Y Protesters Unbound


Not wanting to close the book on the Buttenwieser Library, a small band of passionate protesters took to the streets Monday night to save their beloved — but perhaps doomed — book room.

“It is so inimical to what the Y stands for, especially as the people of the book,” said Erwin Flaxman, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Flaxman and the other protesters braved on-and-off thunderstorms to hand out about 400 flyers and collect petition signatures from passersby and Y patrons in front of the building at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue. They’re demanding that the Y keep the library open, or at least postpone its closing. Protesters collected 340 signatures.

The Y’s plan, which has been met with widespread criticism, is to shutter the 30,000-volume library as of July 31, in favor of a smaller, high-tech reading room; some of the library’s holdings would be spread throughout the institution.

“I can’t believe how many people stopped and took a leaflet and promotional button,” said protest organizer Samantha Shubert, pointing to the bag of neon-colored pins in her 11-year-old daughter’s hands.

Anna Culbertson, 30, who worked at the library for three years up until two years ago, says the new plans are impractical and doubts that members will want to search for books within a building the size of a city block.

But she realizes that, for Buttenwieser lovers, the writing is on the wall.

“They’re not changing their minds,” she said of Y officials.

A Y spokeswoman did not return a call for comment on the protesters’ demands.

Perhaps most aggravating to critics is the way the Y went about initiating its plans, which were announced in the summer when so many members are out of town.

“I really think that the management took advantage of that,” said Trevor Jones, 26. “They [did] it very hush-hush.”

In recent days, critics have received an e-mail from the Y’s executive director, Sol Adler, saying that the renovations will continue as planned, providing the institution with a low-cost alternative to the current library facilities and saving $375,000 annually.

“The Library has a special place in our hearts and, clearly, in yours,” he wrote. “We are aware that we did not handle this announcement as well as we could have and that we have been slow to respond to your concerns. For that we apologize.”

For Buttenwieser fans, the apology rings hollow.

“I feel like crying, it’s so sad,” said passerby Audrey Green. “It’s the death of civilization.”