Dear Mayor de Blasio:
As I am a woman of many interests but with little money, the New York Public Library has been my ‘go to’ place for knowledge, work, physical exercise and entertainment. All the programs, events and classes that I have participated in have been first-rate and free.
And while I have not been in each of the system’s branches, I have used 11 out of the 42 in Manhattan, taking computer courses; watching movies and staged readings of Shakespeare and other plays; listening to opera and Broadway tunes; attending talks from authors on books as diverse as breast cancer treatments through the ages and the mad bomber of New York City; and attending yoga and other exercise classes. All of the classes were taught by knowledgeable, caring people, the kind of instructors that take time to make sure everyone understands the material as it’s presented.
And all of the library employees I’ve encountered have taken that extra step to make me and all their patrons welcome and comfortable. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when all electricity was out below 39th Street, the staff at the Grand Central branch brought desks and chairs from private offices and rooms to accommodate me and the many other New Yorkers who needed to use and recharge computers. I’m sure the same thing happened at the other branches that were not affected by the blackout.
But while the library system is there for all, no one is there for it. It desperately needs money.
The NYPL needs money for books. In quite of few of the branches, the shelves are only three-quarters full. Due to cost cutting, the periodical desk at the Mid-Manhattan branch has reduced the number of newspapers and magazines it stocks. Some of the branch’s reference books are so old they are no longer helpful.
The NYPL needs money for their elevators. Starting in May, the elevator in Epiphany branch, in the Gramercy Park neighborhood, will be out of use for a necessary upgrade. The elevators in the Mid-Manhattan branch also need an upgrade. While I’m sure they are perfectly safe, their conditions do little to make me feel that I will make it to the next floor without incident.
The NYPL needs money for general maintenance. Some of the branches have torn carpet or missing floor tiles or even leaky roofs. Most are in need of a coat of paint. Many of its chairs are so unsteady should be replaced.
The NYPL needs money for its facilities. In some restrooms, automatic hand dryers don’t work or the paper towel dispenser is broken. If there are two or more stalls, one is likely to have a broken lock. The Grand Central, one of the newest branches, is an exception. On its first floor, it has three individual restrooms that are bigger than those found in most New York apartments. They are in wonderful condition. But in some of the other branches, like the Epiphany, have only a single, unisex restroom, accessible with a key. And while this arrangement isn’t ideal, it is definitely better than what’s found at the Jefferson Market branch: It doesn’t have an adult public restroom at all! It does have a closely guarded one for children and their caretakers, but for other library patrons, if nature calls, they have to leave the library and visit an accommodating business on Sixth Avenue. A librarian suggested that the library just doesn’t have the money to install a proper adult restroom.
Where money is spent, the results are remarkable. The Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) is in wonderful condition and has plenty of computers, workspaces and comfortable chairs. The glass elevators are pleasant to ride and the ladies room is in good repair.
The Kips Bay branch is another branch were money was well spent. Since its overhaul, it is light, spacious and airy. On the first floor there are several computers, plenty of tables and chairs. I found the large comfortable club chairs in this branch, as well as in the Grand Central Branch, a perfect place to spend a couple of hours with a good book.
The children’s area, on branch’s second floor, is well stocked with books and games and child-sized furniture — wonderful for a rainy day or after-school activities. There is also a section of adult club chairs on this floor.
The children’s rooms in the Jefferson Market, Grand Central and Kips Bay branches all seem to be in good shape. The NYPL does spend money for the children of New York. That is money well spent.
But much of the New York Public Library system needs an upgrade. It should be in much better condition. And more money from the fiscal budget will make it so.
So please, Mayor de Blasio, do not forget this wonderful New York resource. Please make sure that it is properly funded so that we can all use and enjoy this important institution for many, many more years.