Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Magic and Power of the Public Library

“Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.”
          Ray Bradbury, writer
A society - any society - is defined as a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions: public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on
Robert Reich-historian, sociologist, former US Secretary of Labor
  I am a library guy. People who know me and/or read this newsletter know that books, libraries, museums and such are things that have been big part of my life since my childhood and that they have helped me become the person I am today. I got my first Philadelphia Free Library card when I was in 2nd grade, and over sixty years later I still own, have, and use one. When my wife and I retired in 2015 she re-opened a public-school library at the Kelly School in Germantown, and I still volunteer there. So libraries matter to me, and especially public ones. Public libraries, to me are one of the best expressions of a civilization and a culture, for in theory, they open up the world to all of its citizens and offer the opportunity for each of them to become something and someone they probably could not be otherwise.
  Public libraries were where I first discovered many authors and musicians that I have come to love and think of as life-long friends. I would read the names of writers, musicians and songwriters in newspapers, magazines, on book jackets, or on LP’s. I would then go to the library to read them or hear them, and a new love affair would start. That continues today. And maps, art history, poetry, history-whatever I became interested in the library was there with materials and librarians who helped me. They have been quiet mainstays of my life.

  I mention this now because one of my favorite institutions, the New York Public Library, turns 125 years old this year. Since I first visited Manhattan some 50 years ago I have regularly visited branches of that library, especially the flagship branch on 5th Avenue next to Bryant Park. Built at a time when New York was striving to become a world class city, it is a massive, beautifully designed building that celebrates learning, ideas, and possibility through its layout and design. The rooms are huge and feature powerfully ornate high ceilings, wonderful painting and architectural design, and lots of space; space that invites hundreds of people to sit, learn, study, dream, and more.
The 125th anniversary is being commemorated with lots of special programs and events that are documented on the library’s website: https://www.nypl.org
  I will visit the space a number of times this year to observe some of the special activities. I travel to New York four or five times a year, and I love spending time at that magnificent building. Its design dramatically emphasizes the power of the public library and stands as an ode to learning and to dreaming. It is an example of our civilization at its best, and I am so glad to have access to it, both in NYC and in public libraries everywhere in this country. The possibilities abound.

(Here is a link to one of my favorite NY Public Library web features:   https://www.nypl.org/voices/blogs/blog-channels/library-stories  )
And just in case you were wondering: https://www.good.is/most-checked-out-book-snowy-day