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.