One NYPL Trustee, Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library, wrote three times in The New York Review of Books about the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan (CLP). In “The New York Public Library: The Turning Point,” published in the October 25, 2012 issue of The New York Review of Books, Darnton explicated how the NYPL Board of Trustees had made a number of concessions to critics of the CLP.
The New York Review of Books published Darnton’s letter “In Defense of the New York Public Library” on June 7, 2012 and “In Defense of the New York Public Library: An Exchange” on July 12, 2012. This was a critical response by contributors Joan W. Scott, Caleb Crain, and Charles Petersen, along with Darnton’s reply.
The CLP calls for the consolidation of the collections of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (Main Branch), Mid-Manhattan Branch, and Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) in the Main Branch; remodeling the stacks area beneath the Main Branch’s Rose Reading Room as a lending library; move many books off-site to ReCAP, a climate-controlled storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey; and sell the Mid-Manhattan and SIBL buildings.
Darnton wrote, “Polemics… usually produce hard feelings and a hardening of positions, rather than… mutually acceptable results. The loud debate about the Central Library Plan… may, however, be an exception to this rule—not that it has come to an end, but it has reached a turning point, which should satisfy both sides.”
Critics of the CLP were… incensed about its provision to remove books from the seven levels of stacks under the Rose Main Reading Room and ship them to offsite storage in order to make room for a circulating library… on the lower floors. They petitioned, they provoked a debate… and they were heard.
… a committee of… trustees has made the following recommendations... accepted by the full board on September 19:
• Another level of stacks under Bryant Park will be developed, creating room for onsite storage of another 1.5 million books.
• Books shipped to ReCAP… from the onsite collection will mostly be works that are already digitized and available online.
• The library will make a firm commitment to deliver books from ReCAP within twenty-four hours, provided that the orders are placed before 2:30 PM on weekdays… Additional resources will be allocated, if necessary, to guarantee the effectiveness of the twenty-four-hour deadline.
• New curators will be hired to expand collections and improve services in a half-dozen special fields.
These changes should go a long way toward satisfying the desire of researchers to follow up leads and check references by consulting works that are stored a short distance from their desks. Thanks to the new level under Bryant Park, the library will retain in onsite storage 3.3 million of the 4.5 million books now housed at the library. While these books will not include all of the three million books now stored under the Rose Main Reading Room, they will include most of them while providing substantial space for others: librarians will cull from the current onsite collection… copies of works that have been digitized and a small number of books that are never or very rarely read, making room for another million books under Bryant Park in the future... And all of them will be stored in excellent conditions, unlike those in the old stacks, which lack adequate temperature controls.
There is no escape from the need to rely on offsite storage…, but readers can expect immediate improvement in the service from ReCAP… thanks to an easy system of ordering in advance. The onsite collections will contain a greater proportion of the books most used by researchers...
Of course the quality of collections depends on the skill of the librarians... The critics of the library rightly lamented the neglect of its great Baltic and Slavic collection, whose curator was reduced to a half-time position. The library has now redressed the situation by creating another, full-time position, and it is raising funds to hire expert librarians who will curate collections concerning the Middle East, Latin America, and the humanities in general, which have never had… curators. There will also be fund-raising for curators of collections in the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture...
All of the… special collections will remain where they are, properly stored and curated, in the main building... Researchers who use them as well as the general collection in the humanities and social sciences will be able to work in specially equipped reading rooms on the second floor. That floor contains handsome rooms along its central and south corridors, which can be refurbished and made available to readers. Some of them will be opened as soon as possible rather than after the completion of the CLP... The restoration of the second floor—without any changes in the imposing architectural features—will accommodate the needs of visitors from outside New York as well as… independent researchers.
The loneliness of the long-distance researcher isn’t adequately understood by people who enjoy the support of universities... The New York Public Library has always done its best to provide for their needs, notably in its Wertheim Study and Allen Room. Now it will more than double the space made available to them….
Like the other trustees, Darnton had not yet seen Lord Norman Foster’s plan to remodel the lower floors of the Schwarzman Building. “But the board is committed to respecting the integrity of the original architecture, including the public study rooms on the second floor as well as the façades.”
He explained, “One internal wall on the ground floor” will “be removed to allow more use of the 42nd Street entrance. The principal space to be changed will be the storage area under the Rose Main Reading Room, which has never been open to the public, and much of its material, notably the ironworked bookshelves, will be incorporated in the design for the new circulating library.” In December, the NYPL would finally unveil the schematic designs of the CLP.