Libraries Old & New

Adults and children in a room of a library with bookshelves, an orange light in the ceiling and an orange wall.

The Adams Street Library in Dumbo, Brooklyn, has a children’s space with hues reminiscent of a Creamsicle. Justin Kaneps for The New York Times

The name Michael Kimmelman is rare in these pages, but in covering one of our favorite topics he gets our full attention again today:

As New York Weighs Library Cuts, Three New Branches Show Their Value

Facing a giant budget deficit, Mayor Eric Adams proposed cuts to New York libraries. But they play an outsize role in the city, offering services and safety.

Adults and children gather in a well-lit children’s room in a library that is filled with bookshelves. One child sits on a color-blocked rug, drawing.

The children’s room at the Macomb’s Bridge branch in Upper Manhattan; below, the entrance and canopy outside refer to the original landmarked architecture. Justin Kaneps for The New York Times Image

A city is only as good as its public spaces. The Covid-19 pandemic was another reminder: For quarantined New Yorkers, parks, outdoor dining sheds and reopened libraries became lifelines.

But now Mayor Eric Adams wants to slash funds for parks ($46 million) and for libraries ($13 million this fiscal year, more than $20 million next), and the City Council is debating the dining sheds. The sheds need regulation and the city budget needs to be cut by perhaps $3 billion. That said, if you don’t find the current political conversation shortsighted, you might want to do what I recently did and check out some of the library branches that have opened since the start of 2020. I visited three of them — each one a boon for its neighborhood, and money well-spent.

In Upper Manhattan, I toured the compact, 3,500-square-foot Macomb’s Bridge branch. A private donor paid the $2.1 million construction costs. Michielli + Wyetzner Architects oversaw the conversion of seven defunct little storefronts at a landmark public housing development from the 1930s. Residents in the underserved district had lobbied beforehand for a larger library, but the pocket-size Macomb’s has become a popular community hub, and no wonder: Making the most of tight quarters, Michielli + Wyetzner have designed an efficient, sunny, multipurpose space that nods to the building’s architectural history and that functioned as a welcoming sanctuary during Covid.

In Brooklyn Heights, I stopped by the three-story branch that Taryn Christoff and her colleagues at the mega-firm Gensler designed. Brooklyn Heights Library, as it’s called, occupies the base of a new wedge-shaped high-rise by Marvel Architects, constructed on the site of an earlier Brooklyn Heights branch. The developer, Hudson, bought the site from the Brooklyn Public Library system, tore down the former branch, erected the high-rise and donated empty space in the tower’s base for the new branch. The Brooklyn Library paid to build out the space and owns it.

NIMBYs and preservationists opposed the sale and demolition of the early 1960s branch, in no small measure because they opposed the tower. Library officials said they had determined that renovating the old branch would be too costly and a waste of money. They were looking at a multimillion-dollar tab just to fix the air conditioning, they said.

The new library became an instant attraction. Christoff and her Gensler team listened to neighbors and included a community room (I happened on a sewing circle one afternoon); a teen space on a mezzanine; a children’s library, and (this was more symbolic than logical) enough book stacks to hold as many volumes as the demolished library housed…

Read the whole article here.

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