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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New York Public Library Changes

I don't know if many of you are following the controversy currently going on with the New York Public Library, but I feel it is important to point out since it pits those who want the library to be used for research vs those who want the public to enjoy all the system has to offer. [I am sure you know which side I am on.]

The new President of the New York Public Library, Tony Marx, has waged an active campaign to make the entire system more democratic.

Before I go into more detail, I want to begin by saying I was a big Marx supporter before he became the President of the NYPL.  He most recently was President of my alma matter, Amherst College, where he fought to make access to an elite private education more accessible and affordable to everyone. Click here for articles about his work in this area.

So, when the NYPL hired him, I assume they were saying they wanted similar changes to happen for them.  Currently, Marx has spearheaded an ambitious plan to change the main library from a place solely for scholars to work into a true place for the public.  You can click here for the full details and controversy it is causing.

The backlash is coming from famous scholars, but it is best summed up by a former colleague of Marx's here:

“The library is being repositioned less as an institution that thinks of research and scholarship than as a kind of fashionable place for intellectuals that is more about entertainment than depth of knowledge,” said Ilan Stavans, a professor in Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, where Mr. Marx was formerly president. 
“Research is going to pay a heavy price with this change,” he added.
Then on Sunday, Edmund Morris wrote an op-ed moving the argument even further into the obnoxious category. In the piece, a man who I already thought of as full of himself (remember he wrote this official biography of Reagan where he made himself a character) look like a total elitist, jerk, arguing that the main branch of the NYPL is meant for serious research.

Okay, I am trying very hard to stay civil here, but OMG, did they forget that this is the new York PUBLIC library.  Like any public library it is paid for with the tax dollars of those who live and own businesses in the city.  It is the people's library.  The focus should be on the people and what they want from their library.

Marx gets this.  I assume the NYPL Board gets this too or else why did they hire Marx?  This is what he does.  He makes elite places open to all.

I could go on about this for hours, but I urge you to educate yourself on the issue.

I will leave you with this final point.  Please remember the library, its content, and services all belong to the people whose tax dollars pay for it.  Our services should reflect their needs.  It should be open and relevant to the people.

Oh, and as a post script I want to say something as a proud New Jersey native-- researchers, stop complaining that many of the lesser used materials will be shipped to NJ for storage.  It is close and quite pleasant there.  And what's your hurry Morris.  It takes you years to write a new book; what kind of difference is a 24 hour wait for your materials really going to make.  Especially if moving those documents that someone needs once every 10 years means the actual residents of NYC will get to enjoy their beautiful main branch library with the materials they want and need.  Sorry you have to mix with the peons dude.

Thanks for letting me rant.  I feel much better now.


Donna said...

Hear hear!!!

Amanda W said...

We have similar discussions at my public library often. Although ours differs slightly in that it's a discussion about computer use: those who are using the computers for "legitimate" (i.e. job searching, academic, etc.) purposes versus those who are using the computers to watch videos/play games/check facebook/etc. We almost always have a wait for the public computers and some people get frustrated having to wait to look for a job while someone else watches You Tube for an hour. And then, the situation gets stickier because many of these patrons are homeless -- meaning technically, they aren't actually paying for the library. Of course, like you, I tend to fall on the side of -- it's a PUBLIC library people! for the PUBLIC to use!

Becky said...

Amanda, that is a very good point. We had similar issues at our library. We eventually used $$ given to us by the police which they obtained by selling items they seized in arrests to buy computers just for people looking for or applying for jobs.

Now we have a separate job bank area.

On a separate note, asking your police for access to these extra funds is a good idea. All towns have them and it is great PR for them.

Anonymous said...

OMG, how can you say that it's the people's library and not be appalled at the fact that NYPL has sold the Donnell Library and undertaken these changes WITHOUT the customary public discussion that takes place in NYC even when the Transit Authority wants to close a token booth! This is not about changing the 42nd Street library; this is about the arrogance of power and the NYPL trustees NOT ALLOWING the tax payers whom you mention have a say!! This is not about Mr. Marx's vision. This plan was in place before he arrived at NYPL!

The tax-payers deserve the say they were denied. Meetings need to be scheduled at every Community Board in New York City!

Amanda W said...

Thanks for the tip on the police funds. I never would have thought of that resource. I also love the idea of a job bank area; one could even expand that to a designated study/research area, depending on which kind of use is more prominent.

Becky said...

Anonymous, you are correct about the Donnell. I knew that had been decided awhile ago, but had no idea that was without the tax payers say. I was under the impression that the 42ns St library would be replacing the Donnell. Let me know if I am wrong though.