a place not just for books, but for stories


The idea of the library as theatrical set, where the content of books is secondary to the atmosphere books create, may gain more respect in coming years. This past May marked the centennial of the New York Public Library’s main branch building. The library is celebrating with a yearlong series of programs and exhibitions focusing on the library’s past as well as its next hundred years. These celebrations, launched with a “Find the Future” festival weekend in May, promote the idea of the library as a stage: an environment where things can happen and people can meet, and one that will retain public significance even if the physical books it holds do not. There has been a good deal of anxiety in recent years about technology rendering books—and with them libraries—obsolete. But there is also another story, one that the NYPL has invested in. It’s a story about the triumph of books through new media, about not choosing between technologies but integrating them. Amidst millenarian thinking about the death of the book, it’s important to bear in mind that the content of the New York Public Library is not obsolete, nor will it be anytime soon. There are people in all five boroughs who cannot afford to buy books or DVDs, much less laptops or e-readers. According to a national study sponsored by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in 2010, 30 million people in the United States used library computers to access the internet last year, and of those, 40 percent did so to find jobs.

more from Minou Arjomand at n+1 here.