Just one week after a group of concerned scholars filed a lawsuit against the New York Public Library to stop work on the Central Library Plan (which entails selling off popular branch libraries and gutting the stacks of the main Research Library at 42nd St.), a second group has joined them. Plaintiffs in the new lawsuit filed yesterday include writer Edmund Morris (Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Beethoven), historian David Nasaw (an expert, among other things, on the life and work of library benefactor Andrew Carnegie, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center), Joan W. Scott (a prominent intellectual historian, feminist giant, and social science professor at the Institute for Advanced Study); Annalyn Swan (Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon) and Stanley N. Katz (a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and president emeritus of the important humanities organization American Council of Learned Societies). They are joined by library advocates from the group Citizens Defending Libraries.
According to the press release issued by the law firm Weiss & Hiller, this lawsuit differs in strategy from the one filed last week, though both have similar goals. This new suit, which among other things seeks an immediate temporary restraining order against the NYPL to stop the demolition of the stacks, bases its arguments on the historical agreements surrounding the library and research collection. To quote the press release:
The first claim in the Coalition’s lawsuit to be filed tomorrow is that a 1978 Agreement between the Library, City and State of New York bars any structural alteration of the Central Branch of the Library absent prior consent from the State. Under another provision of the 1978 Agreement, the NYPL and the City also each separately promised “to protect and preserve the historical integrity of features, materials, appearance, workmanship and environment” of the Central Library — a promise that “they would break if the stacks were to be removed,” according to Michael Hiller of Weiss & Hiller, the firm representing the Coalition.
The Coalition’s suit also includes claims seeking injunctive relief to direct that the books already removed from the Library as part of the Central Library Plan be immediately restored. A series of trusts, indentures, agreements and the NYPL Charter explicitly prohibit removal of the books from the Library.
According to the New York Times, the city and Mayor Bloomberg are named as defendants in the suit along with library executives.
Meanwhile library officials seem less than concerned about all the public outcry surrounding their demolition and renovation plan. A statement given to the New York Times yesterday insists that the Central Library Plan will “improve service for scholars, preserve the library’s collections for future generations and provide a state-of-the art circulating and business library.” As has been pointed out repeatedly over the last two weeks, it’s hard to imagine how service for scholars can be improved by shipping the research materials they depend on for their work across state lines.