Monday, April 1, 2013

Evolution of Metal Bookstacks

Metal bookstacks are in the news in New York. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has an exhibit on display featuring the works of French architect Henri Labrouste (1801-1875) through June 14th. Labrouste was the first designer of library buildings to use iron columns (Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve, 1843) and metal bookstacks (Bibliotheque Nationale, 1850s). The other New York metal bookstack news story relates to the controversy over the New York Public Library's plans to remove its famous bookstacks as part of a major renovation of its building at 5th Ave. and 42nd Street. In my previous post about the renovated Central Library of the St. Louis Public Library I failed to note that a major aspect of that renovation was the removal of its metal bookstacks to accommodate the modernization of some of its public spaces. Unlike the flagship building of the New York Public Library which is and has always been a research library, the St. Louis Public Library has always been a circulating library (as well as a reference library) accommodating all age groups. An 1877 addition to Gore Hall, the Harvard College Library, made the first use of metal bookstacks in the United States and has been described as the "prototype of the modern bookstack".  The Library of Congress building now know as the Thomas Jefferson Building, completed in 1897, utilized a metal bookstack system designed by Bernard Richardson Green and built by the Snead & Co. Iron Works. The Library of Congress stack or the Green (Snead) standard "was so great an improvement over all forms of book storage that had preceded it that the library profession accepted it forthwith as not only a better book storage, but as a definitively perfect one." [Quote in Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)]. I have a section of the Green (Snead) shelving in my garage. The illustration of the "standard" steel bookstack below is from a 1901 catalog for the Art Metal Construction Co. in Jamestown, NY which is in my collection.

1 comment:

Michael A. Golrick said...

I worked in three different libraries with the stacks like that. You could see down to the floor below if the bottom shelf was not exactly even with the floor. The first library was the Shrewsbury (MA) Free Public Library. There was a 2-story stack wing with opaque glass floors. They replaced the stacks one summer (1970?) and we had to move all the books out for that project!

The second library was the Biological Science Library in the Arnold Laboratory at Brown University. The library was only there for one semester of my working. In December 1971, they moved into a new building combining with the Physical Sciences Library to become the Sciences Library, which is a 14 story building on Providence's East Side.

The last was the Bridgeport Public Library. It was one of the last large public libraries built with closed stacks. There are 7 floors of stacks, and they are still there. It is because of the lack of fire blocking and ADA rules that the stacks are still closed.