My mother alerted me to an interesting article in the Nation about the New York Public Library’s plans to create a sort of library-within-a-library at their famous branch on 42nd Street in Manhattan. There is an intention to create a state-of-the-art computer-oriented library -called the Central Library Plan. However, in doing so, NYPL will displace the existing stacks -sending (according to the article) 3 million books to storage and demolishing the stacks (shelving.)

So the library is dumping Books and hooking up with Computers? Curious. I suppose if I lived in NYC and frequented that branch of the NYPL, I might be sad to see the books go. Except, as far as I’m aware, those books don’t circulate. And unless one is doing research, how often do people actually read full books while in the library? Isn’t part of the beauty of libraries the act of borrowing, to be trusted with public treasure in one’s own home?

This struck me on my first visit to NYPL. I thought: so beautiful and stately, but where are the books? I had to visit the library twice before I found them.

The Nation article carried a tone of nostalgia and called to mind old, gilded rooms devoted to one type of literature or another. Rooms I’d probably never enter. It also quoted a librarian who feared that the new computer-centric offerings will probably draw noisy crowds to what is now an impressively quite and calm atmosphere. I’ve seen these crowds in other city libraries, so I appreciate that librarian’s sentiment: it’s important to reserve spaces for quiet contemplation, as well as respectfully preserve a culture’s literature.

Seems to me a clash of cultures (also a bit of change-fear.) I’ll keep tabs on how this pans out.

San Francisco Library

This is actually the San Fran Public Library, but you get the picture.