I turn books into bricks.

The Stabilization department of the New York Public Library is a subsidiary of Preservation & Collection Care. We are charged with the task of making sure books won't turn into a combination of dust, sludge and ink over time. We take care of loose pages, rotting bindings, water damage and the like. The particular subset of stabilization I'm involved with has one particular job: we prepare books to go into deep storage.

That's not what they tell us, of course. Technically, any book we save gets sent to a facility near Princeton, New Jersey (called RECAP, don't ask me why) where it is available to anyone from the NYPL or Princeton and Columbia Universities. A book requested from RECAP is shipped to the patron's research institution of choice to be perused at their leisure. These books are stored in bins by size (not subject) in a climate-controlled warehouse. I am told it's rather dark in there; light is particularly harmful to old paper, sunlight in particular.

In all reality, all the books sent to RECAP are leaving the library's stacks for a reason - no one ever looks at them. These are the books of interest to people in very particular fields - specifications of British patents relating to firearms for instance (over one hundred oversized volumes, if you can believe that), or the complete print run of the Tasmanian Mail. Anything we have here that might be popular (say, the archives of the New York Times) have already been microfilmed, microfiched and/or digitized.

I wrap books in acid-free paper, tie them with twine guaranteed not to deteriorate for some absurd number of years and label them with bleedless, waterproof, acid-free ink. I barcode them; I find the idea of compressing an entire volume's net worth into a fourteen-digit number to be funny, in a morbid kind of way.

In all likelyhood I am the last person to open these books. Ever.
I find that unbearably sad.

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