The Schomburg And Others Celebrate An Extensive Two-Year, $22.3 Million Renovation

The New York Public Library’s renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem today celebrated the reopening of several renovated spaces after a nearly two-year, $22.3 million renovation.

New York Public Library (NYPL) President Tony Marx, Schomburg Director Kevin Young, members of the Schomburg family, local elected officials and community leaders gave remarks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a tour of the renovated divisions, some of which were closed during construction and are now open to the public.

The research library, located at 515 Malcolm X Blvd in Harlem, consists of three connected buildings: the Schomburg Building, the Langston Hughes Building, and the 112-year old Landmark Building, which was named a National Historic Landmark earlier this year. In 2015, The NYPL began a much-needed renovation to areas in all three buildings, led by Marble Fairbanks Architects, Westerman Construction Company, and the City Department of Design and Construction, and funded by the City of New York, the State of New York, the Ford Foundation, Citi Bank and Carver Federal Savings Bank.

The renovations to the center — a vital part of The New York Public Library that has for 90 years collected, preserved and provided access to one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of materials documenting black life — included:

  • Complete renovation of the Landmark Building; which includes new research space, gallery space, staff space and conditioned storage for collections.
  • Renovation of the Rare Books Reading Room on the second floor of the Schomburg Building.
  • An exterior signage system that connects what’s happening inside the Schomburg to the surrounding community.
  • Construction of a two-story​ annex that includes a new expanded gift shop at ground level and conference room on second floor.
  • Improvements to the Langston Hughes Auditorium, including a state-of-the-art sound system.
  • Replacement of roofs on both the Landmark and Langston Hughes’ Buildings.
  • Upgrades to building systems, including HVAC air distribution, fire alarms, and security.

“The Schomburg Center’s impact is immeasurable in both its scale and importance, and its mission to preserve and protect history and spark real discussion is arguably more important than ever before,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “The Schomburg is a unique, irreplaceable, beloved global treasure in the heart of Harlem. We are so proud to provide this amazing staff, our patrons, and the materials held here with the inspiring spaces that they need and deserve.”

“Today truly is an exciting day for the Schomburg, which, as you can all see, looks better than ever and with this renovation is now poised and ready to do the important, inspirational work for at least another century,” said Schomburg Director Kevin Young. “The future was already bright at the Schomburg, as we were named a National Historic Landmark earlier this year, and with our updated and upgraded spaces, it looks even brighter now.”

“Libraries are at the heart of neighborhoods across the five boroughs, and now Harlem has a renovated space to celebrate its culture and community. The mission of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is critical in preserving the living legacy of Africans and African Americans, whose contributions to the life of our city are invaluable,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a staple of this district and of this city. This center is one of the world’s leading research institutes, shaping our understanding of black culture. The Council is proud to be a partner with the Schomburg family, the New York Public Library and fellow elected officials to fund this project so New Yorkers of all ages can come to this center to learn, enjoy and grow. With our $12.7 million investment, the Council is committed in ensuring that our libraries are centers of education, humanities and culture,” said NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

“One of the most important institutions to the African diaspora has now been renovated to match the increased enthusiasm and attendance of the people of Harlem and visitors from across the globe. I am overjoyed to see the historic Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture celebrate its $22.3 million upgraded facility,” said NYS Assembly Member Inez Dickens. “This landmark destination will feature new research space, extended collections from literary masters, historians and artist, and provide quality experiences in the redesigned Langston Hughes auditorium. With the support of city and state elected, along with private partnerships, the Schomburg will continue to enlighten the minds and aspirations of future generations.”

“A Harlem treasure and research unit for The New York Public Library system, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a leading institution on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences from around the world,” said Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “The restoration of the Schomburg Center allows Harlem residents and visitors worldwide to enjoy renowned collections and Afrocentric artifacts in modernized buildings, improved visitor spaces, and conditioned storage. I commend Mayor de Blasio and all who worked to bring this goal to fruition. It is critical that we work today to preserve the significant contributions to our history and culture that people of African descent have made throughout our community, the nation and around the world.”

“The Schomburg Center is an essential New York institution that anchors Harlem as one of the great centers of black history, culture, and art in America and across the globe,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “It’s my privilege to support the Schomburg Center and the New York Public Library as a whole, and I’m thrilled that we’re finally ready to cut the ribbon on these renovations.”

“The stunning renovation of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will allow them to continue their excellent work illuminating the richness of black history. With free access to its world class collection, the Center not only serves the Village of Harlem as a nexus of cultural life, but the entire nation as a hub for research and study. I am thrilled to watch them continue to grow and thrive,” said NYS Senator Brian A. Benjamin.

The Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints—the forerunner to today’s Schomburg Center—opened in 1925 as a special collection of the 135th Street Branch Library to meet the needs of a changing community. TheDivision first won international acclaim in 1926, when the personal collection of the distinguished Puerto Rican-born Black scholar and bibliophile, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, was added. Schomburg’s collection included more than 5,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts, 2,000 etchings and paintings, and several thousand pamphlets. Schomburg served as curator of the Division from 1932 until his death in 1938. In 1940, the Division was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints in honor of its founder.

In 1972, the Schomburg Collection was designated as one of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library and became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The expansion of the Schomburg Center in 1991 created spaces for exhibition galleries; the renovated American Negro Theatre; and the 340-seat Langston Hughes Auditorium, in which concerts, forums, lectures, performances, and other special events have taken place.

Today, the Schomburg Center contains over 10 million items related to the histories of people of the African Diaspora, and provides services and programs for constituents from the United States and abroad.

More information about Schomburg’s collections and programs can be found at www.schomburgcenter.org.

Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.

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