Friday, March 27, 2009

Quote of the Day (Finley Peter Dunne, on Necessities for a Library)


“Th' first thing to have in a libry is a shelf. Fr'm time to time this can be decorated with lithrachure. But th' shelf is th' main thing.” -- Finley Peter Dunne, “Books,” in Mr. Dooley Says(1910)

Not anymore, it isn’t. Finley Peter Dunne’s “Mr. Dooley” remains, a century later, an unerring commentator on all things political (“No matther whether th' constitution follows th' flag or not, th' supreme court follows th' iliction returns.'') But he could never have imagined a digital age that has put at risk the physical entity—“th’ shelf”—of the library itself.

Nowadays, you see, a shelf means space, and space means money. It won’t do to have too much of the latter. It’s not only corporate and association libraries that are looking to conserve shelf space, but even public libraries.

How else to explain the shameful state of affairs involving the Donnell Library branch of the New York Public Library system? People are rightly shaking their heads over the news from earlier this month that Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. was backing out of its plans to buy the branch building in Midtown Manhattan that contained a real jewel of a multimedia collection.

The Orient-Express deal had been conceived as a means of pumping money into a renovation of the Central Library on 42nd Street. Yet even before the deal came apart, eyebrows should have been raised by the fact that the new place to be created for the Donnell branch—part of a building housing a new hotel—would actually constitute less space—a first floor and an underground area—than the enormously popular branch that closed last year.

Ezekiel J. Donnell, the Irish-born cotton merchant for whom the branch was named, would gag—not only what had become of the building named after him, but how the heads of the library system could engage in such monumental mismanagement and business folly. In the process, they also turned off a number of dedicated, knowledgeable longtime librarians in the branch who couldn’t get over what was happening to the place they had worked so long and so well.

A few months ago, O Magazine featured a story—complete with photos that made this librarian and bibliophile envious—on Oprah Winfrey’s private library. Say what you want about the TV host, but this is a lady who values, like Mr. Dooley, “th’ shelf.” I guess the people in charge of the New York Public Library don’t anymore.

1 comment:

RS said...

Would like to be in touch with you in our fight to restore the Donnell. You may email me at savethedonnelllibrary@gmail or ritasue@ritasue.com.