The magnificent Beaux-Arts library on Fifth Avenue guarded by a pair of stone lions was not where Farrah Denson wanted to be when she was a teenager growing up on the Upper West Side.
It was too formal and too intimidating, she recalled. She felt she had to be on her best behavior and not touch anything. And she was afraid to climb all the steps to the main entrance.
“I felt like I was going to court,” said Ms. Denson, now 34, who lives in Jersey City. “It wasn’t a place you wanted to hang out in.”
Today, the celebrated research library of the New York Public Library—officially known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building—is still as imposing as ever, set on its elegant grounds amid the skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan, but it has become much more. welcome place
An ongoing $200 million renovation of the 1911 landmark has sought to open its doors and world-renowned collections to more people—and not just the scholars and authors who have long passed through its marble halls—as the demand for public space in a crowded city. has soared since the pandemic.
Last month, a new entrance opened along 40th Street, allowing visitors to bypass the Fifth Avenue front steps and walk around the side through a quiet, shaded outdoor plaza with benches. That was what finally brought Ms. Denson back to the library this week.
“I knew there was something different,” Ms. Denson said after spotting the square from the street. “It’s like a retreat. This could be my little place.”
The library also updated public restrooms, significantly expanded the gift shop and transformed what was a simple food cart run by Amy’s Bread into a full cafe.
Just off the lobby, a room that used to store maps has been transformed into a visitor center with a detailed model of the building as well as interactive screens to provide an overview of the library’s history and collections.
Replicas of artifacts were placed on tables in the visitor center to be seen and touched. There is model of Augusta Savage a sculpture, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and a poster by Keith Haring about the AIDS crisis.
“We want everyone to feel like they own the collections and everything the library has to offer and feel welcome,” said Anthony W. Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, which is the nation’s largest library system. with 88 branches and four research centers.
Mr Marks recalled not feeling welcome in the library as a teenager in the 1970s. “I remember walking by the main building and just thinking, That looks very elegant, and I was in awe,” he said. “I didn’t go in. I thought, That’s not for people like me, that’s only for fancy people.”
It wasn’t until Mr. Marx was in his 30s that he actually stepped in. Now he has an office in the building and has led efforts to make it more inviting. The current renovation was paid for almost entirely with private money.
But even as library officials sought to reach more people, they again faced the threat of crippling budget cuts to their programs. In January, Mayor Eric Adams proposed $36 million in potential cuts to the city’s three public library systems, only to later relent under intense pressure from library supporters.
“Every year when this happens, the public says no, the libraries are different,” Mr. Marx said. “They are an essential part of the public fabric of this city that reaches the rich and the poor.”
The latest renovation of the research library, which began in 2020 and is expected to be completed in 2024, is part of a plan by library officials to create a Midtown library campus anchored by the research library and the lending library across the street, Iriso said. Weinshall, the chief manager of the library. The goal was to encourage people to go back and forth between them. The lending library, formerly known as the Mid-Manhattan Library, opened as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in 2021 after a separate $200 million renovation.
Inside the research library, a permanent installation of highlights from its collections was added in 2021 to show people what they’ve been missing. The Polonsky Exhibition of the New York Public Library’s Treasures displayed on a rotating basis more than 1,000 items that had been squirreled away in vaults and back rooms—including Charles Dickens’ desk, a 1783 pastel portrait of Benjamin Franklin and six first editions of Shakespeare’s. collected works.
As of this week, the free exhibition has attracted nearly one million visitors.
Luca Prudencio, 27, a tourist from Bolivia, stopped by the visitor center and exhibit recently, but said he didn’t get to see everything. So the next time he comes to New York, the library will be at the top of his list.
“I find it really attractive,” he said. “It’s certainly not a boring library.”