Y Dismantles Library


The Buttenwieser Library, a 3,000-square-foot reading space and book collection on the second floor of the 92nd Street Y, closes down every year during August and reopens in September.

But when it closes on July 31 this year, it won’t reopen — at least, not in its present form.

In what appears to be a nod to the recession, the Y announced recently that the library’s holdings will be decentralized. Its 30,000 books will be available later this year in several locations in the Upper East Side facility, earmarked for sections that serve children, teens and other groups.

“The Y is reassessing virtually every programs it operates in order to maintain the health and future of the organization,” a flyer distributed by the institution states. “We believe that these changes will ultimately benefit the entire community,” Executive Director Sol Adler wrote in a July 1 letter to library patrons.

Asked about personnel changes or layoffs in the downsized library, a Y spokesman said there “will be less staff in the reading room than in the [present] library,” but declined to comment on specific jobs or the number of people possibly affected by the changes.

Plans call for a smaller, Wi-Fi-equipped reading room and lounge on the ground floor, which will be more accessible to the reading public, says Helaine Geismar Katz, the Y’s associate executive director.

“We are not giving the collection away. We still believe that people want to read books,” she says.

“Some library regulars are upset,” Katz says. “There are many people who are very angry. People love the library.”

A letter sent to The Jewish Week by unsigned “Concerned Members” of the Y criticizes the changes as “a major downsizing of the services, book holdings, seating areas, and staffing that we … rely on as part of our participation in the Y community.”

“I think they’re dismantling it,” says Elizabeth Stabler, librarian at the Buttenwieser Library who now works at the library of Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. “I think it’s a terrible statement for a Jewish organization to take apart a 30,000-volume library.”

While the 79-year-old library — has attracted a devoted following of people for its books on the arts, Judaica and medicine, and for its convenience as a venue for relaxing between Y activities, the use has decreased in recent years, because of the availability of the Internet and electronic books, Katz says. About a dozen people can be found there at any time, she says. “We don’t need as much space. The way people are using the library has changed. This is true of libraries [everywhere].”