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‘This is a new world’: NYC libraries should reopen gradually, says New York Public Library CEO Tony Marx

A fierce debate has emerged over when to reopen businesses and other gathering places amid the novel coronavirus, as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday allowed some businesses to resume operations but even his ally President Donald Trump said it was too early to do so.

In a newly released interview, taped on Monday, New York Public Library CEO Tony Marx struck a cautionary tone over reopening plans for the nation’s largest library system, saying a timetable for the resumption of business remains unknown and it should happen gradually when the time comes.

“This is a new world,” he says. “I don't think we could open all of our facilities, nor do I think we should instantly.”

“We'll probably do it gradually,” he adds. “Let's learn and see how it goes — that's true in the branches; it's also true in the research library.”

The New York Public Library, which serves over 17 million people each year, closed on March 13, as coronavirus cases in New York City grew dramatically and it became clear that gatherings in public places could imperil public health. The NBA season had been suspended days before and New York City schools would close days later.

“It was the same week that everybody was sort of suddenly realizing that this thing that we somehow managed to sort of ignore as it moved across the world,” Marx says. “Opening is going to be a lot messier,” he says.

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted a clash between Trump and many state and local officials, who’ve imposed orders that have forced the vast majority of Americans into their homes and shuttered non-essential businesses.

Trump assembled a task force earlier this month made up of business leaders devoted to reopening the economy and asserted his authority to do so, before ultimately acknowledging that the states can determine when to relax restrictions.

Closure plans have also divided New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who differed publicly this month over whether to close the city’s schools for the remainder of the school year.

As kids remain cooped up at home eager to go out and workers affected by the economic impact seek to use the library’s services, some people will urge the library system to open quickly, Marx predicted.

“We'll be under some pressure I imagine to open and we'll be working with the city and being very mindful of public safety,” Marx says.

Marx made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

In 2011, Marx took over as the CEO of the New York Public Library. Before that, he served as the president of Amherst College and a professor of political science at Columbia University.

New York Public Library CEO Tony Marx appears on "Influencers with Andy Serwer."
New York Public Library CEO Tony Marx appears on "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

There will be more of an urgent need to reopen of some sections of the library system, such as a business library that offers professional resources, Marx said.

“There's some things we also know are more pressing to start,” he says.

“We know there's going to be great demand for this because the economic impact of what we are currently living through is going to be with us for a while,” he adds.

The New York Public Library has continued to make its more than 300,000 e-book collection available to members, Marx said. In the first week following the closure of the New York Public library in mid-March, checkouts of e-books spiked 700%, he added, noting that the checkouts had “leveled since then.”

“We need to keep adding to the books in the collection,” Marx says. “This crisis is an opportunity for us to do more.”

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