Magazine article American Libraries

New York's New Door to the Information Age

Magazine article American Libraries

New York's New Door to the Information Age

Article excerpt


When the new Science, Industry, and Business Library, known as SIBL, opened May 2, the occasion not only marked the conclusion of New York Public Library's yearlong centennial celebration, it also launched a new era in the institution's history. SIBL occupies part of an early-twentieth-century landmark building, the former B. Altman department store; but its interior has been transformed by the architects Gwathmey Siegel & Associates into a library for the twenty-first century.

"SIBL is the nation's premier public information center devoted to science and business," said NYPL President Paul LeClerc. "It puts the New York Public Library in the forefront of the information revolution and, in our second century of service, reaffirms the library's mission to make all its resources available to everyone."

Computer and telecommunications technologies connecting SIBL to other libraries, educational institutions, offices, and homes here and abroad will give its users, both inside and outside its walls, access to a world of electronic information. This is not to say that books have vanished, or that reading-room coziness has been replaced by high-tech impersonality: Just beyond the entrance lobby on Madison Avenue at 34th Street, visitors entering the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Circulating Library and Reading Room, named for its donors, are greeted with the reassuring sight of a block-long wall lined with 50,000 books. They can browse through these shelves, look at current business and science magazines, check out books, or sit and read at the comfortable chairs and tables, just as they would in any library.

What is different is almost invisible: wiring that permits users to plug in their laptop computers, connecting them to all of NYPL's online catalogs--both branch and research collections--and to its World Wide Web site on the Internet. Those without their own laptops can use the eight online terminals in the Cullman library for access to the same information. Or they can go to the lower level--which encompasses the rest of SIBL's public space and is reached by staircase or glass elevator--to tap into these networked connections at the 42 terminals of the Online Catalog Center.

Next to the Online Catalog Center is the B. Altman Delivery Desk, where users pick up books and periodicals that are transported on automated book lifts from the five upper levels of stacks, compressed into what used to be three sales floors. The stacks hold 1.2 million books and more than 110,000 periodical titles, which, along with a vast collection of patents and a collection of approximately l million items on microform, constitute the research collections. Together with the 50,000-volume circulating collection, these holdings, enhanced by electronic resources, make SIBL one of the world's largest public libraries in its field.

The two public service levels are architecturally united by the 33-foot-high ceiling of Healy Hall, an atrium that serves as the main lobby for the lower level and as a reception area for events--business seminars and meetings, lectures, and workshops--held in the adjacent conference center. Donor PaineWebber Group Inc. named the hall in memory of Timothy S. Healy, NYPL president from 1989 to 1992. Ten electronic kiosks, developed and donated by the IBM Corporation (which also donated 60 workstations), are placed at strategic points on both levels of this user-friendly library to guide visitors to SIBL's array of resources and services.

Users looking for specialized information are likely to head for the McGraw Information Services Center, where they will find a profusion of free services, from research assistance by subject specialists to information tailored to specific kinds of users. "SIBL's programs were developed to meet the needs of people in the business and science communities at every level of experience," said William D. …

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