Another NYPL trustee Scott Sherman identified in The Nation as an advocate of the Central Library Plan (CLP) is Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library, as believing the Main Branch “should be reconfigured to make room for computers and public spaces where users can talk with one another. Darnton contests the notion that removing 3 million books from Forty-second Street constitutes a retreat from the NYPL’s research mission. ‘Books can be rearranged in lots of ways,’ he says. ‘What you need to do is to assure accessibility’ to the books ‘and to increase the growth of your collections.’”
Sherman asks, “How accessible will the books be?”
NYPL officials say they will put them in two colossal storage facilities: one behind the library below Bryant Park, the other in Princeton, New Jersey. (NYPL officials say the latter facility is far superior to the Forty-second Street stacks in terms of climate control… And what about… users who need books immediately from… Princeton…? NYPL officials… insist… the materials can be transported… in twenty-four hours; but [according to] staff members… book delivery can take up to five days. (I recently waited two weeks for materials that never arrived… Also, a great many books seem to be missing from the library.) Staff members are concerned that books being transported from Princeton… might be damaged en route.
…One employee says, ‘I know many people who do not come to Forty-second Street anymore because they cannot get the books they need to work there.’ Top NYPL administrators bristle at those words, but the statistics show that a large gap has opened up between NYPL and other top research libraries. In 2008, according to data from the Association of Research Libraries, the four research libraries of the NYPL spent ¨$15.2 million on ‘library materials expenditures.’ In 2010 the NYPL spent $10.8 million. By contrast, in that year Harvard spent $32.3 million; Columbia, $26.4 million; and Princeton, $23.1 million. (A pilot program involving NYPL, New York University and Columbia allows ‘vetted’ NYPL users with a ‘sustained research need’ to check out certain books from the libraries of NYU and Columbia...
In an opinion piece in The New York Review of Books in the summer of 2012, Darnton argued that research libraries have to cooperate, pointed out the NYPL “does not buy heavily in the field of medicine – fortunately, as medical journals are egregiously expensive,” and disclosed that the Harvard Medical Schools annually spend $3,000,000 on medical journals as a subscription for a medical journal can cost $30,000. “Nor does it [the Main Branch] acquire much in some professional fields such as law, engineering, and computer science.”
Thanks to a recent agreement, Ph.D. students, full-time faculty, and anyone qualifying as an ‘independent scholar’ can, with a reader’s card from the New York Public Library, gain admission to the participating libraries of Columbia and NYU, which have strong collections in medicine and other professional disciplines, and they can even check out printed material. In return, some members of Columbia and NYU have reciprocal rights to check out material—the arrangement is still in an experimental, pilot phase—from the main research library of the NYPL, even though it had never before permitted anything from its collections to circulate. This policy broadens the range of works available to its readers, but to the library’s critics it is another deviation from a tradition of keeping everything safely in the stacks at 42nd Street.
Strictly speaking, Darnton is incorrect when he states “it had never before permitted anything from its collections to circulate.” The research collection did not circulate (because generally speaking research collections remain on-site rather than circulate), but the Main Branch opened as a circulating library and evolved into a research library.
Sherman noted “the low staff morale at the NYPL’s research libraries.”
…the deep-seated suspicion many staff members feel toward NYPL executives, some of whom have MBAs but not library science degrees; a feeling among some that the NYPL administration is excessively enamored of social media and Google Books (a plan to digitize tens of millions of books, now in legal limbo) to the detriment of old and new materials printed on paper; and widespread staff skepticism about the CLP. Nearly every employee I talked with expressed affection for the old stacks… and horror at the idea that those thousands of shelves might be gutted…
Staff members have many questions about the CLP: if a principal goal is to tear down the stacks and replace books with computers, why not refurbish Mid-Manhattan, or the much newer Science, Industry and Business Library, as a modern computer center, thereby preserving Forty-second Street for its original purpose—the housing of books and printed materials?
Two prominent opponents of the CLP Sherman lists are the architect Charles Warren, who co-wrote a book about the architects of the Schwarzman Building, and described the building as “a machine for reading books in,” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering-Lewis, who said the CLP needed to be reviewed “very carefully, perhaps resisted[ed].” Sherman writes, “Staff members were aroused by a September 18  Times article… by Philip Nobel, disclosed that one of [Norman] Foster’s prominent buildings in Las Vegas, the Harmon, will soon be torn down; according to the article, ‘construction flaws were found years ago.’”
There has been a great deal of opposition to the CLP. Reid Singer related Professor David Nasaw, “garnered laughs and knowing murmurs when he spoke at a public forum on the NYPL's future that took place at the New School on May 20th. ‘I realize that the politicians and the public have to be convinced that it would be a crime to destroy or denigrate this great research institution or to let it remain in the state that it now is,’ he told the audience. ‘It will not be easy to scrap this plan or radically alter it, but having heard it so eloquently defended, I’m more than ever convinced that it has to be scrapped or changed.’”
Nasaw's words were met with an eruption of applause. The plan he was referring to, conceived during the administration of… LeClerc, would combine the New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan and Science, Industry, and Business Libraries, and place them inside the library’s famous central outpost…
This consolidation effort has been presented at once as a massive money-saver for the Library and as a Big Event for New York architecture. Under the direction of… Foster, the Schwarzman Building would turn from a pure research facility… into a circulating library that serves the broader public. This update would require a wide-ranging remodelling that makes some preservationists cringe.
With approximately $200 million from the sale of the two vacated buildings, and $150 million in contingent support from the city government, the heart of the Schwarzman Building would be converted into an open area for computers, desks, and tables for groups, displacing seven levels of bookstacks…
 David Nasaw is the Arthur M. Schlesinger Professor of History at the City University of New York (C.U.N.Y.) Graduate Center.