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Central Park

The Parks Library

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

City of New York/Parks & Recreation officially opened its first public library on October 20, 1999. Located in the historic Arsenal, the library features books and research materials on parks and open spaces, New York City history, politics and architecture, urban studies, wildlife, landscaping and recreation. The library also contains the Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Collection. Robert F. Wagner, Jr. (1944-1993) served as New York City Councilman (1973-77), Chairman of the City Planning Commission (1978-79), Deputy Mayor for Policy (1979-86) and as the President of the New York City Board of Education (1986-?).

The Arsenal, built between 1847 and 1851, has been the home of three other Parks libraries. The first indications of a Parks library are apparent in the plans for the 1922-24 renovation. These plans show that on the second floor there was a “Library and Museum” on the east side of the building, the present location of room 242. A “Records” room sat opposite this room, on the west side of the building.

When Robert Moses became Parks Commissioner in 1934, the building was again remodeled. The plans from 1934 show that the third floor “Files” room was changed into a “Technical Library and Conference Room.” It is assumed that the materials from the old library on the second floor and the materials from the “Record” room were combined to form the second Parks Library. The 1935 plans show that the room that was “Records” became “Files” and the room that was “Library and Museum” became an office and conference room.

The floor plans of 1935 also show a “Plan File Room” in the basement of the Arsenal. This room was another type of library. Its maps and renderings provided information on the historical design and construction of parks. It was located in the Arsenal until a few years after the 1964-65 World’s Fair, when the division of Capital Projects moved to the Olmsted Center in Queens. Today this collection is known as the Map File.

The holdings of the second library (room 301) were used as reference materials for Parks employees only. The majority of this library consisted of reports and brochures produced by Parks. The library materials included complete sets of Parks and New York Zoological Annual Reports, the Proceedings of the Board of Estimate, and copies of the City Record. In the early 1970s, the Parks Library moved to room 242, due to the increasing pressure for space. The library lost its prestige as a secured library, and became a conference room and lounge for Parks employees, as well as a storage room for books. In the mid-1980s, the room was transformed into the Management, Planning and Analysis office, and later, in 1991, the Budget office.

In 1998, Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern decided to create the first public and lending Parks Library. The Parks Library provides materials for employees, while at the same time educating the public about the subjects that comprise the many aspects of Parks. The Parks Library includes the Robert F. Wagner, Jr., Collection. A generous donation from Borders Books and donations of park improvement brochures, master plans and annual reports from various Parks employees throughout the agency, as well as salvaged books from the old library, provide the foundations for this ever-expanding library.

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