Books Win! NYPL drops makeover, Freakonomics on Libraries May 8, 2014 – Posted in: public libraries – Tags: ,

wwi book drive nypl

Books Win! Books Win!

In what will be remembered as one of the biggest victories for the printed book in the digital age. The New York Public Library has reversed direction on the proposed renovation of its mothership, the Bryant Park branch in mid-town Manhattan. The New York Times called it “a striking about-face” and added: “Library officials had heralded the renovation as part of a significant effort to rethink the flagship building in preparation for a digital future in which public access to computers would become as important as books.”  The plan was suspect from the beginning. “A Bloomberg-era scheme conceived in absolute secrecy by the trustees” writes Scott Sherman in The Nation. Librarians were pretty much left out of the process and there was not a drop of public input. 

And the book people fought back.

save nyplSherman tells us that three groups were instrumental in the fight: Committee to Save the NYPL, Citizens Defending Libraries and Library Lovers League, “and two exceptionally fine writers: Ada Louise Huxtable, whose stirring  Wall Street Journal critique of the CLP was written from her deathbed; and New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, who not only demolished the CLP on the front page of the Times in January 2013 but kept the issue alive on Twitter and his regular Times column.” And for more sugar on the book cake there was Stephen J. Dubner’s (Mr. Freakonimcs)  address to Summit on the Future of Libraries” at the Library of Congress in Washington. Dubner reminds us that more people visit the public libraries in New York “than all of the city’s professional sports teams and major cultural institutions combined.” 40 million people a year! That’s right, more than the Yankess, Mets, The MET, MOMA…combined!

 the library has become, more than  when I was a kid, a sort of public square. The library is where we meet, where we mix, where we consume and produce whatever we need to consume and produce at our given point in civilization. And for that I – and 40 million other people in New York – are grateful. Even if you never step foot in a library, there is reason to be grateful for this institution.

Dubner makes a brilliant analogy, to think of the library like we do the fire station. Two things every town has is a library and a fire station and though ‘technology has made the firehouse much less necessary,” death by fire has fallen 90% in the last 100 years, every town is still covered. The rush of the digital is slowing, the digital is being shown to be a wonderful complement to the book and not its replacement. This is a good day for books.

image above. ALA WWI book drive for soldiers in front of NYPL  
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