How many of you are familiar with the main branch of the New York Public Library? That gorgeous, awe-inspiring Beaux-Arts building on Fifth Avenue? It’s museum-like qualities, its palatial reverence to knowledge?
How’d you like it turned into a Starbucks?
Yeah–I didn’t think so. But that’s pretty much what the current plan is for the library. Now, I have nothing against Starbucks. I love the camaraderie, the atmosphere, and of course, the coffee. As a writer, I probably wouldn’t get through the day without some kind of Starbucks-like beverage. But that’s not why I go to the NYPL’s main branch. I go there for the same reason I imagine deeply-religious people visit their house of worship: to feel sacredness and connectedness to something larger than myself.
But as this article in The Guardian explains, all that may be about to change. The plan is to replace a great deal of the library’s interior and books with computers and (get this) cafe spaces. So this stunning architectural and intellectual masterpiece will essentially be no more distinctive than your local coffee clutch. Instead of an esteemed institution, you can just use it to grab that cappuccino to go.
What other changes are in store for the library?
It’s true that the main branch of the NYPL isn’t for lending books–it’s for research. Scholars from all over the world (and even regular folks like myself) can walk right in and request nearly any book we want. As long as we do our research with it in the library, all is good. Now, many of those needed volumes will be shipped to alternate locations–in New Jersey. This means it will take several days to call them up. What was once available in an hour will now be a hassle to acquire. That can’t have a positive effect on the dispensing of knowledge.
Why might this happen to the library?
Consultants hired by the city of New York say this is what the public wants from its libraries. More lending capabilities, more technology, more . . . mocha. Except, to my mind, they already have those things. The NYPL system boasts 86 other branches in three boroughs. Many individuals have laptops, PDA’s, and other devices that make separate computer terminals unnecessary. And even if they didn’t, surely you don’t have to gut a 101 year-old building to incorporate them. NYC also has a coffee shop on nearly every corner. I don’t think we all need to get our caffeine fix by risking a spill on documents that are, in some cases, centuries old.
Please see the Guardian article for more information
I’m including the link twice in this post because that article does a much better job of explaining what’s going on than I can. It also does so in greater detail. PLEASE give it a look and think hard about it. Share it with your social networks, or make a comment below. I am genuinely upset that such a special library could be ruined in so shortsighted a manner.
But what do you think, readers? Am I overreacting? Or are the proposed changes the beginning of the end for the NYPL?
(Top image: public domain)