I’ve written here many times (e.g., here and here) about the Donnell Branch of the NYPL, one of my favorite hangouts from my first broke and lonely days in New York. I could go to the third floor, turn left into the amazingly extensive foreign language collection, and while away hours or find an armful of books to take home (I learned Romanian that way shortly after arriving in the city). Now I discover, via Lucette Lagnado’s elegiac Books of the New World and the Old, that the building it’s in (considered by the developer “poor, shabby”—it doesn’t “measure up to its neighbors on tony West 53rd Street”) is to be demolished. The library will survive “in a considerably smaller form. It will be lodged on the ground floor and a couple of subterranean levels, with a modern luxury hotel sitting above.” I’m willing to bet the great foreign language collection will be reduced to a bunch of Spanish books and a token scattering of others; gotta be relevant, after all, and who needs all those books in weird languages? One more reason not to grieve that I left what I used to consider the greatest city in the world. (Thanks, I think, for the link, Paul!)


  1. Oh no… The Donnell branch was one of my favorite places. They had a great section of art books in the basement– maybe due to being across the street from MOMA.

  2. well someone needs to see if there’s going to be a selloff to reduce the collection for its relocation.
    if so, is it a real=life sale, will it be done online somewhere, etc.?

  3. Always sad when a library fades or closes. I worked at Campbell Branch in Detroit, a classic old neighborhood library with tall windows and elegant entrance. Gone now, demolished, after a long decline.

  4. John Emerson says

    I talked to a woman awhile back who grew up in a disfunctional family in a dangerous neighborhood of NYC. She started out going to the local library mostly because it was safe and warm, but she educated herself too, and went on to a middle-class career. The library was like the nurturing parent she never had.

  5. Is that the only reason why you no longer consider it the greatest city? I’d like to hear the other reasons 😀 What’s sad about NYC is that it’s so incredibly expensive, it’s no wonder people are lonely and broke.

  6. Still here (and crazy) after all these years: almost 30 of them. Leaving feet first only (by direct transfer to the crematorium; no funeral homes, please).
    Here’s a post by a children’s librarian working in the Donnell today: http://www.forewordmagazine.com/blogs/shelfspace/PermaLink,guid,5dd2f3d2-fa57-4f8c-9e22-2a2a5d863493.aspx
    And I see no reason to be overpessimistic about the fate of the collection, though some of it may be dispersed to other libraries, either. Some of the renovations that have been done to the branches are just beautiful, and greatly increase both the quantity and accessibility of the books.

  7. The Donnell was one of my favorite places as a teenager in NYC. Which possibly says a lot about me…

  8. Is that the only reason why you no longer consider it the greatest city?
    No, it’s a fairly minor one, but it goes along with the demise of the Gotham Book Mart and so many more great independent bookstores, which goes along with the main reason for the decline of the city (from my point of view, which is not that of the winners and those who promote them, like the Times): the replacement of a motley city full of rundown nooks and crannies where poor people, including the kinds of artists, writers, and ne’er-do-wells who support independent bookstores, can live a cheap and unbothered existence by an increasingly shiny and uniform city where all neighborhoods are unaffordable except for the magnates for whose benefit the city is run. Sure, there are cheap neighborhoods in the farther reaches of the outer boroughs, but they are unlikely to support the kind of vibrant artistic/intellectual community that makes for a great city in my terms. I’m not really saying NYC isn’t the greatest city in the world (which is kind of a silly idea in the first place—who has the experience with all the great cities to say for sure?), just that the changes make me grumpy. But it may simply be Codger Syndrome setting in, so take with several grains of salt.

  9. the donnell branch was a paradise for me growing up in new york—as were the sea of used bookstores on 4th avenue.
    there were so many books i wish i had bought for a few bucks then (but ,of course, didn’t have a few bucks).

  10. The Donnell had film viewing rooms in the basement where you could watch actual films (not DVDs or VHS). I remember using it for a high school research project… I wonder what they are doing with those films?

Speak Your Mind