May 22, 2019

The NYPL’s Fifth Avenue stacks are still empty


In 2007, New York Public Library administrators hatched a plan—the Central Library Plan—to consolidate 3 libraries in Midtown Manhattan into the flagship Fifth Avenue library building. The famous Fifth Avenue stacks, then, would be shipped out to a warehouse in Princeton, New Jersey.

Aside from Mayor Bloomberg and a cadre of real estate developers who would benefit from the plan, few people were chuffed.

That story—and the triumph of writers, researchers, readers, and activists in stopping the Central Library Plan—is the central drama of Scott Sherman’s Patience and Fortitude.

Though the plan was indeed stopped, the books have not yet returned to the Fifth Avenue stacks.

So what next? As Winnie Hu writes in a recent article for the New York Times:

The answer, library officials say after a two-year study, is that the stacks at the heart of the building will have no books—at least not anytime soon.

The work to modernize them would be too expensive (costing as much as $200 million) and disruptive.

So the cavernous space will remain in limbo as officials move to expand storage space outside the library for one of the world’s leading research collections.

Still, library officials emphasized they would not tear out the stacks. In the meantime, there are plenty of books for patrons to peruse.

It’s not the answer Scott Sherman and the heroes of Patience and Fortitude would hope for. Not at all. And most of us still want to see the Fifth Avenue building become the sanctuary for research it once was.

But in the meantime, if you’re looking for a little inspiration from their victories so far, for a taste of what it’s like to fight city hall and win, then check out these lessons from some of those key players.

Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.