The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 3
Apr 1987

NYPL To Dust Books

Reporters, photographers and television crews assembled in the NYPL stacks in February for a news conference on what seems the most prosaic topic in the world: dusting books. But the story ran in the New York Times with a picture, and probably in other papers around the world. Why did it become news when the NYPL started to dust its books? First and most obviously, the scale of the project. There are 3.5 million books to dust, in 88 miles of book stacks at the Fifth Avenue location. The money has been provided by Philip Morris Companies Inc.: $1 million, which sets a record for preservation grants from the private sector.

Secondly, everyone knew when they heard the announcement that the Library didn't normally dust its books, as they may have assumed. In fact the books have not been dusted in 75 years. Somehow this makes one's own housekeeping problems dwindle to insignificance.

Thirdly, there is humor, drama and human interest in the story. The work is being contracted out to a small business, Care of Collections, headed by Nonna Rinck, a Soviet emigre who was a librarian and conservator for 22 years before she cane here in 1977. She works in partnership with her son, and has a full-time staff of five men. They will use what the New York Times called "dustbuster-style vacuum cleaners" on the books first, then wipe them with a soft cloth, and will dust the shelf before replacing the books. Very fragile materials will be placed in a special wrapper and identified for priority treatment by the Library's Conservation Division.

The Times article concludes with the following dialogue on the day of the press conference, as Ms. Rinck and her son sat down in a small office area, supposedly to map out strategy, though it is unlikely they would have left this to the last moment:

Louis Mintz, chief of Stack Maintenance and Delivery, popped his head in and said: "Oh, after you've finished here, don't forget about the annex."

"Annex!" said Mr. Rinck. "I know of no annex. And there are books there?"

"Two million," said Mr. Mintz, who saw their reaction and shrugged. "Well, 1.9 really."

The conservation staff of NYPL has designed a bookmark with a tassle that carries a little information about the dusting project and gives six steps for "preserving the life of your home library." Attractive and useful, it looks like it will be an effective part of a public education program. It is free to users, compliments of Philip Morris. Am example is included in a packet of informational materials entitled "Collection Cleaning Project, 1987-1991," from the Library. For more information, contact the Public Relations Office, New York Public Library, Fifth Ave. and 42nd St., New York, NY 10018 (212/221-7676).

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