The New York Public Library has announced a $20 million gift from Merryl H. and James S. Tisch to expand and strengthen its educational programming.
The gift from Tisch, a former chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, and her husband, president and CEO of Loews Corp., will create a director of education position to oversee programming across the NYPL system, which includes branches in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. The funds will enable the NYPL to build on and expand its work in the areas of early literacy, adult literacy, digital equity, and technology training. Tisch told the New York Times she hoped the new director's vision for the system would include an expansion of offerings such as English-language classes and the addition of job training courses, afterschool homework help, and programs aimed at exposing students to the rich holdings of the system's four research centers.
Christopher Platt, the chief branch library officer, said that to his knowledge, "[t]his is the first educational gift to public libraries of this scale in the country." While the library currently reaches some three hundred and fifty thousand people a year with early literacy programs, "there's a lot of potential to build out what early literacy and family literacy is." Underscoring the point, Platt noted that NYPL's coding classes for adults have a waiting list of around a thousand people.
Tisch, who frequented the Seward Park Library on the Lower East Side as a young girl growing up in Manhattan, and whose husband sits on the NYPL board, told theTimesthat although some people had urged her to finance a capital project, she was more interested in supporting programs. As chancellor of the state's board of regents, Tisch oversaw the rollout of the Common Core standards and introduced new teacher licensing exams as well as evaluation systems tied to students' performance on state tests — which met with some backlash and have been rolled back since she stepped down as a regent last year.
Tisch told the Times that, along with her gift, she planned to push New York City mayor Bill de Blasio to increase funding for the library system so that more branches can open on Sundays; currently only eight of the system's ninety-two locations are open seven days a week. In the digital era, libraries are increasingly becoming community centers, she added. "If we get the right director, and hopefully we will, this becomes a blueprint for what urban libraries across the county should be turning themselves into."
"The library has always played a key role in educating New Yorkers of all ages, from pre-k students to lifelong learners," Tisch said in a statement. "The opportunity to find a way to help the library rethink, expand and transform their educational work is something we are deeply proud to be a part of."