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New York Public Library to break ground on expansion of underground storage for research materials
Image of the current first level of underground storage.

NEW YORK, NY.- The New York Public Library breaks ground this week on a significant expansion of modern underground storage at its iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

The project – approved by the Library’s Board of Trustees in September 2012 – will transform 55,700 square feet of raw space underneath Bryant Park into state-of-the-art storage that can hold about 2.5 million research materials.

With the additional storage space, the Library will hold as many or more research volumes on-site as it ever has: approximately 4 million research items. This will allow the Library to accommodate approximately 95 percent of all research requests with materials on-site.

The project – expected to be completed by spring 2016 – will also dramatically improve the preservation environment at the more than 100-year-old Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, allowing the Library to better preserve materials for future generations of researchers.

“With this expanded storage capacity, we can provide on-site access to the researchers and writers who rely on our research collections while preserving these treasured materials for future generations,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “Decades ago, prior Library leaders made this ingenious investment – creating acres of underground book storage in the heart of Midtown – and we are elated that the world’s research community will soon be able to be enjoy its benefits.”

The Library already uses one level of underground storage beneath Bryant Park. When that facility was built in the 1980s, it included a second, lower level of raw space, which is now being renovated, thanks in part to a very generous $8 million gift from NYPL Trustee Abby S. Milstein and her husband Howard P. Milstein. The two-level underground storage facility will be named the Milstein Research Stacks.

"The Library's research collection is an international treasure, and responsible for countless works of scholarship, literature, and beyond,” said Abby Milstein, Vice Chairman of the Library’s Board of Trustees and Chair of its Executive Committee. This gift is the latest in a decades-long tradition of Milstein family support for the capital needs of the Library, including the children’s floor in the 96th Street Library and the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy at the Schwarzman Building.

The $23 million storage expansion is being managed by Tishman Interiors and designed by Gensler architects. Before embarking on the project, the Library evaluated two options for necessary storage expansion: building out the lower level of its underground storage facility, or renovating an existing seven stories of shelving known as the central stacks. External, expert studies revealed a $24 million cost difference between the two options: renovating the underground storage facility would cost $23 million, while bringing the more than 100-year-old central stacks up to acceptable modern-day preservation standards would cost $47 million. Thus, with the Bryant Park construction, the Library can provide on-site access to as many or more books as it has ever had, and can provide the necessary preservation environment for its research collection – all at less than half the cost of achieving this same level of access and preservation through upgrading the central stacks.

Work on the underground expansion begins as the Library is developing the programming plans for its Midtown Campus, which includes a renovation of Mid-Manhattan Library and the expansion of public space inside of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Throughout, the Library has engaged the public in a number of ways to learn what services New Yorkers want and need in the revamped Midtown Campus, including fielding a patron survey both online and at library sites that yielded 16,000 responses and by convening meetings of local experts on a variety of key topics, such as research, adult education, and digital media. NYPL is holding a public planning session on March 26 at the Schwarzman Building. Additional information on the Midtown Campus project is available at

Some key findings of the patron survey included:

• The vast majority of respondents list quiet spaces and the availability of materials to check out as their top priority – in other words, traditional library functions.

• About 80 percent of respondents want programs, lectures, and exhibitions.

• Roughly 75 percent value "expert help," so it is important for the library to staff the library appropriately with curators and librarians.

• Using technology and learning new skills were also valued by respondents.

• More than half of the respondents would like their new library to be a "reading and writing hub."

• About 40 percent of respondents want their new library to be an "adult education center" offering job resources, ESOL classes, tech training, etc. For those who identified themselves as low-income, that number jumped to about 50 percent.

• About 65 percent of parents asked that the new library be a "learning center" for children, offering “Out of School Time” programs for kids after school.

• Libraries remain “sole providers” of many essential services for New Yorkers in the lowest income brackets (with annual household income under $25K):

• 29% of respondents with under $25K household income said that the Library is the only place they go for access to books and other media.

• 24% of respondents with under $25K household income said that the Library is the only place they go for help with their research.

• 19% of respondents with under $25K household income said that the Library is the only place they bring their children and teens to explore collections and attend programs.

The Library sent a “Request for Qualifications” to 20 architectural firms in February as a first step towards securing an architect for the project.

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