Down but Not Out: Rebuilding the NYU Health Sciences Library


By Ashley Curran

The stairs leading to the library post-Sandy.

The stairs leading to the library post-Sandy.

In October of 2012, when all seemed right with the world and the New York University Health Sciences Library was in the midst of strategic planning to develop new data management services and prepare for a much needed renovation, disaster struck in the form of Hurricane Sandy. The Health Sciences Library along with the entire NYU Medical Center was hit with a fourteen foot storm surge that completely flooded the lower level of the library and partially flooded the upper level. Virtually everything was destroyed in the library and in prioritizing patient needs the library came fairly low on the list of renovations, which explains why the expected opening is spring 2016, three and half years after the closing.

Almost immediately the faculty and staff set up shop across the road from the medical center and in order to maintain continued service, librarians went online. Within the space of two weeks the library became a virtual library, expanding already robust online resources and offering most if not all of the services it had been providing.

The door to the cellar of the medical center post-Sandy.

The door to the cellar of the medical center post-Sandy.

Once the waters had receded and the library was humming along in its virtual incarnation, an intensive information gathering period began, during which the major stakeholders including nursing, dental, clinical research, medical students and others were interviewed for information on their needs for the new space. Surveys of users conducted prior to the renovation plans were helpful, but once it became clear that a complete reimagining was possible, focus groups were added to include more details on users’ needs for the new space.

The original renovation plans for the library before Sandy hit had been mostly cosmetic in nature with no structural changes. In imagining the library the School of Medicine needed, the designers and library leadership considered the library’s major strategic areas. This entailed strengthening core services by improving pathways for accessing information resources and developing emerging services such as data management, data visualization, clinical apps and technology exploration, prompting the development of a technology exploration room in the designs. The room will house a 3D printer, a large, mobile touch screen monitor for use with data visualization software and powerful computers able to handle various data visualization software.

If we build it, will they come?

The new library contains a quiet reading room, an open computing area, a central commons area and several group study rooms. The original library, despite being located between the clinical, research and education buildings, was a self-contained space with access through only one set of doors. It was dark, with very little natural light. The new library in the same space has entrances on four sides and plenty of natural light, making it feel spacious, open and accessible. According to Library Director Neil Rambo, “Many people won’t even realize that they’re in the same space.”

The loss of the print collection, although disruptive, simply pushed the library towards an electronic only presence faster than expected. A general move in this direction had been part of the original plan, and Hurricane Sandy simply forced the issue. A decision was made not to replace the print collection, but to change the collection policy to emphasize digital materials.

Marketing the library has been challenging. Many of our users don’t consider themselves library users until they realize that the online journals and ebooks they regularly use are a service provided by the library. Anyone coming to NYU Langone after October 2012 has never experienced the library as a place and therefore has had nothing to miss. Alternately there are those users who miss the library as not only a place of learning but also a place to relax and get away from their desks. They regularly inquire of us the scheduled opening date and plan to use the new space.

My role in all of this

In my role as User Services Coordinator I will be managing the day to day operations of the library including on-site services. I’ll be coordinating and developing staff working at the library’s service point, responding to queries about the new services and assisting users with new software such as the online room booking system. I’m currently working with library staff and partners across the medical center and the university on best practices for the delivery of new and existing services and am looking forward to staging events within the library.

The majority of my library career had been spent at the New York Public Library, so my knowledge of Health Sciences was minimal. I’ve had a year to learn from a great team here, who never seem to tire of my questions. Although the wait for the library to open has been long, it’s given me the time to develop relationships and my knowledge of health sciences so that I can better lead the team once we move in.

Are we there yet?

With the opening now only months away, we can finally see the end of the journey. Day One looms in our minds and we wonder if we’ve prepared for everything? Will there be technology glitches? Will all of our services be up and running? Will we have questions we didn’t anticipate and can’t answer? Will we be swamped by users, or will it be quiet, empty of those people who despite all the fanfare we’ve created, still say “The library opened?” The answer to some of these questions will be yes and others no, but we will only find out in the course of time.

What we do know is that we’re offering a beautiful space that will serve the needs of our users now and in the future. We’re offering the latest technology and services to support the NYU Langone community, along with a great team of librarians and staff eager and excited to get back into the library space. Stay tuned for photographs and thoughts on the new space once the library opens.


One thought on “Down but Not Out: Rebuilding the NYU Health Sciences Library

Comments are closed.