Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not THAT Michael White - “Return of the Library Dragon” And Other Books Meant To Save Books and Libraries!

Noticing New York is written by Michael White, maybe you know.  That’s me.  Michael White is an award-winning fine artist.  His art is regularly exhibited in area galleries.  (I am quoting.) . . . I am not THAT Michael White.

THAT Michael White is Michael P. White, the illustrator of “Return of the Library Dragon,” a children’s book that with humorous eloquence makes the case for keeping our books in our libraries.
I am Michael D. D. White, not only the writer of Noticing New York and National Notice, but also a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, a group that is working hard to keep the books in our libraries, fighting to make sure our New York City libraries are not sold off and shrunk, our books and libraries discarded using the fictional arrival of an all digital future as a pretext for real estate boondoggles detrimental to the public.

I have previously noted that there are many, many Michael Whites in the world, declaring myself NOT to be certain others of them.  See: Wednesday, August 13, 2008, Not THAT Michael White, and Friday, October 14, 2011, Not THAT Michael White: Visiting Occupy Wall Street and How I Know The Economy Is Bad (For the 99%).

Given how ubiquitous the Michael Whites of the world are it is hardly surprising that there would be at least two Michael Whites involved in the library fight.  Good thing we are both on the same side of it and nice that we seem to share book-loads of the same sentiments.

The “Return of the Library Dragon” is very much like the book I myself might have written to defend our libraries, books and librarians from incineration on the alter of a nonsensical dystopian future where digital brashly banishes all that is physical.  The removal of books occurs suddenly, secretively, behind closed doors hastily festooned with a “Progress in Progress” banner at the hands of a Mr. Mike Krochip with the goofy notion that in short order he’ll have everyone forgetting what a book even looks like.

Michael P. White illustrates, within his books' pages, library bookshelves that are suddenly as sadly empty as the real empty shelves of New York City libraries I have photographed and included in Noticing New York articles: Saturday, September 14, 2013, Empty Bookshelves As Library Officials Formulate A New Vision of Libraries: A Vision Where The Real Estate Will Be Sold Off.

Brooklyn Heights Children's Library
Does this children’s book have a sad ending?  Guess who comes to the rescue?  (I suspect you are presuming that somebody does.)  The answer is sort of fantastically complex, but I will clue you in that part of the answer comes in the form of librarians who care about what ought to be cared about.

The inside cover pages are filled with a zillion quotes about books
The short beautiful book written by Carmen Agra Deedy with White’s illustrious contributions has lots of small, wonderful touches, including both sets of inside cover pages that arrange in panoply a multitude of quotes from passionate booklovers over the millennia from Thomas Jefferson, Neil Gaiman, to Erasmus, Cicero and Ramesses II.  Reminding us that others are out there thinking of these things in terms of children’s fables, the inside texts include a quote from Roald Dahl, the author of “Matilda,” now transformed into a hit musical on Broadway where the good and the righteous do battle with book and library-hating, book-discarding and -destroying meanies: Tuesday, February 25, 2014, Musical On Broadway: The “Revolting Children” of “Matilda” Throwing Away Library Books? No, It’s Revolting Adults! Really!
One of the four young actresses playing Matilda in the musical on Broadway.  Matlida loves her library books!
“Return of the Library Dragon” is not the only new book out there right now hoping to defend the existence of books and libraries.  Citizens Defending Libraries has been involved in producing two other books pitched to children as well as adults.  On of them, in fact, is written by children: “What Our Libraries Mean To Us: Letters To Mayor Mike,” a book from Lynn Rosen of Lynn’s Kids International.

