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A $55 Million Gift, and a New Name, for the Mid-Manhattan Library

The gift, and the renaming, are the latest development in the library’s recalibrations following the withdrawal of its Central Library Plan, which would have involved selling the Mid-Manhattan branch, housed in a former department store, and moving its functions into the Schwarzman building. That plan, which included a design by the British architect Norman Foster, drew substantial criticism from pundits, scholars and the general public, and was abandoned in 2014.


The renovated branch will include what the library says is the only free public roof terrace in Midtown.

Mecanoo/Beyer Blinder Belle

The 100,000 square-foot renovated circulating library, designed by the lesser-known Dutch firm Mecanoo, will not be without eye-catching design features, including what the library describes as the only free, publicly accessible roof terrace in Midtown. Inside, there will be an atrium-like “long room” with five floors of open, browsable shelving and space for some 400,000 items (the same number as before the renovations, according to the library).

But Mr. Marx was also eager to emphasize the building’s full-floor adult education center, as well as the expansion of literacy programs, computer training and citizenship classes throughout the library’s 92 branches. Nearly half a billion dollars for major infrastructure improvements has been secured since 2011, from both private and public sources, he said.

That emphasis on the library’s inclusiveness is echoed in “Ex Libris,” an immersive documentary about the library by the filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, which opened on Wednesday in New York. And it’s also reflected in the library’s formal announcement of the Niarchos gift, which said the circulating and research libraries will form “a seamless physical and digital ‘midtown campus,’ ” despite remaining in separate buildings.

That was important to the donor. “The idea that there would be one hub, one campus, was very important to us,” said Andreas Dracopoulos, the co-president and director of the Niarchos Foundation, which has also built a new national library in Greece, as part of an $861 million cultural complex.

“We want people to say, ‘I’m going to the library,’ without anyone having to ask, ‘The one on the right side of Fifth Avenue, or on the left?’ ” Mr. Dracopoulos, a former library trustee, said.


The entrance to the renovated branch, which will reopen in early 2020 as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.

Mecanoo/Beyer Blinder Belle

Some contentious issues remain unsettled on Fifth Avenue, including the ultimate fate of the stacks under the Rose Reading Room, recently designated an interior landmark, in the Schwarzman building. The stacks, which were to have been demolished to make way for the Foster-designed circulating library, have been mostly empty since 2013, to the dismay of some scholars and preservationists. (The books, initially moved off-site, are now in newly built high-density shelving under Bryant Park.)

Mr. Marx said the library would announce new plans for renovations and improvements at the Schwarzman building at a later date. But for now, he said, the focus was more on removing perceived barriers to access throughout the system.

“It does feel like we’re in a moment of people saying, ‘We have to have a place where we all can be together,’” he said. “And the library is that place.”

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