For three years, the vast holdings of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts have been held in temporary midtown locations and storage while the NYPL's Lincoln Center home underwent mega-renovation. Begun July 20, 1998, the remake is finally being completed, and the Library will return to Lincoln Center Oct. 15, following a free public open house Oct. 13.
Expected to require two years and $30 million, the renovation ended up taking three years and $37 million, $12.5 million of which was paid for by a donation from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman. As such, the building housing the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will be named "the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center." The City of New York also kicked in $20 million. Polshek Partnership Architects, who also worked on the Rose Center at the Museum of Natural History, designed the renovation.
Reached in July 1998, then-spokesperson Alex Wang, noted that the overhaul would "reapportion the space, and there'll be an infrastructure for the latest information technologies, new wiring and networking for reference databases, as well as for personal computers." In a statement released June 22 of this year, Library President Paul LeClerc added, "The redesign of one of the world's most popular research libraries is a response to the enormous increase in its collections and usership, the extraordinary advances in information technology, and the development of large multimedia collections that document live performances. We've made the collections more accessible...and added the latest technology..."
Physically, the new space will have a well-lit reading room with two big skylights, loft-like galleries (the first exhibition, "Transformations," will examine the creative process), expanded storage, a technology training center and new information desk, 44 video playback stations, and four times as many public-access computers. Research Libraries Senior VP William D. Walker noted that "an automated system will control temperatures where delicate materials are stored."
Asked in 1998 about the reason for the renovation, executive director Robert Marx told BackStage, "The library building doesn't really adequately hold us at this point. Our annual attendance is 400,000. This building wasn't designed to hold that many people. We're bursting at the seams." The Lincoln Center library complex opened in 1965 and has been housing five collections: the music division, the Billy Rose theatre collection, the Jerome Robbins dance division, the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound (which boasts more than half a million recordings), as well as the Circulating collection. According to NYPL spokespersons, more than 350,000 visit those research centers each year.
Oddly enough, only 30 percent of the Library's holdings are books; the rest are sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, videos, manuscripts, posters, programs and photos. For more information on the Library's renovation schedule, check out their website at http://www.nypl.org.
— By David Lefkowitz