Giving Libraries Their Due

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

David Giles, research director at the Center for an Urban Future and the author of the report, "Branches of Opportunity", argues that New York City's public libraries deserve even more support in the digital age.

Download "Branches Of Opportunity" (PDF)


David Giles

Comments [7]

Susan Rosen from Tenafly, New Jersey

Libraries with books and stacks rarely exist in public schools currently. When I attended Music and Art, it had a library. A friend was able to borrow Ovid ‘s The Art of Love. For students who did not have a school library, the public libraries of NYC were the alternative. There I found Zola’s Nana which led to reading his entire corpus. When a history teacher assigned an essay, I selected migrant workers in the US. For research I consulted materials at 42nd street. Libraries were quiet, and research materials were available to all. Today, only affluent wealthy persons have the luxury of using a library to read and carry out research in a quiet safe space. What has happened? Of course the historical reasons are many and space is limited here, so I will jump to what I believe is essential about libraries. Libraries must have books and stacks to store its holdings for ready use. These must be on-site to insure continuity. While the internet has useful resources, and some on-line books, it is not comparable to a library where reading and research is an ongoing process that ultimately may provide the matter summarized on the web. Books are not obsolete. And computers are not the answer. Too few for so many, forcing libraries to impose time constraints to accomodate readers. Moreover, a user is not able to indulge or gratify her/his curiosity. Each text leads to another, and then another ad infinitum. Without paper books, the heart of a library, the institution becomes a noisy environment where learning sadly does not occur. It is not a place where the mind can wander and wonder.
I could not listen to the entire segment because the ideas put forth distressed me greatly. Your guest, Mr. Giles, obviously does not love literature or knowledge or that is what I surmised when I listened to him. He
has become yet another advocate for change for the worse. With his agenda, I can see museums removing art, and supplanting real cylinder seals with giant photos in kitschy color of the wars in Iraq as wall treatments for galas. Sounds absurd? Just wait and see what happens. Never did I think that books would die like dinosaurs. Is this our brave new world? What has been gained? Why not place books in libraries again, and build an annex for all the other activities you discussed? Then tea and dances could be held in the annex and readers could indulge in their passions and research labors. Funding? Simple. Coporate or private donors could pay to see their names on annexes and each book could be marked with a logo of company or person. But on a more serious note: literacy classes are a great idea; my grandmother benefitted from them in the late 1930s, when she fled Berlin for the safety of the United States. But today so many immigrants have fears about identifying themselves. The library must be safe, where the government cannot intrude, but the very use of a computer places such persons in jeopardy. Enough said.

Jan. 15 2013 10:19 PM
Suzanne from Manhattan

I'm retired with a small income. The NYPL is the only source I know of free broadband. I've taken on historical and genealogical research projects and the NYPL has irreplacable free databases, such as historical newspaper issues, Ancestry, photo galleries, and other data bases they subscribe to that individuals could not afford. I'm in the SBIL branch 3 or 4 days a week, this branch is one of the few with database access, but the current head of the NYPL wants to close it, a tragedy for me and for all the people who also use that branch as job seekers, students, and their only source of the Internet. Closing branches is the wrong move, as your guest indicated. Even for professional researchers, why should we be forced to travel to 42nd & 5th? Will there even be room for us? The library should be spread out, not compacted into one big building. The realty values of the Altman and Arnold Constable buildings can be realized in ways other than closing these constantly used branches and pushing everyone into the main branch.

Jan. 15 2013 12:07 PM
RJ from prospect hts

There's been little mention about the, to put it mildly, unusual financing arrangement the NYPL has (first that NYPL is separate from the other boroughs). NYPL is run by a nonprofit. The city then adds $X each year, and there is routinely a fight between the city and council over how much the city will put in. The history of why the NYPL is separate from those of the other boroughs, and why the financing situation works this way would be useful background. Of course, there's routinely a fight concerning the unionized librarians over the city allocated funds: the city (usually the mayor) routinely threatens the union with withholding its funds unless the union concedes the demand of the moment (i.e., lower benefits and salaries--what a shock).

Jan. 15 2013 12:02 PM

If poor people aren't using the library, it must be the library's fault. Or it's too hard to get to the library. Faulty logic.

Jan. 15 2013 12:01 PM
Vanessa from Brooklyn

Our public libraries have become very unpleasant places full of unruly kids. I would rather spend time in Barnes and Noble.

Jan. 15 2013 11:54 AM

John from Watchung, great idea -- what happened with the library?

I was just talking yesterday with a parent from Berkeley Heights complaining that because (in his opinion, anyway) that (small, safe) town has no activities for the kids to do on the weekend eves, his kids are spending the weekends in (much larger, more diverse including crime) Summit -- and getting into a LOT of trouble there.

Jan. 15 2013 11:52 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

1. My local library in Brooklyn just dropped its Sunday hours. :-(

2. I take out books and DVDs; however, most of what's in my local library is mind-candy. I wish they'd get in a better selection, but I can order things from the main branch, so that's helpful.

Jan. 15 2013 11:46 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.