The following American Heritage Dictionary definitions of “library” would seem to make that clear:
a. A place in which reading materials, such as books, periodicals, and newspapers, and often other materials such as musical and video recordings, are kept for use or lending.Here are Merriam Webster Dictionary’s principal definitions for “library.”
b. A collection of such materials, especially when systematically arranged.
c. A room in a private home for such a collection.
d. An institution or foundation maintaining such a collection.
a : a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for saleDictionary.com supplies about the same:
b : a collection of such materials
1. a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed.So it would seem that, by definition, a library ought to be a place where books are kept. Oh, sure, there is more to it than that: There is the idea the place where the books are kept should be a place where people can have ready access to them, the ease of access being a central purpose of having gathered the books together in one place . . Per that proverbial tree-falling-in-a-forest question: Would a collection of books kept on the moon where nobody could ever visit them still be a library? It’s doubtful, even if the books constituted the greatest collection of books ever assembled.
2. a public body organizing and maintaining such an establishment.
3. a collection of manuscripts, publications, and other materials for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference.
4. a collection of any materials for study and enjoyment, as films, musical recordings, or maps.
5. a commercial establishment lending books for a fixed charge; a lending library.
Books being being brought together in a “collection,” “systematically arranged,” goes to the notion that an inherently valued goal is to have depth to the collection, the idea that presenting a multiplicity of choices for the reading patron is desirable, probably the more books to select from the better.
What about librarians? Are they an essential part of a library? We’ll get to that before we conclude.
Haven’t our visions of libraries always considered that we would find them filled with books, a wonderful wealth of books waiting to be discovered on their shelves?
Here are some stills of libraries from famous movie scenes that feature libraries.
|Marian, the librarian with "The Music Man." Marian's library had books! Plenty of them.|
|Two floors of shelves full of books!|
|In Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" just how many books are in the Beast's library impresses the beautiful Belle|
|Very impressive, indeed!|
|In "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly reads more than one book at a time, not so uncommon when you are doing research|
|In the magical world of Harry Potter, the gifts and ease that magic can confer doesn't replace the importance of a library with well-stocked shelves full of secrets to be discovered by determined adventurers|
|In Harry Potter, a ghostly exploration of the libraries for that one book containing an essential fact needed to make sense of the world the young protagonists must conquer.|
|More that is ghostly: In "Ghostbusters." The ghost in the stacks of 42nd Street's Central Reference Library, like Audrey Hepburn, also seems t like to read more than one book at at time.|
|To jump ahead, we will be getting to the way that librarians are disappearing from the libraries under the tenure of the current library administration officials who prefer to pay real estate people instead.|
|The fictional "Ghostbusters"|
The real stacks beneath the Central Reference Library's Rose Reading room are a seven-story book-delivery machine designed to the height of perfection.
|A sectional view of the research stacks as they appeared on the cover of "Scientific American".|
In 1966 Francis Ford Coppola directed "You're a Big Boy Now", his first film for a major studio, much of which was shot at the 42nd Street Central Reference library. In it Bernard Chanticleer, the young protagonist of the coming of age film, played by Peter Kastner, works as a book-delivering stackboy outfitted with roller skates to speed the books to library patrons with the greatest possible efficiency.
Pages on Roller Skates, ("A novel way to cope with unusual book delivery problems has been started at the New York University Washington Square College Library at the university's downtown center.") March 13, 1938.
Actually, Coppola had previously been mainly a script writer and because he was given permission to direct on condition that the film's budget be kept extremely low, the film is rich in its delivery of sights of authentic New York circa 1966 and an authentic 42nd Street library. Indeed, the opening sequence over which the film's credits appear, depicts the genuine and superb efficiency of the research library's pneumatic tubes delivering book slip requests and the book elevator sending books up from the stacks.
paid consultants millions of dollars in connection with these sales. (See: Monday, May 27, 2013, More Thoughts On Valuation And What The NYPL Should Have Received As Recompense For The Public When It Sold The Donnell Library.)
