Maritime Library

Maritime Library

Danielle Butler


We’re building a floating library. Designed as a historic harbor barge in miniature (10’x16′) this small library is a familiar institution in an unfamiliar place. Like all libraries, ours will be a multi-use space. It will be a place for work and reflection as well as a collection of books: histories of the waterfront, children’s adventure series, romance novels, weekly periodicals from the 1920s. . . The collection shows how our relationship to the water has changed over time and has not always been so estranged. The library will also hold an exhibit space. With its existence, the library asks why is it abnormal to be on the water and prototypes a possible future where the boundaries between land and water are more fluid.

The Maritime Library will be accessible in multiple ways. It’s a sculptural structure to contemplate from afar, a platform to hear the Whitman poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry read aloud to a crowd onshore, a workspace for residencies, or a refuge for an hour alone reading a 1940s account of barge living on the Gowanus.

The floating library is mobile and can be pushed anywhere in the harbor. This will allow us to bring it to communities around the city both for paddle-in events and park visits.

New York Harbor was once home to many floating institutions – churches, schools, hospitals, and prisons. The Maritime Library will be a place for people to consider how our relationship to the water has changed over time and thus how it can change again.

On Flood Data

The library is a tool to invite people onto the water to see it as a place and a place to care for. It also uniquely enables work about the water to be done on the water. New Yorkers are disconnected from the water, it is mostly seen as the negative space between the land. It is thought of as toxic. Flooding through storm surge and sea-level rise are met with plans for higher walls, bigger berms, and sea gates. Most of the waterfront’s future is being determined by developers. Yet, by looking globally we can see cities that are integrated with the water and build infrastructure that is agile and adaptive. New York is suffering from a crisis of imagination. The Maritime Library is a place for exploring how things could be different.

Books from the Tidelands collection

Getting on the water enables an experiential understanding of New York’s complex relationship with the water. The library is a prototype for what it might look like to treat the water as a place where culture and connection could exist. By engaging the water with culture building projects Tideland hopes to engage more New Yorkers in caring for and shaping our future with the water.