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New York Public Library to remove millions of books in controversial renovation

In an attempt to revitalize New York Public Library’s iconic Fifth Avenue building, up to two million of its books will soon be packed up and shipped to storage facilities.

The country’s second-largest library (and location of some of Ghostbusters‘ most memorable scenes) is preparing for a controversial renovation, which will replace most of its stacks with public space, rows of computers, and, for the first time, a lending library. Noted authors such as Salman Rushdie and Tom Stoppard are among those who signed a petition protesting the plan.

NYPL CEO Tony Marx told The Nation:

The driver of the idea of a central library plan is that in the back quarter of this iconic building are stacks of books that are rarely used. We can store and get access to those books without having to take the prime space in a prime location in New York City. To the degree that we can make that space available, and replace books with people, that’s the future of where libraries are going.

Although researchers have been reassured they’ll be able to request any material with 24 hours notice, many critics are upset that books are being replaced with cafés and wireless lounges. In a column in the Guardian, New York“based writer Jason Farago posits:

A research library has a different mission from a lending library; it’s there to put everything, not just the most popular volumes, at our disposal. If you hit an intriguing footnote that references another publication, or if you find an irregularity in a text and want to check it against another source, all you have to do now is grab one of the library’s stubby golf pencils, write down the title, and it’s yours. That will soon be gone, and its effect on research will be brutal if not mortal.

The NYPL isn’t the only library feeling the pressure to update its facilities. The Toronto Reference Library, which is wrapping up its five-year $34 million renovation, will soon house a Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, set to open later this month.