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A widely-shared photo by the blog Humans of New York railing against the New York Public Library's planned renovations sparked an outpouring of support against those plans, but the photo and its message's accuracy has since been called into question.

As it does several times a day, the popular photography account Humans of New York posted a photo of a person on the streets of New York and a short funny/interesting/inspirational quote from them. Tuesday morning's post featured a chicken-eating man who said he worked at the library and lamented its upcoming renovations.


The last two lines are particularly striking. "When everything is finished, one of the greatest research libraries in the world will become a glorified internet cafe," the man says. "Now read that back to me," he adds in a call-to-arms type final line. That man, identified on Twitter as Matthew Zadrozny, is an active library user who has organized opposition to the coming changes to the library. 

Zadrozny and his message took off from there, were widely shared on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond, and reignited the Save the 42nd Street Library petition email to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The image also was shared among those who like to look at attractive library-defending men.

As with many viral-spreading photos, the message isn't completely accurate. Because of the image's popularity, Humans of New York posted a rare off-message rebuttal to the original, via the NYPL. For starters, though Zadrozny may work at the library's location, he is not employed by the library. And his warnings of gloom and doom may be overstated as well.


The first claim, that Zadrozny in fact does not work there, is more a problem of ambiguity. Zadrozny works at the library in the sense that many researchers and New Yorkers perform their own work while located at the library. But he is not employed by the library system.

In addition, his warning seems somewhat exaggerated. The NYPL's plans, as they stand, are to renovate the 5th Avenue library, demolish the old library stacks, move research-heavy books into on-site storage, and build an open-area cafe*. Many of the books at the library now are not circulation books — they cannot be taken off the premises — a fact that would change with the renovations, and the addition of a circulating collection. This would move some of the lesser-used, in-depth academic books from the old stacks, and may lower the library's research bona fides, as critics like Zadrozny suggest. But it's excessive to say that the library will become a "glorified internet cafe."

Mayor de Blasio said he questioned the renovation plans back in July when he was still a mayoral candidate, but he has been silent on the issue since. To hear his ideas, we'll at least have to wait until Humans of New York gets him in one of their images.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post suggested that the most of the books in the Main Library's research stacks would be moved elsewhere and/or taken "out of the system." According to the NYPL, the vast majority of the books from the old stacks will be kept on-site, in a new storage facility under Bryant Park, and will remain available to patrons. Though adding a cafe was at one time mentioned as a possibility, the current plans do not included that feature.

In addition, while Bill de Blasio called for a halt to the renovations and a full financial review while a candidate for Mayor, he did not reject the plan or ask for it to be canceled.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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