Debate at N.Y. Public Library Raises Question: Can Off-Site Storage Work for Researchers?

Historians in the News

Nothing disturbs print-centric researchers like the idea of kicking books out of a library to make room for computers. The New York Public Library set off a fierce debate recently with its plans for a major reorganization. The proposed overhaul, known as the Central Library Plan, includes selling two midtown branches and moving many of the three million books now housed under the main reading room at 42nd Street to a remote-storage facility in New Jersey. The library shares the facility in a consortium arrangement, called Recap, with Columbia and Princeton Universities.

Anthony T. Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton University, summed up researchers' anxiety in a commentary published in the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, this month. "My stomach hurts when I think about NYPL, the first great library I ever worked in, turned into a vast Internet cafe where people can read the same Google Books, body parts and all, that they could access at home or Starbucks," he wrote.

The library promises that materials sent to Recap will be safely stored and quickly accessible—usually within 24 hours—to patrons who request them. Critics say that remote storage doesn't work so well in practice, and that the wrong message is sent by taking books out of the heart of the library....

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