Below Bryant Park lies a sophisticated book archive

Tinashe Mushakavanhu
2 min readFeb 12, 2017
Bryant Park Photo: kjarrett / Flickr Creative Commons

Milstein Research Stacks is one of the most sophisticated book archives in the world. The New York Public Library facility, which is below Bryant Park, has a capacity to store more than 2,5 million research materials. It combines the best of two worlds — an old fashioned storage bunker operated with new technologies.

A sketch of the Milstein Stacks. Photo: Bryant Park Corporation

The stacks are a two-level 55,600-square-foot underground space linked by a 950-foot railroad with 24 train cars that can cover 75 feet per minute. It features compact shelving, so more books may be shelved in less space. About a million volumes and other materials are housed there at present.

In order to keep the books in good conditions, the stacks are climate-controlled at a constant of 65-degree environment (with 40 percent humidity). In addition to the climate-control system, extensive drainage was installed to keep the storage area dry.

Originally excavated in the 1980s, only the upper level was opened, in 1991. The lower level remained unfinished and unused until it was recently converted into the Milstein stacks. The library revisited the project after many critics voiced against its plan to move most of its research materials to a storage facility in New Jersey.

To fit all the books in the allotted space, the library has abandoned the Dewey Decimal System, in which shelving is organized by subject, in favor of a new “high-density” protocol in which all that matters is size. Books will be stacked by height and tracked by bar code rather than by a subject-based system.

The renovation was made possible with an $8 million donation from Abby and Howard Milstein, longtime library benefactors.