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At NY Public Library, Books Now Ride the Rails from the Stacks to the Reading Room

The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

A fleet of 24 cars will soon be delivering material from the stacks of the New York Public Library (NYPL) along the tracks of its new “book train.” Each gray and red car, adorned with NYPL’s lion logo, can travel the 11 levels of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in just five minutes, from the subterranean Milstein Research Stacks to the Rose Main Reading Room. The conveyor system goes into operation the week of October 3, coinciding with the October 5 reopening of the Reading Room following its closure for two years of restoration.

Hyperallergic stopped by the NYPL’s main branch for a preview of the reading rails on Wednesday. Philip Mui, research materials data coordinator, called up a car to the elevator in the center of the Reading Room. “It makes things so much easier than us running around,” Mui said, noting that in the 20 years of using the previous system of conveyor belts carrying boxes, just one belt in need of repairs could throw the whole system offline. Below, you can see one of the cars entering the Reading Room alongside the dumb-waiter that will continue to handle oversize materials:

The new “book train” @nypl arrives in the Rose Reading Room.

A video posted by Allison Meier (@allisoncmeier) on

“What we try to do is optimize our service to our patrons,” Gerry Oliva, director of facilities management, explained down in the Milstein Stacks, which has also been undergoing a renovation since last winter to hold 4 million research volumes on-site. That high number is expected to help immediately fulfill around 95% of possible onsite research requests. Oliva noted that the “system has been used in various industries, it’s been used in hospitals,” but NYPL is one of the first libraries to institute the track conveyor. The electric “train,” with its 950 feet of tracks, and electronic sensors, was developed by the New Jersey-based Teledynamic. Each of the small cars can hold 30 pounds of books, and can move both horizontally and vertically.

“If you’re walking and taking the elevator, it beats you there,” said Matthew Knutzen, the director of the NYPL’s Humanities and Social Sciences Research Divisions. He added that it’s especially exciting to unveil the “book train,” which is a vital connection to the expanded storage beneath Bryant Park, alongside the Reading Room’s restoration. “The timing couldn’t be better, this track ends in the middle of the Rose Reading Room, and it is the critical link between the Reading Room and the new stacks downstairs.”

Nearby that Reading Room depot, you can still see the recently retired pneumatic tube system, which once dispatched paper call slips downstairs. The train conveyor system is the latest in the NYPL’s technological innovations to make their millions of books accessible to readers, who can now witness their requests arriving in record time at the heart of the historic building.

The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Milstein Research Stacks
The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Milstein Research Stacks
The "book train" at the New York Public Library
Car storage for the “book train” in the New York Public Library basement
The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library
The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library
The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library
The "book train" at the New York Public Library
The “book train” in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library
The old pneumatic tubes at the New York Public Library
The old pneumatic tubes at the New York Public Library
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