Friday, February 17, 2012
Library Bytes: NYPL Issues
Everyone knows that the main building of the New York Public Library on 5th Ave & 42nd St is an important cultural center and architectural landmark. I blogged about the NYPL system in 2009 when I found out about a video that promoted more information about libraries and their services. To paraphrase PR, who commented about the video, it is an inspiring video. Back then I also mentioned about the financial cutbacks they were suffering from. Sadly, that has continued to happen, and things are now getting worse. NYPL has been planning a major overhaul of that incredible classical revival building and its services, by turning it into the largest circulating public library in the US. This particular branch of the library as it exists has always been a research facility. The picture you see above is a view from 1913 of what is now called the Rose Reading Room (image: NYPL Digital Library), where anyone can enter, order a book to be paged from the collection, sit down and read it. A number of my PhD friends (and I) use this library and its services regularly. There are other reading rooms as well, but this one is the most famous. The plan now, however, is for NYPL to close 3 branches, ship 2 million books to a storage unit in NJ (that will take at least 24-48 hours to page for users), gut the entire lower floor beneath the Rose Reading Room, and turn the entire facility into a circulating library, just like in towns across America. Some people might think in theory this is a good thing. Certainly their Board and Director think so. It is curious, however, that no one on the Board or even the Director is an actual librarian or holds an MLS degree. They're all business people. But I digress. Their plan also calls for the cancellation of 2 previously planned regional branches they were supposed to built. Instead, they're basically turning the main building into a giant computer center (think an Apple store, no salespeople, but seriously overworked civil servants, and lots of naughty goings-on in the stacks). Not only will this cost an unbelievable fortune to do, but it is destroying the integrity of the entire architectural structure and all of its services for researchers. This past December, Scott Sherman published a fantastic exposé in The Nation on all the secrecy and under-the-table things going on there (including the then-still startling news the new Director had been arrested for drunk driving). The New York Times now has its take on the whole thing, and I'm saddened to say that their article is really a fluff piece that does more to stroke the egos of the NYPL Board and Director. The powers that be claim they want feedback from the community, so speak your mind about this. But make sure you read at least The Nation article first, because it's shocking and eye-opening.