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A Library That is Inaccessible - But Somehow Exists

By: Ray Zhao

On a small piece of grass, the Queens Public Library at Hunters Point is a block of white and glass against the background of the East River and the skyline of New York City. The library was completed by the critically acclaimed Steven Holl architects back in 2019. But even with a $40 million budget, the building still lacks a desperately needed trait: accessibility.

The library, completed two decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is filled with areas only accessible by stairs, effectively barring people with mobility issues from large parts of the library. The accessibility issues are so bad that Sharon McLennon-Wier, who is the executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, went so far as to describe the library as “a monument to stairs.”

And people with mobility issues aren’t the only ones unhappy with the design. Due to the large atrium of the relatively small building, many walkways and spaces are narrower than usual, creating a cramped feeling when navigating to find books. And while the soft, sloping wooden interior looks nice, it creates a major problem when librarians want to store book carts, as those just roll off into unhelpful areas. Those carts can’t even refill shelves that require stairs to access, leaving empty shelves in many areas of the library.

The building has such major design issues that lawsuits have started to hit the library and the architects. In 2019, the Center for Independence of the Disabled and a woman with mobility issues sued the library and the city for discrimination against disabled and impaired people. And even the City of New York took action – last month, Holl’s office faced a new lawsuit claiming that the building did not comply with the ADA and that $10 million needed to be poured into the library to make fixes.

Many locals are starting to get annoyed by the inaccessibility caused by the narrow spaces and many stairs. In fact, the stroller parking was so small it clogged the entrance to the second-floor elevators. But while the lawsuits are still in court, nothing has been changed yet.

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