May 29, 2022

“Baltimore’s Iconic Pratt Library Is Getting A 100 Million Dollar Makeover, But Where Are All Of The Books Going?”

Here we go again?

From the Baltimore City Paper:

One thing the Pratt will not have more of after the refit is shelf space. The library’s upper floors will see an overall reduction of more than 6,500 linear feet of shelving, Hayden revealed in an email to activist David Yaffe last month. Five years ago the library had nearly 34,000 feet of shelving for books and other materials. After the refit, which is projected to take about four years, the upstairs shelves will total 27,105 linear feet.

Figuring an inch per volume, the shelf reduction could mean about 80,000 fewer books in the parts of the library that the public has direct access to.

Yaffe worries about making kids cogs rather than free thinkers. He worries that a place for learning and discovery—both accidental and deliberate—is being watered down to fit modern notions of collaborative space and (non) collaborative computer terminals—the things that seem to be taking the place of the books and shelves in the new plan.

“Such proposals seem to ill conceal a desperation, in certain professional U.S.A. library circles, that with digital information ‘displacing’ books, librarians must cast about wildly for some function for themselves and for their buildings,” Yaffe wrote last week in an email to friends and the media.


“We have 38 linear miles of shelving that physically holds up the building,” Hayden says. She asks Sandra Vicchio, an architect who has worked on the plan for the library for 20 years, to hold up a rendering that indicates the basement levels. These “closed stacks”—meaning library visitors cannot browse them—were packed down there when the original builders eliminated beams, necessitating many columns to hold up the structure. They’re not going anywhere, she says, [our emphasis] and all of the books moving out of the public areas will still be available upon request.

Comment From Gary Price, infoDOCKET Founder and Editor:

Libraries, especially public libraries, seem to have a problem explaining that just because a book is removed from the stacks doesn’t mean they it will not be available (in an expedited manner) with just a click from the OPAC record or request to a staff member.

In this case, at Pratt, the books aren’t even leaving the building. They’re simply being move to the closed stacks and can be obtained in a matter of minutes.

Also, we know (does the public?) that remote/off-site storage is very common at many research and large academic libraries. It’s the way things work and it’s likely going to become part the way public libraries, especially large public libraries, do what they do.

Once again we see that the public and in some cases the media doesn’t understand how libraries operate in today’s world. Just like we teach people digital literacy, 3d printing, etc. we must do a better job of teaching the public how libraries work and what librarians do and are capable of doing both inside and outside a traditional library setting.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.