Have you ever noticed how much more straightforward and clear our morality is when we think in terms of the truths that children recognize and ought to be taught?  The simplest expressions, as found in this book are so often the clearest.  Joshua and Amair write:
    Libraries are knowledge
    You can use them for college
    Books are cool as ice
    They make you think twice
Citizens Defending Libraries was also involved with Lynn Rosen and Lynn’s Kids International to produce: “Mr. Rights across the Sea Saving Libraries.”  Part of the book is feedback from other parts of the world where they are astounded New York would be wrecking its libraries. The book also includes an adventure fable where Mr. Rights, a character who has appeared in other books produced by Ms. Rosen, joins forces with the Girl Scouts of the Pacific Branch Library and Andrew Carnegie’s ghost to confront the small group of privileged elite who would deprive the public by selling libraries and getting rid of books and librarians.  Remember that many of our libraries were donated to the public with the proviso that they be taken care of once we got them.
Mr. Rights meets Carnegie

David Nasaw speaking about Carnegie at the BPL on March 2nd
In the story, Andrew Carnegie, certainly a morally complex person in real life, is presented in a somewhat simplified form as he allies with Mr. Rights' team, but it is interesting to note that David Nasaw, a Carnegie biographer, recently made the point speaking at the Brooklyn Public Library that Mr. Carnegie was actually very different from many of the wealthy today.  Saying that Carnegie had a lot in common with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Nasaw said that Carnegie was a  proponent of the “dangerous but cogent belief” that the wealthy hold their wealth “in trust for the benefit of the public.”  Carnegie did not believe that he should die possessed of wealth that he had not directed toward the public benefit.

I should mention that in real life Nasaw has a lot in common with Mr. Rights.  Although he was being hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library to give his Carnegie talk he is a co-plaintiff with Citizens Defending Libraries in a lawsuit seeking to stop the same NYPL “Central Library Plan” selling and shrinking libraries and getting rid of books and librarians that Mr. Rights opposes in the story.

Isn’t it wonderful when fables take on the muscle and sinew of actuality?

I have previously written about how, if you go to the library to find Mr. Nasaw's acclaimed books, you might not find them there.

In the Mr. Rights story, Mr. Rights feels himself weakened by the changes going on at the library but doesn’t understand exactly what is happening until a librarian is able to inform him of the facts even though the librarian fears the consequences for herself of giving out information.

Again the librarian as protector of the books!

Last week a new book about the destruction of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and the banishment of books became available.  It was unveiled by the Committee To save The New York Public Library at a rally held in a downpour outside the NYPL’s trustees meeting.  The book, by Simon Verity, filled with his sensitively witty drawings, is “The Library of Libraries.”  Expect it to be at bookstores around the city.
Mr. Verity, on left, at the March 12th rally in his bookselling hat and with his bookselling tray
Many more great picture of the event and its publication by "The Illuimnator" are available
It too is a parable, beginning with “ONCE UPON A TIME,” but it is only slightly fantastic or fanciful.  Unfortunately it is far too close to the truth.

A real estate advertisement for the luxury apartments that will replace the Donnell Library sold for a pittance.  Looks like those buying them are expected to have many books, more than. . .
It envisions a world where those in control of the city “grew rich and had fine libraries in their own houses” and ask themselves, “Why should people who are not as rich and as clever as we have a magic library when an ordinary one would do perfectly well for them?”

Verily, Simon’s book was written before we found out, based on the advertisements for luxury apartments in the New York Times, that the luxury apartments replacing the Donnell library, sold off for a pittance, will have more books than the NYPL’s libraries.  (We we made this part of Citizens Defending Libraries testimony at last week’s City Council hearing on library funding.)

Mr. verity writes of shushed librarians
As in the Mr. Rights story Mr. Verity’s tale, grimly based on fact, has the librarians who could save the library being told “that they will lose their jobs if the criticize” the plans of those running the city.

Is Mr. Verity’s tale suitable for children?  Maybe the more mature among them.  Sometimes children can especially love stories with sad endings.  I remember, as a child, going back again and again to the tale of “Old Yeller,” in the end, about a fearfully depressing loss.  Yes, Verity’s story has an unhappy ending (you can't always presume there will be a happy one), but let us hope that the cautionary downer and as yet fictional note on which it concludes will be impetus for real victories that prevent the destruction of our libraries. . . .

. . . .  Better this than that the hopeful, happy endings of “Return of the Library Dragon,” “Mr. Rights . . Saving Libraries” and “Matilda” are contradicted in real life by much more bleak results. . .

. . .  But then would people know of such contradictions to the endings of these books if the world "Mr. Krochip" envisions materializes with everyone forgetting what these or any other books even looked like.

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