This year I have a new story to add. Since I wrote the post below two years ago, I have had the opportunity to research at the British Library. I want to tell you what that took.
The libraries of the world line up like this. One: The Library of Congress in Washington. Two: The British Library in London. Three: The New York Public Library, where I get to go four five times a week.
Here is the drill if you want to research at The British Library. First, you have to go on their website, which is dense with long paragraphs of information spread over many pages. The information is arranged in the most arcane way: like books stored by the Dewey Decimal system--according to rules understood only by licensed librarians. If you are really determined, you will be able to find and fill out the application form. Once you have submitted a properly completed form, you see the list of acceptable forms of identification and are told you will need to present two of them when you arrive at the library. Also displayed for you is your personal applicant ID number.
|The British Library|
If you survive the above, you go to the cloak room in the basement, where you give up all your wordily possessions except for your computer, pencils (NO PENS), and your notebook. You put those three things, and nothing else in a clear plastic bag. You then can take the elevator to the reading room you have designated. There a guard will check your ID and your clear plastic bag. Then and only then you can read a book.
I don't resent this. It is a privilege to be able to read their books, and they have a right to require whatever they want of the people they allow in.
But in the NYPL, in public libraries all over the the USA, if you want to read a book, all you have to do is ask for it.
Trotsky said the New York Public Library was the most democratic place on earth. Just saying'.
Here is my annual appeal for your support. And your admiration. For places I consider sacred.
|My Brother and Me|
|Paterson Public Library|
During the summer, between grades seven and eight, I took to going with my friend Dolores to the main branch, a bus ride away. It was much grander than our local storefront. Here is a picture of it—a building designed by Henry Bacon, who subsequently designed the Lincoln Memorial. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.
It was one of the most elegant places we had ever seen. Only churches and the Paterson City Hall compared with it. Even in the big library, however, we were not allowed grown-up books, except for biographies. Why the librarians thought that the lives of real people would be more edifying than those of fictional characters is beyond me now, but in those days we just took what we could get. Consequently, I read the lives of Fred Allen, William Randolph Hearst, and Lunt and Fontaine, among many others—lives of people who lived large, an idea one could hardly get a whiff of in our working class neighborhood.
|New York Public Library|
|Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale |
An Italian friend who was living here in New York was amazed when she found out how egalitarian our library is. We went together to do research one day. She is from Florence, home to one of great libraries of the world: The Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. It is massive and beautiful. And like libraries everywhere has on staff some of the most devoted employees anywhere. When the floodwaters were rising in 1966, one of them, a woman, stayed until the last possible moment, moving priceless treasures from the lower floors to the upper ones. When it was too late to continue, she escaped over the rooftops, carrying Galileo’s telescope. That library is fabulous, but unlike ours, you can’t just walk in. You have to have credentials to get through the door.
|Main Reading Room|
And it is gorgeous, is it not?
Your library needs you. You may not even go there yourself, but the library deserves your support. PLEASE, give a donation to your local public library. You can probably give online in a couple of minutes. There are kids in your town who need the library, for whom it will open vistas that will change their lives.