John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 1996 June 1
    Doors threw open on Thursday 2 May 1996 at the world's largest 
library of science. Three years abuilding in the former Altman's 
emporium, the Science, Industry, and Business Library. (SIBL) contains 
1.2 million items in hard medium and an allout connection to Internet. 
All services, except printouts from onsite computers, are free to all 
    The entry is.on the northwest corner of 34th Street and Madison 
Avenue. Previous newsnotes about SIBL put it on the Fifth Avenue side 
of the Altman structure. The rest of the building is occupied by 
Oxford University Press and a new Graduate Center for the City 
    Altho the public areas take up only parts of two floors the 
library stacks, services, and offices spread over the full ten floors 
of this corner of the old store. Total floor area is 16,000 square 
meters! The street floor houses the circulation section with about 
50,000 books and a 60,000 book reference section. Both are on open 
shelf. All the books were trucked from the MidManhattan branch. Hence, 
for a brand new library the materials are surprising well-worn and 
even vintaged. 
    For astronomy there are 28 full shelves of books! The items cover 
all aspects of the profession: historY. telescopy, cosmology, 
biography, textbooks, theory, and so on. Adjacent shelves hold 
sumptuous collections in maths, physics, computers, technology, 
chemistry, and general science. 
    The top shelves are out of reach of the shorter visitors. Also, 
the plastic jackets on the upper shelf books reflect room lights, 
masking the titles and numbers. Yet there are none of those rolling 
library stools around to stand on. 
    There are two card catalogs here. One is the old paper-based 
catalog in 800[!] volumes for material acquired before 1970ish. The 
other is the online version for material after 1970ish, accessible 
from computers spotted around the floor. 
    Your current New York Public Library card allows you to charge out 
books. If you got a card from the Brooklyn or Queens library -- each 
being an entirely separate library empire -- you can get a New York 
card at the circulation desk. With no card, you fill out an 
application from scratch. 
    Downstairs is the. cyberlibrary. Scores of desks march across the. 
floor for individual use. Most have power and signal sockets for your 
oWn computer to plug into the SIBL main computer system. To use the 
sockets you need Ethernet or serial (dialup) TCP comms on your 
machine. Details for the connection are in a flyer at the general 
inquiry desk on the street floor. Once attached to SIBL's grid you may 
run any Internet software mounted on your system; it doesn't have to 
be Netscape. 
    Other desks have Gateway brand Pentium 120s running Netscape under 
Windows and hooked to LaserJet printers. These are for Internet 
research. You can not save, capture, or download material: there is no 
disc slot on these rigs. All personalizing functions are cut out from 
the menus. 
    For some visitors the lettering is a bit tiny and the arrow gets 
lost in busy screens. Bolding and enlarging the letters and arrow is a 
trivial trick in Windows and a librarian.I spoke with noted that SIBL 
already got several comments about this. 
    You can print the webpages. First buy from a nearby vending 
machine a cashcard. Slot it into a meterbox between the computer and 
the printer. As you print, the meterbox bites 20 cents per page off of 
the card. If you insist on squeezing your nickel, bring lots of pencil 
and paper to copy off the data you collect from Internet. 
    More desks have computers tied to assorted collections of 
magazines, journals, and databases. These are held em CDs that 
uncannily swing into place as needed within 'jukeboxes'. Still other 
desks allow computer lookup of US patents and a good set of overseas 
    For starts you may sit at any vacant desk and tickle the ivories. 
As traffic builds up, you'll have to go on a waitlist. If traffic gets 
really heavy, SIBL may set a time limit, like one hour, per session. 
    The 1.2 megabooks on the upper floor are yours for inroom use. 
After looking up the citation, write out a request slip and present it 
at the call desk. Just like in the Main Library, you wait for your 
number to turn up and then collect the books. 
    While the library is totally tied to the digital world and you 
really must be conversant with computers to exploit it, there are 
flesh & blood librarians. In addition, SIBL offers free classes in 
library skills. These tutorials, however, assume a prior comfort with 
computers: there is no 'DOS for ninnies' or 'the cretin's guide to 
Windows' here. 
    The conversion of the i9th century department store into a 21st 
century library is quite sensitively done. This place is not a TriBeCa 
new media loft. You know you're in a library. There's lots of wood and 
stone and carpets and cushioned chairs. The lighting recalls the old 
store lights and you think you still hear the store's bong-bong bells. 
The street floor kept Altman's legendary show windows. Thru them you.. 
can survey the outside streetscape and passersby can peer at the 
activity in the library. 
    SIBL is open Monday thru Saturday 11:00 to 18:00: closed on 
Sunday. It is near the 33rd Street station on the green line and a 
lazy walk from the orange and yellow lines in Herald Square. 34th 
Street, Fifth Avenue, and Madison Avenue buses flank the library. 
Within arm's reach of the library are copious shopping, eating, and 
tourist attractions.