Street…
Ann Thornton, who in March of 2012 succeeded David S. Ferriero as Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries, told Sherman back in 2011, that only 32% of the 600,000-square-foot Schwarzman Building was open to the public. She assured him that after Foster’s renovation nearly 70% of the building would be open to the public.
Sherman wrote of her boss,
Marx… argues… too much of the Schwarzman Building is off-limits and… exquisite rooms are… storage spaces. Says Marx, ‘The driver of the idea of a central library plan is that in the back quarter of this iconic building are stacks of books that are rarely used. We can store and get access to those books without having to take the prime space in a prime location in New York City. To the degree that we can make that space available, and replace books with people, that’s the future of where libraries are going.’
Sherman quoted NYPL Trustee Carl Pforzheimer III, “whose family endowed a majestic room in the main branch, the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle,” as saying, “The stacks are important to have, but it’s more important to use the space properly for the future.”
 The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was originally known as The New York Public Library. After it was remodeled and expanded under Bryant Park in the 1980s, it was renamed the Humanities & Social Science Library and Bryant Park Stack Extension. There are still people who call it the Humanities & Social Science Library (HSSL), the way there are people in Chicago who still call U.S. Cellular Field “New Comiskey Park,” Willis Tower “the Sears Tower,” etc., because they object to the new names, are oblivious to the sites having been renamed, or simply do not care what officials on site call it.
 David S. Ferriero is now the Archivist of the United States.