The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article by Scott Sherman on what is going on at the 42nd Street main library of the New York Public Library.
This library, also know as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, was renamed the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building after one of the Board of Trustees who donated millions to the library. Like most New Yorkers, I still call it by its two former names.
The comment on 21 volumes of a title that is now missing in a closed stack library is interesting. Closed stacks are when library personnel need to retrieve materials for the patron. Most of Europe’s libraries are closed stacks. Most U.S. libraries allow patrons to walk in and retrieve the materials for themselves, unless it is a special collection or archival material, in which case these collections are closed stack.
If this was a title that was sent off-site and then brought back, it sounds as if the movers that were used were not professionals in moving library collections. These specialized movers know that library collections are in a certain order and they preserve that order when they move them. I know of a college library where the library was remodeled. They hired bargain-basement movers who, once they filled up the shelving, started back at the beginning and filled up those shelves until all the books were shelved, thereby destroying the classification order of half the books. It took the college library YEARS to get their collection back in order.
However, it seems that the stacks that were emptied for the renovation still remain empty; the books are still in the off-site facility. As Sherman suggests, is this revenge on those who stopped the renovation? A colleague of mine at New York University who is an expert in his field went to NYPL when they first started moving the collection from the building. Of the nineteen titles he said were basic texts needed for his subject, eleven or twelve were off in storage. Needless to say, he was not impressed with the selector.
Sherman’s remarks about the trustees being devoted to the special collections but ambivalent to making these materials available to researchers says quite a bit. The rich collect manuscripts and pieces of art to show off–what? How rich they are, how cultured, how sophisticated, etc. This sounds like how the trustees are treating these materials. Look but don’t touch. Even in the Roman Republic and Empire, private libraries were made available to patrons of affluent patricians. In this case, the materials are in what is supposed to be a public library–funded with government dollars. Even the Roman patricians understood research. They don’t in this country, apparently.
People like this have been slowly draining this country for over four decades; I see no relief in sight.