Now, as part of what it calls the Central Library Plan, the NYPL plans to destroy the Central Reference Library's research stacks and sell off the heavily used Mid-Manhattan Library together with SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library recently built at substantial public expense in the old Atlman's Department store at 34th Street. (See: Sunday, July 7, 2013, When (If?) The Mid-Manhattan Library Is Ultimately Sold As Part Of NYPL’s Central Library Plan, How Big A Building Would Replace It? and Saturday, June 15, 2013, SIBL, NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library Sold At An Unreported Loss To The Public (And an Elucidating Sideways Look At The BAM South Library Real Estate Games).
The end result of the Central Library Plan would be that well over 380,000 square feet of library space (Mid-Manhattan, SIBL and the research stacks to be destroyed) would be shrunk down to a mere 80,000 square feet. (See: Saturday, July 13, 2013, Deceptive Representations By New York Public Library On Its Central Library Plan: We’re NOT Shrinking Library Space, We Are Making MORE Library Space!)
|click to enlarge|
All that is left of these then squeezed down and shrunken libraries will be accessed through just one small door near the back of the current 42nd Street library building. (See: Tuesday, July 2, 2013, Startling Testimony at State Assembly Hearing on NYC Library Sales.)
Why is the NYPL getting rid of the books? Because books take up space. There is no way that you can squeeze down all that space to something as tiny as proposed without getting rid of the books. Keeping books requires real estate and they only want to sell their real estate.
When Citizens Defending Libraries met with the NYPL's Chief Operating Officer David Offensend, Mr. Offensend confirmed that once the Central Library Plan is effectuated, shrinking down the space, there will be no option to expand the library space again to correct for any possible miscalculations and no way to accommodate future growth. If growth of any kind needs to be accommodated in the future the only way to do that will be to get rid of even more books. But Mr. Offensend also confirmed something else: That there were as yet no firm plans, no calculations about what quantity of books would be kept and accommodated in the new shrunken down space. Yet the real estate plans to shrink the space were already firmly in place.
One may infer from this that the objective of selling the real estate came first and took precedence over decisions relating to keeping any books. I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and was part of the meeting where Mr. Offensend informed us of these things.
It's inevitably going to be bad, but there might not be the total train wreck you might expect when all the books and library space is collapsed. Why? Because in preparation for this shrinkage it seems that books are disappearing from library shelves ahead of time. They are disappearing now. I suppose this prevents the scenerio where some wise-ass shows up and asks the obvious question: `How ya gonna fit all them books in such a tiny space?' This way, library officials will, instead, be able to respond: `What books? Where?'
Librarians have been telling Citizens Defending Libraries that books are being removed from the NYPL's bookshelves according to edicts issued by Anne Coriston, NYPL's vice president for public service, one of the NYPL's library senior executives in the library group in charge of "Strategy" and the Central Library Plan consisting of COO David Offensend, Andrew W. Mellon Director Ann Thornton, Anne Coriston, Vice President for Capital Planning and Construction Joanna Pestka, Vice President for Finance and Strategy Jeffrey Roth, and Director of Strategy Micah May.
On the NYPL trustee level, it is reportedly Stephen A. Schwarzman and Marshall Rose who are pushing the NYPL's real estate plans (both are in the real estate business), although apparently Mr. Offensend is now officially working on the Central Library Plan on a "task force" with two other trustees, David Remnick and Katharine J. Rayner. Mr. Remnick, a journalist, has since 1998, been editor of The New Yorker, a magazine that, under other circumstance, might have been expected to investigate and report vigerously and critically about the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.
I thought I would go out to the libraries and see for myself if books were disappearing from the shelves. Unfortunately, as I can't time travel back, I have no "before" pictures to go along with these many "after" pictures.
First, let's go to Barnes & Noble, just to remind ourselves what full bookshelves look like. I paid special attention to the biography sections.
|Closeup of books in the Barnes and Noble Biography section, in the center two copies of David Nasaw's "The Chief" about publisher William Randolph Hearst.|
When I visited the Mid-Manhattan Library this 2002 award-winning book was not on its shelves and I was told that the library no longer had a copy in its collection. I was told that if I wanted to read it I would have to go over to the Central Reference Library, currently a non-circulating library.
