Patience And Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, And The Fight To Save A Public Library by Scott ShermanPatience And Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, And The Fight To Save A Public Library by Scott Sherman

Patience And Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, And The Fight To Save A Public Library

byScott Sherman

Paperback | September 26, 2017

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A riveting investigation of a beloved library caught in the crosshairs of real estate, power, and the people’s interests—by the reporter who broke the story
 

In a series of cover stories for The Nation magazine, journalist Scott Sherman uncovered the ways in which Wall Street logic almost took down one of New York City’s most beloved and iconic institutions: the New York Public Library.

In the years preceding the 2008 financial crisis, the library’s leaders forged an audacious plan to sell off multiple branch libraries, mutilate a historic building, and send millions of books to a storage facility in New Jersey. Scholars, researchers, and readers would be out of luck, but real estate developers and New York’s Mayor Bloomberg would get what they wanted.

But when the story broke, the people fought back, as famous writers, professors, and citizens’ groups came together to defend a national treasure.

Rich with revealing interviews with key figures, Patience and Fortitude is at once a hugely readable history of the library’s secret plans, and a stirring account of a rare triumph against the forces of money and power.
SCOTT SHERMAN is a contributing writer for The Nation. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, the London Review of Books, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Dissent, Lingua Franca, and other publications.
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Title:Patience And Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, And The Fight To Save A Public LibraryFormat:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 8.3 × 5.5 × 0.6 inPublished:September 26, 2017Publisher:Melville HouseLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1612196675

