Media Monday: New York Public Library changes – good or bad?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

Ah, libraries. I’ve always had this mildly Dickensian image of dusty rooms and ticking clocks with me surrounded by wooden shelves wearing some half-moon specs (don’t know why…), a research book at my fingertips and big loud ‘shushes’ if anyone made a noise. However, since I’m not about to shove my kids up a chimney any time soon, I have to accept that, like it or not, libraries just ain’t what they used to be. Everyone agrees, right? Hmm. Not quite, because over in New York the prestigious New York Public Library  (NYPL) is facing a $300 milion dollar makeover – and some people are not h.a.p.p.y about it.  When the plans were revealed, a letter  to the NYPL, detailed by the New York Times,  was signed by more than 700 eminent figures, many of whom are academics, writers and other prominent persons with bigger brains than me, and, I suspect, bigger bank balances. In it they state that, ‘NYPL will lose its

NYPL research room
People busy working in the New York Public Library – probably reading Dickens

standing as a premier research institution and become a busy social centre where focussed reasearch is no longer the primary goal.’ Okay, I hear you say, and what, pray tell, are these dastardly NYPL officials proposing that has upset this esteemed bunch so? Well here it is: book collections will be moved about to create more space for working, there will potentially be a – wait for it – cafe, there will be more (breathe) computers, and, finally, 3 million books will be moved into storage. That, my friend, is it. Now, let me take you to a time non-Dickensian and somewhat more modern. Let’s call it Obamian, for argument’s sake. It is a time where children, adults and even your granny, are using computers and the Internet for instant research. Documents are freely available – a bit like speech,  academic opinions and fresh fruit.  Instead of dusty room full of ticking clocks and frowning researchers, there are docking stations, internet connections and cake. Yes, there are books. There will always be room for books. It is important to retain them and I really do understand the signatories of this letter and their deep concern that the books will be forgotten, pushed to the basement to be replaced by digital imposters and a robot, say.  But as for worrying that research will no longer be the primary goal of any library as a result of the proposed changes? I don’t think so.

Let me tell you a little secret, signatories. Come on, huddle up. The secret is this: if you cling on to the past, if you stand in the way of change, the number of people willing to do research in the first place will decline. And then what will you have? A room, books, ticking clocks – and no progress. By the NYPL folk investing now in the library, they demonstrate that they understand that times are changing, and that to bring everyone – and I mean everyone, no matter their background, socio-economic group, colour or creed – with them, then they have to adapt, and fast.  If children can look to the NYPL – or any library world-wide, for that matter – and feel it is accessible and relevant to them, then it is a job well done. And it is this result that will shape our future. As for me, I will be there, my imaginary half moon specs on, my iPad in a docking station, a Dickens book open by my side in the cafe. As long as no one tells me to shush if I let out an involuntary yelp as I drop my cake. I don’t want to have to ask for more. 

Do you think the library changes should go ahead? Are libraries to be kept in the past or should they move with the times? Let me know.

If you live in Gloucestershire (UK) and are concerned about the library cuts, you can go to The Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries website for more information on how you can petition and help.

 **Out on Wednesday: “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

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4 thoughts on “Media Monday: New York Public Library changes – good or bad?”

  1. The best library I know is the Gladstone (formerly St Deiniol’s) Residential Library in North Wales. Whenever I need to write or think, I hie off there. In fact, we’re booked in over the coming Jubilee weekend, to escape from the nonsense. Be envious.

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    1. Very true. Without libraries we are really meesing with the future of our children and potentially our world. I’ve only been to NYC library once, but it was awe inspiring. You walk in and instantly you want to research, read, work. That’s the power of a library!

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