Can a library survive in the digital information age?
The most fascinating story within the New York Public Library (NYPL) might be what is happening inside its walls.
The NYPL, like a lot of public libraries, is facing financial and operational challenges in the post recession era. Buildings for books are not high on the list of priorities for public money. To safegaurd its future as a center of research and remain an architectural treasure, the NYPL is considering a restructuring plan that involves consolidating the Mid-Manhattan branch and its Science, Industry, and Business Library within the central Schwarzman Building. The plan, called the Central Library Plan (CLP) also includes a renovation plan by world renowned architect Norman Foster. The redesign would turn what is currently a research library into a circulating library with larger spaces for public use.
The renovations require that seven levels of stacks be relocated, either within the library or to a storage facility in New Jersey. Supporters of the CLP argue that replacing stacks of underused books with open areas for public use is a smarter move in an age of digital media. With a user base of 15.3 million people, the Library may no longer be a literary destination but it is a significant source of free internet access. The proposed design also provides space for computers, desks, carrels, group tables, a lounge, and possibly a cafe.
Besides the concerns of researchers and scholars who currently use the obscure research material in the Schwarzman Building, architectural historians are lamenting the changes to the landmark interiors. Reid Singer for ArtInfo relates architectural historian Mark Hewitt’s worries for the physical bookstacks especially:
[Hewitt] remains a particularly ardent admirer of the stacks, not only for their compact design and their capacity to bear the load of the grand Rose Reading Room above them, but because of the fact that as bookstacks go, they are uncommonly fire-resistant. Hewitt points out that placing books inside the steel tubes that support the building allows them to burn slower, giving firemen the opportunity to get in and put the fires out. “As they are now disposed, they are a technological marvel,” he told the New School panel, “and an artifact of incredible importance.”
How will libraries and similar buildings survive in the digital information age?
Image: endymion120 Flickr