May 23, 2011

100 Years at the New York Public Library in the Midst of City Budget Cuts

At the one hundred year exhibit of the New York Public Library on Fifth avenuethere were tours this past weekend of the stacks of the arts and humanities research library, the Stephen. A. Schwartzman building, the one with the iconic lions. The stacks are seven levels divided by catwalks (which also extend outward beneath Bryant Park). The stacks are beautifully hewn cast iron bulwarks donated by Andrew Carnegie. Walking along the catwalk, one can look down and see floor upon floor of sheer "book." To take such a tour stirs the soul and restores a hope in humanity. The books are categorized by size (not by dewey or LC, which are the two most popular category systems in the United States).
To read one of the books in the research collection means filling out a request slip and waiting fifteen minutes for your book to be retrieved by a page who, once it is located on the shelf, sends it up via a ferris wheel conveyor belt. It is all so mechanically proper and print oriented. The card catalog was scrapped in 1983, but interestingly enough, even though the catalog is digitized now, the library took photographs of every card and bound the images twenty to a page in a printed dictionary catalog of the collection. Why do this? Librarians through the years made notes on cards indicating other sources in the collection to consult and other such marginalia that is beneficial for researchers. The bound dictionary catalog is a snapshot of the collection before it went digital.
The sad news in the wake of such a glorious centennial celebration is that budget cuts plague public libraries even though library usage is at an all-time high. To advocate for libraries is so desperately needed. Libraries are a public service to be ranked with the necessity of schools, hospitals, fire houses and police stations that make up a viable, literate population. Please advocate for Libraries today.

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