Harlem Public Library Branch Underfunded, But Midtown Flagship Branch To Receive $300M Overhaul

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As the New York Public Library (NYPL) system prepares its flagship 5th Avenue location for a $300-million overhaul, its smallest branch seems to be getting shafted, according to the NY Daily News.[1]

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The NYPL’s Macomb’s Bridge Library, located in the Harlem River Houses on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, reportedly only has 14 chairs. It is housed in a 700-sq-ft converted studio apartment that can only fit 25 people at any given time.

Visitors only have access to 10 laptop computers, there are only 61 shelves of books, and the librarian’s office is smaller than most bathrooms. Space in the library is so limited that whenever staff members want to hold a puppet show or movie screening, they have to either place all the tables against the wall or take the events outside.

Meanwhile, the iconic mid-Manhattan branch (pictured below) is set to combine with the nearby Science, Industry, and Business Library; seven floors of book stacks in the mid-Manhattan branch will be demolished and converted into a new branch.

 

harlem new york public library branch

Critics argue the plan is taking the library’s budget away from other branches.

“The amount of money they have is finite. If you take half a billion dollars and use if for one purpose, it is sucking money that could be used in other places of the system,” said Jacob Morris, an opponent of the expansion plan.

In response to detractors, the NYPL says Macomb’s is stuck in its current location because of the community’s inability to locate a suitable space.

A possible 2008 site was abandoned because the owners reportedly refused to allow the library to perform an environmental study, and some of the money for that project went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture branch.

Another site — a former public school converted to condominiums — is close by, but it was also reportedly rejected because it lies outside Councilwoman Inez Dickens’ district (Dickens represents the district Macomb’s is located in, and council member support is imperative in helping library plans become successful).

Still, NYPL CEO David Offensend argued that the expansion plan was worth its price tag because it would fix up the aging mid-Manhattan branch. He also denied any bias in funding.

“We want to upgrade both, but we’re not prioritizing Midtown over Macomb’s,” he added. Dickens notes that she has set aside $797,000 annually since 2007 to find a new site for Macomb’s with no luck yet.

What’s unfortunate about the plan is how the NYPL is willing to pump millions in to its flagship location, yet a council member has to set aside funds to find a better location for Macomb’s, which is located in a neighborhood largely populated by African Americans and Hispanics.

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