||t is my honor to welcome you, as the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The New York Public Library, to this review of the Library’s past year, a particularly memorable one in recent Library history due to the celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. The Centennial of our monumental Beaux-Arts landmark stands out as a pivotal moment in a year of notable accomplishments, as the Library paid homage to its past while looking forward to the next hundred years of service to the incredibly diverse communities that depend on us.
This has been a year of many achievements, but also of significant change. In June, the Library bid adieu to Dr. Paul LeClerc, welcoming its new President, Dr. Anthony Marx, who joined us last summer after serving as the head of Amherst College for eight years. Paul’s retirement marked the end of 17 years of distinguished leadership, during which he helped steer NYPL into the digital age while bringing important collections to the Library, including the papers and archives of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Lillian Gish, John Cage, Malcolm X, Jack Kerouac, Jerome Robbins, The New York Times Company, and the Yaddo artists colony.
The Library also gratefully acknowledges the extraordinary work of my predecessor, Catherine Marron, dedicated member of the Library’s Board since 1993 and Chairman from 2004 to 2011. During her tenure, Catie led the Library to record levels of use and accessibility, expanding hours of library service and greatly enhancing NYPL’s presence in communities throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Under her watch, five new libraries were built, including the Bronx Library Center, which opened in 2006 and is the largest library in the borough. In addition, Catie strengthened the Library’s finances. She led an $18 million post-9/11 emergency campaign, helped steer the course for the Library’s plans to transform the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and oversaw the “Creating the Library for the Future” $1.2 billion capital campaign. Most remarkably, during Catie’s tenure as Chairman, the Library’s endowment increased by almost 70 percent.
The unstinting efforts of Paul LeClerc and Catie Marron, and many others like them, have helped to bring the Library to a tremendously exciting moment in its history, a time of transition that nevertheless builds on the brilliant accomplishments of its past. One of the most enduring emblems of our immensely successful Centennial Year is the Schwarzman Building’s magnificent facade, returned to its original beauty and grandeur following a historic three-year restoration. Carrère & Hastings’s masterpiece sparkles as brilliantly as it did when the “People’s Palace” first opened its doors to an astonished public, on May 23, 1911. As demonstrated by the record-breaking Centennial exhibition, the Library’s collections have inspired people of all ages for more than 100 years; and our curators and librarians — deeply committed to the philosophy that all knowledge is worth preserving for future generations — never stop collecting. This year alone, notable acquisitions by the research libraries include the papers of Maya Angelou and Timothy Leary, as well as the Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive, this last a treasure trove of papers, photographs, and videotapes documenting the great dancer’s ballet career, solo and commercial projects, and White Oak Dance Project.
In his letter, Tony Marx will discuss other notable highlights of the past year and outline the Library’s goals and challenges as we look to our next century of serving New York City and beyond. For my part, two recent achievements in particular underline the vital role that The New York Public Library plays in neighborhoods across the city.
On June 28, 2011, NYPL opened a brand-new Kingsbridge Library. At a time when other library systems have been forced to cut services or shutter branches, we continue investing in New York City’s neighborhoods. The new glass-paneled, 12,625-square-foot Kingsbridge branch is nearly twice as large as its former location, and features many more computers, two vibrant community rooms, an outdoor garden, and separate children’s and teen areas. The $17.7 million state-of-the-art building also boasts NYPL’s first green roof, which catches and reuses a percentage of rainwater that would normally be lost to the city’s sewer system. Since its opening last June, the new Kingsbridge has welcomed nearly three times more patrons, particularly young families and other first-time library users, who are drawn in by the branch’s innovative services and the wealth of programs for all ages.
On a more challenging front, last year brought the largest proposed budget cuts in NYPL’s history. Fortunately, those cuts were almost completely restored thanks to unprecedented support from NYPL’s patrons and local elected officials. The proposed $40 million cut would have decimated hours, resources, and staff across NYPL’s 91 locations, prompting New Yorkers to raise their voices to help the Library maintain its crucial services. As part of NYPL’s “Keep Libraries Open” campaign, more than 136,000 loyal Library users wrote letters to their elected officials and donated $70,000 online. Thanks to this collaborative effort — and the support of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, and members of the City Council — the final cuts resulted in only a few changes to Library hours and staffing levels. We thank everyone for their generosity, which has allowed NYPL to keep all of its branches open at least six days a week, enabling us to better serve our millions of patrons.
As the Library looks ahead to its next 100 years, all of our many supporters — from elected officials to private donors, foundations, and corporations — deserve the Library’s grateful thanks for their financial support and unswerving loyalty. Especially in these challenging times, our valued donors play key roles in every aspect of the life of the Library. Their munificence enables us, for example, to sustain the absolute quality of our world-class research collections, which draw scholars, writers, researchers, and artists from around the world. Still, as a member of the Library’s Board since 2001, I know first hand that perhaps no group loves The New York Public Library more than its Board of Trustees. It is therefore my special pleasure to welcome the Library's newest Trustee, Richard L. Plepler, the co-president of Home Box Office, Inc., at the same time that I personally pay tribute to each member of the Library’s Board. I am honored to serve the Library’s mission alongside a group of such extraordinary caretakers and dedicated, tireless advocates.
Last year the Library was ultimately successful in getting most of the proposed budget cuts restored, an accomplishment we should all be very proud of. However, this year, we are confronted with the harshest cut to The New York Public Library in its history — a proposed $43 million reduction that, unless reversed, will drastically affect the essential services and materials we are able to provide our patrons. I am confident that, working closely with elected officials and through careful planning and thoughtful action, The New York Public Library will overcome this latest challenge, ensuring that New Yorkers can continue to turn to their neighborhood libraries and the research libraries for the support and services they need — and deserve.
Neil L. Rudenstine