“Re-envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries”

From the Introduction to “Re-envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries”:

“AT A TIME WHEN FAR TOO MANY NEW YORKERS lack the basic language and technological skills need-ed to access decent-paying jobs, branch libraries have become a critical part of New York City’s human capital system, the go-to place for upgrading one’s skills and a key platform for economic empowerment. Libraries also have stepped in as critical resources as record numbers of freelancers are looking for a place to do their work, students from pre-k through 12th grade need to supplement their studies with enrichment programs, and neighborhood residents want a “third place” to meet with neighbors and keep up with events. As Superstorm Sandy revealed in 2012, libraries are even an important part of building and maintaining strong social networks necessary for community recovery efforts.

Yet, despite expanding needs and growing circulation and program attendance numbers, New York isn’t coming close to fulfilling the promise of its community libraries. The average branch library in New York City is 61 years old, and a significant share of the branches suffer from major physical defects such as a lack of light and ventilation, water leaks and over-heating due to malfunctioning cooling systems. In addition, the vast majority of branches—including “newer” ones built in the past 40 years—are poorly configured for how New Yorkers are using libraries today, with little space for classes, group work and individuals working on laptop computers. Meanwhile, the libraries have just started to scratch the surface when it comes to taking advantage of new technologies, and they have only begun to design branches in ways that improve how they serve specific populations, such as seniors and teens.

More than half of the city’s 207 library buildings are over 50 years old and a quarter were built at least a century ago. With such an aging building stock, it’s not surprising that the city’s libraries are on the verge of a maintenance crisis. The city’s three library sys-tems have at least $1.1 billion in capital needs, and that’s mainly just to bring the branches into a state of good repair. Bringing them into the 21st century would require an even greater investment.”

Read or download the entire report here.