||raditionally, annual reports are retrospective. But this year, my first since assuming the presidency of The New York Public Library, on July 1, 2011, I would like to begin my review of the past year with a look at some exciting first steps we have just taken to realize an inspiring future for the Library.
Libraries do and should change lives, serving not only as much-needed providers of books and services but also as dynamic, vibrant community hubs where creativity and ideas are born and then nurtured. To that end, the Library’s Board of Trustees recently approved a sweeping set of systemwide initiatives that would revitalize our branches through greatly enhanced programming efforts and major capital improvements. This includes the proposed transformation of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street into the nation’s largest combined circulating and research library. Improvements are planned throughout the building, but one especially exciting change involves the creation of a new scholars and writers center to accommodate at least 400 writers (more than double the current number), with our Cullman Center remaining the crown jewel. The Central Library Plan (CLP) will benefit both users and collections in numerous ways, including: freeing up additional funds to support scholarly acquisitions as well as the creation of additional quiet study spaces in the building; replacing the aging Mid-Manhattan Library with a beautiful, dignified, and state-of-the-art circulating library (the largest in the U.S.) alongside a new Science, Industry and Business Library; and securing our collections — both on-site and off-site — in optimal climate and preservation conditions, guaranteeing that they will be available for future generations. Our vision for the 42nd Street library would symbolize the rebirth of libraries throughout the system as engines of democracy, portals to growth and fulfillment for all of our citizens, from students and scholars to job seekers and new immigrants.
NYPL will continue to do what it has always done, and done superbly — only bigger and better. As this year’s Annual Report demonstrates, The New York Public Library is a local community with global implications, a community whose expert and dedicated staff serve our ever-evolving communities — not only in New York City, but around the world.
As a native New Yorker, born and bred in Inwood and recently returned to the city, I know that it all begins in the neighborhoods. And at the heart of the neighborhood stands the library, that quiet — and sometimes not so quiet — place where New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds come together to discover knowledge, find inspiration, and forge communities. The range of programs and services offered across our 91 locations is astonishing, demonstrating the essential role that NYPL plays in the intellectual and civic life in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
From ESOL classes to scholarly lectures, from hands-on computer tutorials to our annual Anti-Prom, which lights up the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and fills it with young people from across the city, our libraries are constantly buzzing “homes away from home” for our full range of patrons, including children and their families, seniors, entrepreneurs, writers and researchers, and dreamers of all stripes. No doubt the economic downturn has played a part, but our libraries have never been livelier — or more needed. This year, more than 43,000 classes and programs were held at NYPL, and we welcomed more than 15 million visits to our neighborhood libraries alone. In addition, the four research centers saw nearly 2.5 million through the door.
Nothing perhaps better symbolizes the centrality of The New York Public Library to the life of the city — and the nation — as our Centennial Year of 2011, which commemorated the opening of NYPL’s iconic 42nd Street building, on May 23, 1911. Our Centennial exhibition, Celebrating 100 Years, drew more than 650,000 visitors to the Schwarzman Building’s Gottesman Exhibition Hall and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery and proved to be hands down the most successful exhibition in the Library’s history. An unprecedented embarrassment of riches drawn from the Library’s world-renowned collections, this thought-provoking exhibition was but one part of a year of festivities that included an exciting Centennial Festival at the Schwarzman Building, a spectacular gala, a ceremonial rededication of the Carrère & Hastings landmark, and a plethora of special programming and activities at numerous other NYPL locations throughout 2011.
Today, libraries must encompass more than books and archives, no matter how essential those resources are not just for current scholars, but also for future generations of researchers and students. Digitally, NYPL is charting the course for libraries of the future — as of course we must and, because of our brilliant and always forward-thinking staff, are uniquely equipped to do. For starters, our acclaimed Digital Gallery, consisting of 803,279 images, all free of copyright, was viewed more than 127 million times this year. In addition, we pioneered in creating highly innovative components of our online exhibitions, experimenting with a virtual “Centennial Quilt” as a major piece of Celebrating 100 Years. And in May, NYPL released the first edition of Biblion: The Boundless Library, an award-winning educational app and website that enables readers to plot their own journeys — dynamic, free-associative, serendipitous — through the Library’s vast collections.
I look forward to realizing the great mission of our Library by embracing three key areas: a complete reenvisioning of our neighborhood libraries, including pilot programs that will refocus and expand our much-needed educational services; the creation of a boundary-breaking central branch at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, making it a hub of intellectual leadership for library users throughout the city and the world; and the creation of a true Virtual Library. All of this will only be possible with the complete and dedicated cooperation of our valued staff, donors, volunteers, and friends in business and government. I am confident this will be a given, as it has been in this past year of so many successes on so many fronts at the Library.
But acknowledging the Library’s legions of supporters, even in advance, is always a pleasure; and for me, this year, there is no greater pleasure than in paying tribute to the many achievements of my illustrious predecessor, Dr. Paul LeClerc, who stepped down as President of The New York Public Library, on June 30, 2011, after 17 years of distinguished stewardship of this, the best of all possible libraries. Because of his years of dedicated service, this “unassumingly brilliant administrator and Voltaire scholar” (in David Remnick’s apt words) has left me — lucky me — in the best of all possible jobs. It is an equal pleasure for me to acknowledge the leadership of Catie Marron, who as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for seven remarkable years (20042011) guided the Library’s efforts, setting standards of graciousness and achievement that have served the institution so well. And as you will see from this Annual Report, thanks to the exemplary work of visionary leaders like Paul LeClerc and Catie Marron, as well as the tireless exertions of countless others, we are already well on our way to reimagining — and then creating — the libraries for the future.
Anthony W. Marx