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Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library Is The New “Crown Jewel” of NYC

Public Library
The exterior of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, part of the New York Public Library system. Credit: John Bartlestone/

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, or SNFL, the central circulating branch of the New York Public Library, has now reopened after a very difficult pandemic year that came just as the library was undergoing a complete refurbishment, renaming and rebranding. Now the centerpiece of the New York Public Library system, the SNL provides many amenities for those who are fortunate enough to visit its premises.

Located in Midtown Manhattan, the SNL now boasts a rooftop terrace topped by a whimsical glass “wizard’s hat,” a light-filled long room with five levels of browsable book stacks, a center serving lifelong learners, and a dedicated floor for kids and teens where they can see behind the scenes as books are sorted.

“The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) wholly remade central circulating branch, is officially open as of June 1, 2021,” officials from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) announced on Monday.

The total transformation of the library, which had not been completely renovated since the 1970’s, was made possible in part by a $55 million grant from the SNF — which constituted the second-largest one-time individual gift in the history of the New York Public Library.

New library space “Exactly what New York needs right now”

“It is the central circulating library New York City has long needed, wanted, and deserves,” said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx as the Library reopened. “As we all look towards our next chapter of recovery and renewal, it is important that public infrastructure be strong, and education and opportunity be readily and freely accessible. There is no greater public project than this one to accomplish those goals.”

“This library is exactly what New York needs right now: a truly open and public place accessible to all, where people of all ages and backgrounds can experience wonder, grow in their understanding of the world, and launch on new trajectories that enrich life for all of us,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos.

“Thriving public space is space that people can truly make their own, where everyone belongs, and SNFL is beautifully designed to encourage just that. As New Yorkers and global citizens, we could not be prouder and more excited for all SNFL has to offer the city in the years to come.”

The library partially opened a year ago to offer “grab-and-go” books throughout the months of the pandemic. All appropriate COVID-19 precautions still remain in place: the rooftop and adult learning center remain closed for now, and the many in-person programs it will offer in the future have not yet started up again.

However, Dracopoulos added that the Library reopening is especially vital now, as the city reopens to the world, since the institution offers “a free public space where people can come together and actually engage, especially after the pandemic.”

“Crown jewel of largest public library branch system in the United States”

NYPL president Anthony Marx stated the new library constitutes “The most important civic infrastructure project in New York City in recent memory. This crown jewel is the biggest physical project in the history of the library in 126 years. This $200 million complete renovation produced this amazing result, the crown jewel of the largest public library branch system in the country and the most visited civic institution in New York.”

Built originally in 1915 as the Arnold Constable Department store, the structure that now houses the SNL has stood the test of time, according to architect Liz Leber, a partner at the architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle. It “lived that life until about 1960, when the library bought the premises and then eventually opened the Mid-Manhattan Library in 1978,” she states.

“This is a durable, and a forever, renovation and it was designed with that in mind.”

“We are all happy to have the famous NYPL library Lions, Patience and Fortitude — although they are just in our windows,” Dracopoulos remarked. “But the vision is the same. These are two virtues that we really need now, as we are coming out of this awful pandemic — and New York can always be very proud of showing both patience and fortitude.”

The Foundation’s support for the Library builds on a long-term vision for helping create thriving public space for all, through efforts such as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation-Lincoln Center Agora Initiative.

Support for libraries has been a particular focus, including to NYPL from the Foundation’s earliest years, and to the National Library of Greece, now at home in state-of-the-art facilities at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens.

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