ISBN - 13:9781612196671

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Reviews

Read from the Book

PREFACE: “THERE WILL NEVER BE AN END TO THIS LIBRARY”This is a book about a world-class library that lost its way in the digital age.In the late spring of 2011, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, asked if I might be interested in writing a profile of Anthony Marx, the Amherst College president who had recently agreed to lead the New York Public Library (NYPL). “Lots of unhappy rumblings about how oligarchs”—on the Library’s board of trustees—“are taking over too much of a major cultural institution as it celebrates its centennial,” vanden Heuvel wrote. She envisioned a story about a “clash of civilizations at the outpost of civilization.”The New York Public Library was an institution that mattered to me personally: as a writer, I had depended on the grand building on 42nd Street for twenty years, and had come to see how fully it embodied its nickname: “the people’s library.”It was a place for both Shakespeare scholars and shoeshine boys. When the building turned seventy-five in 1986, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had toiled as a bootblack in Times Square in the 1940s, recalled: “It was the first time I was taught that I was welcome in a place of education and learning. I would go into that great marble palace, and I would check my shoeshine box. A gentleman in a brown cotton jacket would take it as if I’d passed over an umbrella and a bowler hat.”I accepted the assignment, and soon reached out to a prominent academic librarian. Halfway through our conversation, he mentioned—rather casually—that the NYPL would soon remove the entire collection of books from the iron-and-steel stacks inside the 42nd Street building and send them to an offsite storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey. This was troubling news: the stacks’ three million books were the heart of the institution.When I asked about this project, NYPL officials confirmed their intentions: the books would leave the building as part of a “Central Library Plan” (CLP), a wide-ranging reconfiguration of services, and the stacks would indeed be demolished. The CLP had been born in June 2007 and was announced to the public nine months later at a little-noticed press conference featuring the novelist (and NYPL trustee) Toni Morrison, who called the plan “truly astonishing.” The CLP aimed to consolidate three Midtown libraries into one colossal circulating library inside the 42nd Street building, which would undergo a $300 million renovation by Norman Foster, the British architect. (Frank Gehry had been on the shortlist for the job.)The project was derailed by the recession of 2008. Fortuitously, I began my reporting as it was quietly being revived. My story, which appeared in The Nation in December 2011 under the headline “Upheaval at The New York Public Library,” launched a controversy that raged for two and a half years and resulted in more than forty stories in The New York Times alone. The debate accelerated in December 2012 when Ada Louise Huxtable, the eminent ninety-one-year-old architecture critic, excoriated the project in the pages of The Wall Street Journal; it continued to escalate after her death a few weeks later. The dispute would eventually draw in a cast that included Tom Stoppard, Gloria Steinem, Susan Sarandon, Garrison Keillor, Salman Rushdie, Malcolm Gladwell, Donna Tartt, Art Spiegelman, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. The wrangle over the Central Library Plan, wrote Publishers Weekly, amounted to “the biggest public outcry a public library project has ever generated.” The battle to save the NYPL was conducted by a small group of writers, professors, independent scholars, and historic preservationists, who viewed the institution as a sacred public trust. For these critics, the CLP was nothing more than a set of tawdry real-estate deals, a desecration of a historic building, and a betrayal of the NYPL’s founding mission. In the words of a leading activist, the historian Joan Scott, the campaign was about “saving a major institution for the public good.” On the other side were the Library’s trustees, who insisted that the NYPL had to be pruned and modernized for the digital age, when many public libraries have prioritized spaces for community engagement and coffee shops over books and bookshelves. The trustees argued that by “monetizing non-core assets”—that is, selling the NYPL’s own real estate—the plan would generate up to $15 million per year in badly needed revenue. For inspiration, the NYPL’s leaders did not look to other libraries, but to FedEx, Netflix, and Barnes & Noble; they also put their faith in Google, which was scanning millions of books from research libraries across the nation, including the NYPL. To counter the opposition, Anthony Marx rallied construction unions and Teamsters and accused the critics of “elitism”; their intent, he suggested, was to preserve the 42nd Street Library as an exclusive sanctuary for scholars and intellectuals.It was a charged battle over books, real estate, and architecture, and about the future of an institution that its former president, Vartan Gregorian, called “a treasured repository of civilization.” As Gregorian told The New Yorker in 1986: “Libraries keep the records on behalf of all humanity . . . endless sources of knowledge are here. We have books in three thousand languages and dialects. I can take you through here from Balanchine to Tibet. There are esoterica on synthetic fuels, neglected maps of the Falklands which were suddenly in demand at the time of the Falklands War. And Warsaw telephone directories from the years of the Holocaust, often invaluable as the only source of documentation of who lived where, in order to substantiate claims for retribution. There will never be an end to this library. Never!”In the 1890s, a group of wealthy men—bankers, corporate titans, philanthropists—came together to create the New York Public Library. These men were cautious individuals with a sense of proportion, who understood the fragility of the institution they had built. Over a century later, the CLP became a project closely tied to another wealthy man: the billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose personal friends and family members initiated it. Unlike their late nineteenth-century predecessors, these individuals lacked prudence: they applied radical, free-market solutions to complex institutional problems. In the end, elected officials in New York City had to save the NYPL from its own trustees.

