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Hunters Point Library called out over accessibility issues

A model detailing the Hunters Point Library's staircase concept. (Courtesy Steven Holl Architects)

Three sections of Steven Holl’s recently opened Hunters Point Library in Long Island City, Queens, have raised concerns due to only being accessible by stairs and are now being reorganized. While the library was previously applauded for the staircase’s design, and there’s an elevator, it doesn’t provide access to the three, tiered levels of stacks above the lobby. The Queens Public Library has announced that it is taking steps to fix the issue, but given the project’s lengthy development timeline, how could such an obvious flaw make it past the design phase? 

“With all the money they spent and all the years of delay, it struck me as strange,” library patron Joe Bachner, told Gothamist. With the building costing upwards of $41 million, it does seem to be a big mistake that such popular sections of a library (fiction and periodicals) would exclude individuals with wheelchairs or other mobility challenges, as well as parents with strollers, and the elderly. 

Interior view of a timber-clad library space

The stacks in question were only accessible via a central staircase previously. (Paul Warchol)

The library does technically meet the American Disabilities Act’s (ADA) requirements due to a promise that librarians would retrieve books for patrons unable to make it up the stairs—but patrons don’t always know what they are looking for when they enter a library. The search and the discovery are a part of a library’s experience—a crucial part of obtaining knowledge. This statement was met with backlash by community members on Twitter (and in the comments on our previous article about the building’s opening): “A 41 million budget and accessibility wasn’t considered in a beautiful inclusive way…” posted Sinéad Burke

As Justin Davidson wrote in New York Magazine, “Staircases can be wonderful, providing drama, seating, exercise, and hangout spaces all at once—but they must never be the only option. Holl’s design, as sensitive as it is in many ways, fails to take that mandate seriously.”

In a statement to Gothamist, Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott said, “Our goal is to be inclusive and provide access and opportunity to all.” The library plans to move the fiction stacks to another location in the library and provide the community with updates as they come.

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