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The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), also known as the Mid-Manhattan Library, is a branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) at the southeast corner of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It is diagonally across from the New York Public Library Main Branch and Bryant Park to the northwest.
The Mid-Manhattan Library opened in 1970 to house the circulating collection formerly located in the NYPL's Main Branch. The branch moved to its current building, a former Arnold Constable & Company department store, in 1981. After a failed attempt to close down the Mid-Manhattan Library in the 2010s, the NYPL announced a major renovation of the branch in 2014. The branch was closed between 2017 and 2020 for renovations and was renamed after the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which provided the funding for the renovation.
The library is housed in the former Arnold Constable & Company department store building in Midtown Manhattan at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street. It is located diagonally across from the New York Public Library Main Branch and Bryant Park to the northwest. Across Fifth Avenue to the west is the HSBC Tower, while 461 Fifth Avenue is across 40th Street to the north. 10 East 40th Street, where part of the Mid-Manhattan Library was housed in the 1970s, is immediately adjacent to the east.
The building was erected c. 1915 and consists of six stories. The facade is made of granite with cornices above the second, fifth, and sixth floors. A 1980 renovation replaced the original display windows on the first floor with full-height windows.
When the Mid-Manhattan Library opened in 1970, it had 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) of floor space and could accommodate 350,000 volumes, with plans to expand to 700,000. The branch also contained 10,000 microfilm reels and 36,000 non-circulating books, and at least two copies were provided for almost all non-fiction books. After the 1980 renovation, the branch's interior received color-coded furniture. The history and social sciences section had blue decor; the science and business section, red decor; and the arts and literature section, yellow and orange decor. A job center was on the first floor, and there was also a law library, 850 science magazine subscriptions, and microfilm reels. An escalator remained from when the building was used as a department store.
The renovated Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library has space for 400,000 volumes, as well as 11,000 square feet (1,000 m2) of event space and 1,500 seats for library users. On the ground floor, revolving doors and larger windows were added as a reminder of the former department store. The basement was renovated to include space for children and teenagers; the sixth floor was turned into an adult education center; and the seventh floor was turned into a business library. The rebuilt library contained a three-story open space on the second through fourth floors, which would form a "long room". Five levels of stacks would also be provided. Patron seating would be located along open floors, connected to the stacks by bridges. On the rooftop is a terrace with an event space under a "wizard hat" enclosure painted copper green, as well as a cafe and "secret garden". The renovation was intended to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications.
The circulating collection of the New York Public Library (NYPL) was long housed in the Main Branch. The NYPL had proposed moving the circulating collection to a new branch on 53rd Street (later the Donnell Library) as early as 1944. While the circulating library was kept in the Main Branch, its single room soon could not hold all of the circulating volumes. The library asked the city to take over responsibility for the circulating and children's collections at the Main Branch in 1949. The NYPL bought the Arnold Constable & Company building in 1961. The same year, the New York Public Library convened a group of six librarians to determine what types of media the circulating library would have. The librarians decided in 1962 that the new branch should be close to the Main Branch. Two years later, Arnold Constable stopped leasing the fourth through sixth floors, making them available to the NYPL, but the circulating library could not open until the NYPL had raised $2.5 million for renovation and $1.275 million for media. By the late 1960s, the Main Branch had become overcrowded and could not accommodate additional patrons, and the children's library at the Main Branch had closed due to a lack of space.
Bloch & Hesse commenced a renovation of the Arnold Constable building's fourth through sixth floors in 1968, and it was completed in late 1970. The new circulating branch, the Mid-Manhattan Library, opened in the fourth through sixth floors of the building in October 1970. The Main Branch's circulating collection and children's library were moved to the Mid-Manhattan Library. The Mid-Manhattan Library also took space at the neighboring 10 East 40th Street. The buildings had separate lobbies, but the upper floors were connected, and the elevators in the Arnold Constable building were programmed so that library patrons could only access the fourth floor, then take escalators to the fifth and sixth floors. The branch was the 80th to open in the NYPL system, and opened during a period when the NYPL was facing severe fiscal shortfalls. As a result, the telephone reference service at the branch was cut back in 1974.
Arnold Constable announced in February 1975 that it would close its location at the end of March. The NYPL then announced its intent to occupy the remainder of the Arnold Constable building, move out of 10 East 40th Street, and close the connections between the two buildings. The Vincent Astor Foundation provided a gift to cover the costs of renovation. In 1978, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York sold $8 million in bonds to finance improvements to the Mid-Manhattan branch. Further funds allowed the Mid-Manhattan Library to extend the operating hours of its circulating collection in 1981.
During 1980, the library underwent an extensive renovation to designs by Giorgio Cavaglieri, operating within 10 East 40th Street in the meantime. The Mid-Manhattan Library started moving back into the Arnold Constable building between 1981 and 1982, officially opening in February 1982. Two months after the official opening, the 2.5 million-item Picture Collection was moved to the Mid-Manhattan Library. Richard Spaulding commissioned a 124-square-inch (800 cm2) stained glass window above the branch's main entrance in 1986. With the opening of the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) at the nearby B. Altman and Company Building in 1996, some 40,000 volumes were relocated to the new branch. Ruth Messinger, the borough president of Manhattan, proposed $1.63 million in funding for renovation of the Mid-Manhattan Library the following year.
Early 21st century
In 2002, Charles Gwathmey designed plans for an unbuilt glass tower that would have risen above the Mid-Manhattan Library. By the following year, thirty percent of the Mid-Manhattan Branch's shelves were empty due to the NYPL's budgetary shortfalls. Despite the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the NYPL extended hours at the Mid-Manhattan Library in 2009. The previous year, the NYPL anticipated that it would sell the Mid-Manhattan and Donnell branches to pay for a renovation of the Main Branch. This led to the announcement of a Central Library Plan, in which the nearby Mid-Manhattan Library and SIBL would be closed, and the Main Branch would be turned into a circulating library. As part of the plan, over a million books would have been put into storage in a warehouse in New Jersey. The plan was heavily criticized, and after a protracted battle and two public interest lawsuits, the Central Library Plan was abandoned in May 2014 due to pressure by its opponents and the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor.
After the abandonment of the Central Library Plan, the trustees announced a new plan in June 2014, which provided for renovations to the Main Branch's stacks and the rehabilitation of the Mid-Manhattan Library. Dutch firm Mecanoo was selected for the renovation, and the NYPL's board of trustees approved the plans in November 2016. At the time, the branch received 1.7 million visits per year. The following August, the Mid-Manhattan Library was closed for a $200 million renovation, and an interim circulating library opened in the Main Branch at 42nd Street. The Mid-Manhattan Library's collection of pictures was also temporarily relocated to the Main Branch. After the Stavros Niarchos Foundation donated $55 million to the branch's renovation, the NYPL announced that the Mid-Manhattan Library would be renamed after the foundation. According to a NYPL press release, the donation was the second-largest in the NYPL's history, behind Stephen A. Schwarzman's 2008 gift of $100 million for the Main Branch's renovation. The remainder of the renovation would be paid using city funds. The SIBL would be closed after the renovation was completed.
The branch was originally scheduled to reopen in January 2020, and then in May 2020. However, the entire NYPL system was shuttered in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. The NYPL subsequently announced that the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library would reopen in July 2020 for book pick-ups and drop-offs only. The branch's first floor opened for pick-up and drop-off service on July 13, 2020, with a larger opening planned later that year.
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