Hunters Point Library will move fiction shelves in response to accessibility criticism

October 7, 2019

Photo © Steven Holl Architects

Steven Holl’s Hunters Point Library has garnered glowing architectural reviews since it’s opening last month, but visitors quickly pointed out a critical issue with accessibility in the $41 million building. Although the library has an elevator, it doesn’t stop at the fiction section which is tiered on three levels above the lobby and accessible only via stairs. In light of the criticism, a Queens Public Library official has announced that books in that section will be relocated to an accessible area of the library, as Gothamist reported.

“Our goal is to be inclusive and provide access and opportunity to all,” said Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott, in a statement released on Friday. “We will move the books to another location in the library and provide regular updates to the community.”

Previously, the library emphasized it’s compliance with the American Disabilities Act and responded to the criticism by saying librarians would be available to help patrons reach books in the inaccessible areas. “The building complies with all building codes, including the ADA,” Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the Queens Public Library, said in an initial statement about the concerns. “Our staff has been and will continue to retrieve books for customers, and we are going to offer devices that will allow customers to browse the materials available in those areas.”

For many, that response completely missed the boat. After all, the ability to browse the stacks—and in the case of this library, to do so while enjoying the beautiful views—is one of the biggest reasons to go to a library in the first place. “Meeting legal requirements is a false standard; even vertical buildings can and should always be designed so that they offer the same quality of experience to everyone,” New York Magazine critic Justin Davidson wrote in an update to his positive review of the building.

“Staircases can be wonderful, providing drama, seating, exercise, and hangout spaces all at once — but they must never be the only option,” Davidson continued. “Holl’s design, as sensitive as it is in many ways, fails to take that mandate seriously, and it’s a failure that I failed to notice. We all have blinders of one sort or another, but this is an issue that should have been addressed years ago, if not by the architects then by someone in the vast team of engineers, librarians, consultants, administrators, and politicians who had a hand in bringing the library into being and who are — in most ways, justifiably, proud of the result.”

“The unfortunate thing is that it’s supposed to be state of the art,” said Christine Yearwood, founder of Up-Stand, to Gothamist, noting the lack of details about accessibility on the library’s website. As the first new library to be built in Queens in more than a decade, this oversight represents a great missed opportunity. “I think it’s supposed to be a model,” she noted. “But if it’s still not fully accessible what does that say about what we are providing for our communities?”

[Via Gothamist]


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