First Look at New York Public Library Mid-Manhattan Branch Renovation

November 17, 2016
Credit: Mecanoo with Beyer Blinder Belle

The New York Public Library today unveiled early designs for the renovation of its central circulating branch, with a rendering showing a completely renovated Mid-Manhattan Library that will serve and inspire all New Yorkers.

NOVEMBER 16, 2016 – New Yorkers are getting their first look at a completely renovated, vastly improved Mid-Manhattan Library—The New York Public Library’s largest circulating branch—which is set to undergo a transformation that will increase seats, expand services, and add public space. The largest public-private rehabilitation in NYPL’s history will create a new, state-of-the-art library that will serve as both a model and catalyst for a rejuvenated library system.

The schematic design released by The New York Public Library provides an early idea of what the Midtown branch will look like after a complete interior renovation, which is scheduled to begin in 2018. The project is much-needed at Mid-Manhattan, which opened in the 1970s in a space originally designed for a department store. The branch receives approximately 1.7 million visits annually and circulates approximately 2 million items each year.

The schematic designs for the project were developed by the project’s design team, led by architects Francine Houben of Mecanoo and Elizabeth Leber of Beyer Blinder Belle. The team worked for over a year analyzing library usage data, interviewing staff, surveying the public, and meeting with community stakeholders to ensure that the new branch will best meet the needs of library patrons.

The renovated branch—located at Fifth Avenue and 40th Street—will have a dramatic, multistory wall of bookshelves; an employment skills center occupying a full floor as well as an adjacent floor providing job-search help and small-business support; a full-floor dedicated to a library for children and a separate library for teens; the only free public roof terrace in Midtown; and hundreds more seats than the current branch.

“New Yorkers will soon have the central circulating library that they need and deserve,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “This library will transform lives by providing books, classes, and programs for New Yorkers of all ages, and it will transform our city—as it will be a model for how libraries can strengthen communities.”

Key elements of the new Mid-Manhattan Library include:

• An over 100,000-square-foot facility, providing more public space than the current Mid-Manhattan Library and Science, Industry and Business Library combined.

• More public space (by 35 percent) than the current Mid-Manhattan Library, created by moving back-office staff out of multiple floors of the building to an adjacent facility; utilizing the roof to add an additional floor; and utilizing the lower level for the public (with a design that brings in light from the street level).

• Capacity for approximately 400,000 books and other circulating materials.

• A “Long Room”—the largest element in the new branch—offering five floors of open, browsable book stacks, and two floors of meeting rooms. The shelves will all be located on one side of the building, maximizing capacity and efficiency.

• The only rooftop terrace in Midtown that will be free and open to the public.

• A dedicated business library occupying an entire floor and offering the services and circulating collections of the Science, Industry and Business Library.

• An adult learning center—one of the largest in the city—which will be adjacent to the business library and provide a seamless continuum of educational opportunities.

• A floor of dedicated space for children and teens; the current Mid-Manhattan does not have spaces for kids and teens.

• Approximately 17,000 square feet of general reading and study space—including seating for almost 1,500 library patrons, an increase of 30 percent over the combined capacity of the current Mid-Manhattan Library and Science, Industry and Business Library.

• Over 11,000-square-feet of multipurpose space that can be used for classes, events, one-on-one consultations, seminars, and a host of other programs, maximizing efficiency and diversity of public offerings.

“The building that was originally designed in 1914 to house the Arnold Constable department store will now really become a library,” said Francine Houben of Mecanoo, the project’s lead architect. “By creating the iconic Long Room for the circulating collection, dedicated spaces for children and teens, an adult learning center and business library, plus a rooftop destination for multipurpose use, the building will inspire serendipity and the discovery of all functions of a modern library.”

“The next phase of New York Public Library’s Midtown branch renovation is a great step toward moving New York’s public library into the 21st century,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The city of New York is very lucky to have such an extensive system of public libraries, and when completed, this renovated library will offer New Yorkers even more opportunities to organize, learn and study. I look forward to seeing this plan move forward, and hope this project can be a model for others to follow.”

“The Mid-Manhattan Library will be a gleaming center for reading, research, and learning in the heart of the city,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m proud to support this project and look forward to seeing these schematics and plans come to life.”

The new Mid-Manhattan Library will cost approximately $200 million, which includes a $150.7 million allocation for the project from New York City. The Library’s Board of Trustees approved the budget at its meeting tonight. The Library is currently fundraising for the project, as the remaining $50 million will come from private funds…

Continue reading The New York Public Library’s press release here. For updates on the Mid-Manhattan project, visit

The articles below provide a first look at the renovation plans:

The New York Times, “For the Mid-Manhattan Library, a Redesign for the Future,” By Robin Pogrebin

The Wall Street Journal, “New York Public Library Approves $200 Million Makeover of Mid-Manhattan Branch,” By Jennifer Smith