Saving Space, Saving NYPL’s Central Library

As we are beginning to look into systems of classification in class, this article on the New York Public Library’s new space-saving shelving seemed timely. Confronted with its 2014 controversial plans for the destruction of its seven-foot-high bookshelves to accommodate a circulating library that would have replaced the Mid-Manhattan Library and the Science, Industry, and Business Library and so displacing one-and-a-half million books to off-site storage in central New Jersey—a plan with virtually no supporters—the library was reassessing its relationship to space. In changing the way to look at the problem, a solution was found on-site in reconceptualizing book classification in space. Twenty-seven feet below Bryant Park, NYPL expanded its on-site storage by shelving books by size, on shelves low–high, rather than the Dewey Decimal System. They did not abandon Dewey, those call numbers and crucial bibliographic details are still trackable through barcodes on each book. In doing so, the library was able to eliminate wasted shelf space and accommodate four million books in this shelving system, not to mention saving a five hundred million dollars on a building plan that no one wanted. The barcode system also provides the exact location of books, drilling down the room, aisle, shelf, and tray.  This model of placement is not determined by topic but by supporting metadata of dimension that alleviates strains on physical space and allows it to be utilized more efficiently. This is a lesson in the power of shifting one’s focus to find the least invasive solution to a problem.

—Richard Goldstein

Reviewed from: Quito, Anne (2016, October 13). “Size Matters: The New York Public Library Has Adopted a Very Unusual Sorting System,” Quartz.

Further reading:

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Posted in Classification, Uncategorized

by Hugh McLeod

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