Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Open Letter to Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn

As one of millions of users of the New York Public Library, I urge you to restore the $37 million cut that has been proposed to NYPL’s budget.

This harsh cut would force neighborhood branches to close just when New Yorkers need them most.

I am writing to you from the Wertheim Room on the second floor of the NYPL’s 42nd Street building. I have spent most of the spring in this beautiful sanctuary for scholars. Here, free of charge, scholars and graduate students work in silence. Each of us is allotted a shelf on which we may keep, for use over days or months, books from the library’s collection. The right to consult a book over multiple days without the trouble of continually requesting it, the silence, the air of concentration and seriousness in this space beat what is offered by any space I have worked in, be it my office at Fordham, my apartment across the river in Jersey City, or the libraries of Oxford, Yale, and Harvard.

I am an Associate Professor of English at Fordham University and the facilities of the New York Public Library have made my sabbatical work on an edition of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway for Cambridge University Press into a great pleasure and intellectual adventure. The generosity of the librarians, archivists, security guards, and janitors in this building only enhances my sense of the value of intellectual labor.

I wrote to Speaker Quinn years ago to support the plan to keep the main library open seven days. I am deeply saddened to think that we are now faced with the threat of stepping forward, not back.

I love this library for how it serves each and every one of us: I could not do my research without access to Woolf’s manuscripts in the Berg Collection, I could not write without the silent sanctuary of this room, but I gain inspiration daily from the tourists who come to see how we value reading here, the students earnestly working through their MCAT exam books, the learners and readers in the main reading room, the mentally ill who sit and read as an escape from the storms in their minds, and the parents who daily bring their children to the lovely new children’s center on the ground floor.

This main library is dear to me, but I worry equally about the branches. How can this city nurture thinkers and readers—the people who will grow up to be my students at Fordham and my colleagues, too, if we don’t have places within an easy walk throughout all the boroughs where children can come learn to love books, where immigrants can practice English, where the poor can read and use the computer, where everyone can be part of a community?

I urge you to rethink your decision and thank you in advance for your support for the city’s libraries and all they represent.

(I sent this letter in the mail, too, but thought posting it here might spur a few of you one to write letters of your own to the libraries in your communities. It is not too late to add your voice to this plea, but PLEASE write before the June 30th end of the fiscal year.)

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