The Chronicle: Can Off-Site Storage Work?

ReCAP – the book archiving facility shared by Columbia University, Princeton University and the New York Public Library – is at the center of a fierce debate about library use and design. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent article by writer Jennifer Howard highlights the differing views of using off-site storage as the New York Public Library moves ahead with its proposed overhaul.

Known as the Central Library Plan, NYPL is proposing to sell two midtown branches and move many of the 3 million books now housed in its main reading room at 42nd Street to ReCAP. Designed by KSS Architects, ReCAP houses books in a high-density, racked environment to ensure preservation and ease of access. Located in Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus, ReCAP opened in 2002 and has the capacity to hold 10 million volumes. Today, more than 9.6 million volumes reside at the facility and ReCAP is poised for expansion. Beginning in June 2013, two storage modules now in the works will be able to house an additional 10 to 13 million volumes.

So what’s all the hubbub about? The library promises that materials sent to ReCAP will be safely stored and quickly accessible-usually within 24 hours-to patrons who request them. Critics say that remote storage doesn’t work so well in practice, and that the wrong message is sent by taking books out of the heart of the library.