Mr. Nasaw, together with Citizens Defending Libraries, is one of a number of plaintiffs participating in a lawsuit against the NYPL seeking to halt the Central Library Plan’s destruction of the research stacks. In total, nine recognized and award-winning scholars are joined with Citizens Defending Libraries in that lawsuit. Mr. Nasaw is also the author of a 2006 biography of library philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie that was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography. The Central Reference Library's research stacks are constructed of Carnegie steel.
Mr. Nasaw wrote his most recent biography about Joseph P. Kennedy after being invited to do so by the Kennedy family, based in the strength of his previous biographies. Similarly, biographer Edmund Morris, another plaintiff with Citizens Defending Libraries in the lawsuit, wrote his 1999 biography of Ronald Reagan, “Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan,” when the Reagan family approached him based on his earlier Theodore Roosevelt biography work. Mr. Morris won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his first book, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”
In an affidavit Mr. Morris provided in the lawsuit Mr. Morris described his current inability to get the research books he needs to do his writing at the Central Reference Library:
7. Those individuals who support the Plan are prone to boast that books relegated to offsite storage are made available within two days of request. My experience is that requests for materials stored "off site" often takes much longer than the vaunted delivery time of 48 hours. And this does not include those situations in which the book requested cannot be found, ostensibly due to its having been transported back and forth.The Orwellian effect of these disappearing books is thus twofold: The materials needed to to write books such as historical biographies cannot be found in the library, and then, once those biographies written, those looking to read them cannot readily find them. (We won’t, at this moment, get into the even worse Orwellian characteristics of digital books: Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle, by Brad Stone, July 17, 2009.)
8. Frustrating though this is for a researcher living in the New York area — particularly when one returns to the Library on the predicted delivery date, and finds the item still not available — it is worse for scholars from out of town or overseas, who have to pay hotel and other bills while waiting and waiting and waiting. . . .
In any event Barnes and Noble is still using its real estate to present us with physical books.
Coincidentally (or not?) the Church Pension Group moving into the SIBL space is freeing up real estate right next to the Mid-Manhattan library that the NYPL wants to sell off.
|Entrance on 34th Street to the old Altman's Building to former SIBL space taken over by the Church Pension Fund|
|Mid-Manhattan has William Randolph Hearst biographies, but not "The Chief"|
The sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, closely replicating the sale and shrinkage involved in the Donnell sell-off, involves a much smaller future Brooklyn Heights library. Ostensibly, according to the library administration officials looking to justify its sale, the Brooklyn Heights Library will be smaller because half of its services, operations and programming, what is referred to as its Business and Career functions, will be moved out of the central downtown Brooklyn business district. To the extent that those operations actually carry forward and exist in the future (Brooklyn Public Library officials say they will still exist) they will be moved into the Grand Army Plaza main branch library beside Prospect Park. In a consolidating shrinkage much like the NYPL's Central Library Plan, the physical space of the Grand Army Plaza branch is not being expanded to accommodate the arrival of these Brooklyn Heights Library's programs, functions, resources and books.
When Josh Nachowitz, spokesperson for the BPL (formerly, before the advent of library sales, at EDC, the Mayor's real estate development agency) was confronted about the fact that there wouldn't be room for the half of the Brooklyn Heights Library to be put into the Grand Army Plaza he countered with the assertion that there would be plenty of room.
At a community board committee meeting I challenged Mr. Nachowitz, saying that the only way they would have room would be because the administration was getting rid of books. Mr. Nachowitz said that what the BPL is doing, “in no way means we are eliminating books . . getting rid of books” scoffing “We are a library; the whole point of a library is that we provide books for free.” But, echoing the way that the Central Library Plan banishes books from 42nd Street Reference Library’s research stacks to southern New Jersey in Princeton, he explained how space can somehow become available without, in his opinion, actually “eliminating books.” Says Nachowitz: “We’re taking a central book processing function” (also described by Mr. Nochowitz and his cohorts as a “back office opertaion”) from the Grand Army Plaza Library and “a lot of staff” and “moving that to a central processing facility that we are sharing with the New York Public Library.” At that removed and shared location the staff will be “taking books in, books come in, they stamp them, they put them into their computer system and they send them out again.”
