Friday, 23 May 2014

Stacks stories

Lovers of library stacks are fighting back in two recent news stories.  In a recent edition of online magazine Slate, Rebecca Schuman has a story titled "Save Our Stacks" in which she reports on a faculty petition at Colby College in Maine protesting a plan to move 170,000 of the library's books to storage. As she points out, many many other academic libraries are engaged in the same process of de-stacking and de-booking library spaces. She goes on to say that "The Bookies are quite right to want to save the stacks but not just for the reasons they give, all of which could be dismissed as the sentimental drowning cries of Luddites. We must also save the stacks for another, more urgent reason altogether: Books, simply as props that happen also to be quite useful if you open them up, are the best—perhaps the only—bastions of contemplative intellectual space in the world."
She also points to a second big and under-reported library stacks news item: the New York Public Library has quietly dropped its controversial plan to remove its famous stacks and send most of its books to storage in New Jersey (and elsewhere). This is probably not the end of the story which continues to unfold. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that the grand main library building should be renamed for Ada Louise Huxtable, the noted architecture critic who spent her final months researching and writing a scathing commentary on the plan (she died in Jan. 2013 at the age of 91; her article ran in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 4, 2012). The publication of her critique, titled "Undertaking its Destruction", marked a turning point for the library. She had said of the plan, "This is a plan devised out of a profound ignorance of or willful disregard for not only the library's original concept and design, but also the folly of altering its meaning and mission and compromising its historical and architectural integrity. You don't "update" a masterpiece. "Modernization" may be the most dangerously misused word in the English language."
The New York Times broke the story that the plans were dropped; for some reason they neglected to mention Ms. Huxtable's role. 

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