I was confused recently when, planning to visit the NYPL Main Branch's Microforms collection, I looked up the building's hours online and couldn't find them--because the page kept giving the hours for the Steven Schwarzman Building and I kept looking for the words "Main Branch."
I will never call the Main Branch of the New York Public Library by its new name, the Steven Schwarzman Building. I will call it the Main Branch. Even when everyone else is running around saying, "Oh, did you see the show on 17th-century maps up at the Schwarzman?" I will be confused--"Where? At the what?"--even if I know perfectly well what they're talking about.
It was last year that the name was changed, when billionaire Schwarzman donated $100 million to the library. The renaming sparked some controversy, wrote the Times, particularly since "Mr. Schwarzman has become something of a lightning rod for critics of Wall Street excess, especially the high-spending ways of private-equity chiefs."
The New Yorker wrote that Schwarzman "had become the designated villain of an era on Wall Street—an era of rapacious capitalists and heedless self-indulgence."
New York Magazine was relieved to hear his name wouldn't be carved above the doors on the facade, saying "The 'Schwarzman Library' wouldn't sound public at all--it would sound exclusive and rich."
In fact, his name has been carved on the front of the building at the top of the stairs and on the sides, flanking the entrances there. It's subtle enough, but it's there. And the NYPL website makes it clear that "Main Branch" is not the building's name--nor it is a branch at all, they want us to know, stating:
"Often referred to as the 'main branch,' the magnificent Beaux-Arts landmark building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street is not a branch with circulating collections at all, but rather houses The Research Libraries' Stephen A. Schwarzman Building."
This seems like an appeal to sticklers and know-it-alls, people who like to get things "right" and correct other people. So that when you're at a party or out to dinner and you say, "I was up at the Main Branch the other day, looking at the Microforms," one of these sticklers can tell you, "You know, the Schwarzman Building, as it's properly known, is not actually a branch at all..."
And then, if the know-it-all is a young person, they can get in a veiled insult, saying, "You must have lived in New York a long, long time," as if you'd just called the 6 Train the "IRT" or told them your phone number started with "SPring-7."
This is how we get old. The names of things change and we keep calling them by their old names. We'll keep saying Shea Stadium instead of Citi-Field, Grand Central instead of Red Bull Station, and Times Square instead of American Eagle Outfitters Plaza (does anyone still say Longacre?).
By that time, in another decade or so, the world will have no use for us anyway.