Mr. Nachowitz says this facilitates moving “books around the system” and that’s its “cheaper.”
No matter: The “cheaper” system means that the books won’t be at the libraries, and, despite the BPL’s claims of greater efficiency, things don’t always go well with the delivery systems. Citizens Defending Libraries is getting complaints by users of the system like the following: After making a first visit to the library and then having to order a book not on the premises, patrons notified to make the second trek to pick up their book discover that the ordered book hasn’t actually arrived. (At least one woman blamed the library staff and proclaimed the Brooklyn Heights Library an unsatisfactory library as a result.)
Are the books already beginning to disappear from the BPL's Grand Army Plaza library in preparation to absorb the Brooklyn Heights and/or other libraries in the future? Here are some pictures.
|Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Library does have a copy of "The Chief"|
What's happening at the Brooklyn Heights Library? Are they paring down that library's book collections in preparation for a consolidating shrinkage? The pictures tell the story. As you look at them, it is important to remember that although the the BPL has expressed an intent to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library, it has, through Mr. Nachowitz, represented to the public that there won't be subtractions from its services before required public hearings about whether the real estate should be sold.
|Business and Career Library shelves|
|Business and Career Library shelves|
|Business and Career Library shelves|
|Know your rights, know the law! In this library you may think you've lost them all|
|Arrow to "Biographies"?|
|Trips to nowhere?|
|General library Biography section|
|Books on religion need to be culled down to this?|
|In the Biography section there is still one Copy of "Bloomberg by Bloomberg"|
|The Brooklyn Public Library has one copy of David Nasaw's "The Chief," but no other Hearst biographies of which there are many.|
I had one scare over which I would have been aghast. I was told that library no longer had a copy of "The Federalist Papers." I had quickly obtained a copy of the "The Federalist Papers" there in the fall of 2009. I was told that the book, part of the libraries "floating collection," was not on site. It turned out the information was wrong and a dedicated librarian, correcting himself, ran out to find me on the street and deliver it to me after realizing that "The Federalist Papers"could be found on premises.
|Mistake corrected: The Heights Library did have a copy of "The Federalist Papers"|
Alternatively, some books don't lose their value over time and I am told that Anne Coriston's directives have included instructions to remove "shabby" (as well as duplicate) books from the shelves, something that doesn't make sense to librarians when you might be talking about rare or limited editions.
It is also true that that in certain instances, certain data publishers have gone digital. Phone books are used less often; instead we go to the internet and get the phone number we seek mixed with some advertising.
|The absence of books in the library can be seen from the street at night when the library is closed. If and when the library is actually sold off to a developer for development will we look in to see worse?|
The bigger subject of why digital books are not adequate substitutions for physical books is too big and complicated to get into here at this time, but suppose we set that subject aside long enough to ask whether we can have the kind of libraries we value without librarians, because we are getting rid of librarians also. Librarians, like library books, require space. (Unless they are the ethereal, half-vanished librarian haunting the library in "Ghostbusters.") Sometimes the space librarians use and require is back office space, the kind of space that isn’t necessarily accessible to the general public and which library administration officials cheerily tell us they can get rid of without consequence.
Maybe an even simpler question should be asked: Forget entirely about the space we are taking away from them for a minute. . . If we still truly value our libraries, would we be cutting their funding drastically at a time of greatly increasing use when the city is growing and wealthier than it has been in years? If that answer is the self-evident negative I believe it must be, can’t we then intuit that all these other subtractions of library resources being thrust upon us by the same people who are underfunding our libraries are just as equally ill advised?
|The bump up in blue line representing funding above corresponds to Bloomberg's pursuit of his third term. The drastic decline while use is rising corresponds to his administration's pursuit of library sell-offs|