Rediscovering Acres of Forgotten Books In a Grand Old Albany Basement

Amidst endless stories about the death of the printed word and the closing of America's libraries, another issue remains unresolved: What's to be done with all the leftover books? In Albany, administrators at the former State Library are embroiled in a debate over the value of books—and what's "too precious" to throw away.

The 102-year-old New York State Education Building, a grand old neoclassical monument in downtown Albany, stopped being the home to the State Library years ago. But in its cavernous basement, hundreds of thousands of books remain—and now, administrators are moving to get rid of them to make space, stirring up turmoil between historians and utilitarians alike.

In a Times-Union story about the controversy, we get a vivid glimpse of the acres of dead media that have been forgotten for so long:

It is an eerie bibliophile's netherworld, accessible by cramped cages of creaky service elevators, dark and cool and redolent of mildew, old leather bindings and sloughing paper that litters the floor like snowflakes. There is no climate control among miles of metal shelves, and accessing the hundreds of thousands of volumes is an arduous task. From the time a patron requests a book at the State Library, it typically takes two days to retrieve. A clerk drives a van four blocks around the Plaza, descends into the stacks, hunts among the haphazard holdings and drives back with the book.

Questions about the future of physical books aside: How incredible does that space sound? It makes me wonder how many other "forgotten" stacks are hidden in buildings across the country, waiting to be rediscovered by administrators looking to clean house. Who knows what they'll find.

In the meantime, check out amazing interior shots of the basement stacks here. [Albany Times-Union]

Lead image: Matt Wade