Thursday, May 19, 2011
The dramatic depiction of the stack area of the New York Public Library building located at 5th Ave. & 42nd St. which is shown above appeared on the front cover of the May 27, 1911 issue of Scientific American. The article inside the journal described the mechanics of how a library user was able to retrieve a book from the seven tiers of closed stacks in the library located under the main reading room. Pneumatic tubes played a large role in that process. Those tubes were used to transmit a library user's request rapidly to the appropriate stack level and area where the requested item/s were located by a library staff member. The item/s were then placed on one of eight mechanical lifts for transport to the main reading room or one of the library's other reading areas. Each of the lifts was capable of carrying 250 pounds of books at a rate of 150 feet per minute. On the sixth stack tier there were two horizontal conveyers that facilitated the transfer of books to the appropriate lift. Those conveyers according to Scientific American consisted of an endless track with an endless rope running above it attached to two cars or baskets on wheels. This sounds similar to an arrangement at the Boston Public Library that I wrote about previously. The New York Public Library continues to use a similar system today. An online article about the NYPL's use of pneumatic tubes appears HERE. On Saturday May 21 as part of the NYPL's centennial celebration for the building, there will be public tours of the closed stack area. I would love to be able to take one of those tours.