The New York Public Library Reboot

I’ve really wanted to stay out of this.

First, I don’t expect to be alive to ever see its completion, so I figured what they’re up to is for the benefit of the next generations, not me.

Second, I think every damned book should be digitized so they can be made available instantly — even if it’s stupidly restricted to having to be at a NYPL branch for access.

Third, the entire thing has been a mess and it’s become so complex that I really don’t want to have to devote any of my remaining time on it.

However, today I was pointed to this post by @tuphlos, a librarian in another city: A Tour of the NYPL Stacks. And it makes a good case for slamming the brakes on the entire reboot idea.

Books are fragile objects. Especially research books, which are often very, very old and sometimes are the only surviving copy.

So the entire idea of taking these rare objects and moving them elsewhere — to another fucking state — and then transporting them is just staggeringly stupid on the face of it.

I’m sure NYPL will argue that a portion of the books have been handled like this for years. My retort: Show me an audit of how many books have been ruined and lost in that process. Has any such record even been kept?

Why introduce into the process the wildcard of chaos? Why put at risk rare books — many irreplaceable — by putting them on public highways where accidents can happen during even the best of weather? Why subject these books to more handling than they would ever encounter by keeping them on site at the Research Library?

From the point of view of any scholar, from the point of view of anyone who understands the value of books, it’s just absolute sheer madness.

And as this reboot idea has moved along, in the process they’ve already destroyed one library in Manhattan, the Donnell branch. I used that branch a lot.

The way the NYPL works is that some branches have specialties. There is no one uber branch that contains all books. They’re spread across the system. It’s like the Internet for print books. And this system has worked well for ages.

The reboot plan has the current Research Library — the one all of you outside of NYC know as the big building with the lions outside — being turned into an uber branch library, containing just about everything that used to be spread out across the branches.

The idea of mixing a quiet place meant for scholarship with the day-to-day noise and traffic of a branch library is just stupid. There’s no other way to put it. It’d be like placing a McDonald’s in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There are some things that just shouldn’t be mixed.

Anyway, the Donnell branch. It was sold off with the grand idea that the money the real estate would bring in would be a boon for the NYPL’s finances. It didn’t work out like that. Isn’t it strange how shit like that never seems to work out as planned?

And given that it didn’t work out once, why the hell are they so confident they can pull a hat trick by selling off another branch — the main branch — and make a real estate killing?

The only thing I see being killed here is a vast and beautiful and valuable public library system that worked for ages and has worked well.

The entire idea of this reboot — of turning the Research Library into this bizarre place to see and to be seen — smells more of strutting egos than it does of caring for the NYPL system as a whole.

And if you don’t think egos aren’t involved, see my earlier post this week about how the public libraries are being bled by people who are more interested in their own incomes than the mission of the public libraries.

This thing still isn’t my fight. I’m too old. But today I’m forced to do this post and to go on record as saying I’m against the machinations. The Research Library should be preserved, the Stacks underground expanded, and the main NYPL branch should be left alone and not sold off to the scum real estate developers.

And the money they plan to use on this stupid reboot should go towards digitizing every single thing in the Research collection.


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