Editorial Reviews

“Gripping...a slim, smart book packed with a colorful cast of moguls, celebrities, intellectuals and Internet crusaders... Patience and Fortitude not only tells a classic 'New York story' about real estate and money, but also shines a light on why libraries, as physical repositories for books, are still crucial, even in an age when all knowledge seems just a mouse-click away."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "Fresh Air""[Sherman] passionately pursues the story...makes a convincing argument."—Sam Roberts, New York TimesA "Fresh Read" in the New York Times“A major feat of reporting and a must-read for New Yorkers."—Vanity Fair, Must-Read June Books“A pair of marble lions guards the Fifth Avenue entrance of the 42nd Street library; their names are the two virtues cited in the title of Patience and Fortitude… Scott Sherman has earned a place in their company. His reporting and analysis have helped to protect the New York Public Library from its adversaries within."—The Nation“To the names Astor, Lenox, and Tilden engraved atop the main branch of the New York Public Library, should we now add Sherman?... His fascinating story of library politics in the digital age is now a hardcover from Melville House called Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library."—New Criterion“Deeply researched but swiftly paced... Sherman’s book is certain to find appreciative readers, because it is one for readers, who desperately need an advocate once the money starts talking."—Inside Higher Ed“Patience and Fortitude, Sherman’s debut book, is a detailed and impassioned account...and a cautionary tale of what can happen when public-spirited institutions are funded by mostly private revenue."—Brooklyn Rail“The fate of one of the world’s foremost research libraries is at the center of Sherman’s rippingly-good Patience & Fortitude. The machinations of what goes on behind closed library doors, and the underdog activists who fought on behalf of literary lions, might not sound riveting. Trust an NYPL regular, at under 200 pages, Sherman’s book reads like the best of intrigue-filled political thrillers. All the Librarian’s Men."—Biographile“Chronicles the unraveling of the library's unholy deal… Sherman's most shocking revelation is how little the trustees understood the mission of the institution they claimed to be saving."—Architectural Record“Its lesson...resonates beyond those closed doors and the city they're a part of."—Maclean's (Canada)“Sherman writes battlefield reportage, not history calmly studied from afar, and in this slim, quick-paced volume he paints a fascinating, but often unlovely, picture of politics, people, power, and protest in today’s New York City."—Standpoint (UK)“[A] real-life trhiller... This cautionary tale is of interest to library professionals...bibliophiles, and citizens who want to preserve the civic and cultural life of their community."—Library Journal, starred review“Journalist Sherman meticulously re-creates the controversy, which appeared to many a clash between corporate greed and the world of high culture."—Booklist“The battle over the New York Public Library was such an important fight to win, and Scott Sherman’s reporting was an essential part of that victory."—Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight's Children“It’s very hard to produce a specific, inarguable example of the power of the press—but here’s one. Scott Sherman’s pathbreaking 2011 article in The Nation about the New York Public Library’s plans to demolish much of its headquarters building and substantially change its purpose led directly to that misguided plan’s being abandoned three years later. Now Sherman lays out the entire story, from conception to cancellation, of the Central Library Plan. It is an absorbing narrative, and more; it also gets to the heart of an urgent broader issue, the danger our most precious institutions face in the age of disruption."—Nicholas Lemann, author of The Big Test“A copy of Patience and Fortitude should be issued with every library card. Scott Sherman is the lion the NYPL needs—a fair reporter turned fierce advocate, who has chronicled the attempted dismantling of a beloved institution with his title's attributes, grace, and smarts."—Joshua Cohen, author of Book of Numbers“With cool acuity, Scott Sherman details the insidious threat to one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions, and the gritty resistance that saved it. Anyone who cares about the future of books should read Patience and Fortitude.”—Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire“One can read Scott Sherman's engrossing book as a critique of the New York Public Library's stumbles, or as a love letter to a priceless institution. This is a love letter, and one that assails those the author believes would have violated the library's legacy. Even those who disagree with Sherman should tip their hats to him, for his passion and rigorous reporting, as this book reveals, has aided a great and priceless institution.”—Ken Auletta, author of Googled“Scott Sherman’s fast-paced story is a nuanced, disturbing account of what happens when the age of hedge funds, metrics and management consultants meets one of our country’s great institutions of learning. Patience and Fortitude is all the more fascinating because Sherman’s journalism played a significant role in preventing a cultural atrocity.”—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost“When civic vandals masquerading as visionaries attempted to gut the New York Public Library, Scott Sherman's intrepid reporting in The Nation shut them down. Now he gives us the full story, a riveting activist adventure yarn written with the elegance of a cultural romantic and the gimlet eye of an investigative journalist. What I learned is that a civilization traduces its libraries—especially this library—at its peril.”—Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge“With reportorial doggedness, narrative elan, and an unfailing eye for the lancing detail, Scott Sherman masterfully tells the story, by turns enraging and heartening, of the plight of New York’s most storied institution in an uncertain age.”—Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic“Scott Sherman’s Patience and Fortitude is a gripping, meticulously reported account of the plan to gut a world-famous research library—and the movement that sprung up to preserve it. Like Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold, another provocative story about a debacle in the stacks, this riveting book shows just how bloody the fight over our cultural treasures can get."—Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue!“Sherman has unearthed convincing evidence that the CLP was misguided . . . A compelling exploration of the battle over 'a world-class library that lost its way in the digital age.'"—Kirkus Reviews“Sounds like a rollicking good story."—Liz French, Library Journal's Editors' Spring Picks