New York Public Library's new book trolley

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After two years spent repairing and safety-proofing its 105-year-old ceiling, the New York Public Library's Rose Room reopened Wednesday to much applause, media attention and a series of speeches calling it the greatest public room in New York City.

"Scholars and writers will come to access its research treasures," the first speaker said.

But 11 floors below that news conference, among the rows and rows of stacks beneath Bryant Park where those 4.2 million research treasures live, another multi-million-dollar improvement project celebrated its first day serving library patrons.

"[It's] like a little race car from childhood," library Director of Humanities and Social Sciences Research Divisions Matthew Knutzen said.

By that, Knutzen meant: The moving parts of this new state-of-the-art trolley system reside in the cars themselves and not on the electrified track, an improvement over the series of conveyor belts the library employed to carry books up from its stacks for the last 35 years.

"A conveyor-belt system consists of, like you'd imagine, many, many different belts with a lot of moving parts," Knutzen said.

And so when one or a few of those parts broke, as they did in February, the entire system shut down, forcing the library to modernize how it brought the books from its darkened vaults below to its bright halls above.

"But doing it in a way that's completely seamless and hidden to the public," Knutzen said.

"Understanding the historic value of the building," Tishman Construction Senior Vice President Carla Sciara said, "yet wanting to make it modern."

Sciara oversaw this project, which demanded the removal of belts and the installation of 950 feet of track weaving up through the insides of this monstrous historical building, all while keeping the library open for business.

"There's a process where a person walks all the way to the other side of Bryant Park, that same distance, and all the way back with a book," Knutzen said.

And once that librarian places that book in one of 24 electric cars and sends it on its way ground-ward, it takes just five minutes for that tome to climb 11 floors from its sunless tomb where it remains 65 degrees with 40 percent humidity all year round to the librarians in the Rose Room, three minutes faster than the old system.