The Arty Semite

Where Are the Books at the NYPL?

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

  • Print
  • Share Share

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Remember the plaintive Pete Seeger song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” In the wake of a recent research trip to the New York Public Library, I’m inclined to sing a similar song of lament about the fate of the book and call it “Where Have All the Books Gone?”

The much-bruited about renovation of this storied library has been in the news a lot lately, generating considerable controversy along the way. Its champions insist that relocating millions of volumes to an off-site storage facility will result in a new and improved library, one that meets the challenges of the digital age head-on. Its detractors insist that’s a lot of hooey or, worse still, that the library’s plan sounds the death knell for serious scholarship.

Until now, I found myself in the middle of these two camps, cautiously adopting a wait-and-see attitude. But no more. So dreary, alienating and downright disheartening was last week’s visit to the New York Public Library that I now cast my lot with the naysayers.

It wasn’t that this grand institution was forlorn and abandoned. On the contrary. Throngs — and I mean throngs — of people walked its glorious halls, giving adjacent Times Square a run for its money. And the place, bedecked with lights, ribbons and greenery galore, was an absolute delight to behold.

Alas, the business at hand — conducting research — was something else again. In one division of the library, the distance between the reading room and the stacks is now so great that it takes an inordinately long amount of time just to obtain a book, let alone read it. In another division of the library — the reference room, no less — the shelves that once contained the standard reference tools I now needed were glaringly empty. Where did they go? When it came to their whereabouts, even the generally knowledgeable reference librarians had no clue; a digital search also came up empty-handed.

As did I. Having spent the better part of an afternoon at the New York Public Library, I didn’t have much to show for my efforts and left its precincts feeling churlish rather than uplifted. What a contrast with the experience of earlier generations of patrons who, heartened by their encounter with the “wonder-world of books,” penned expressions of gratitude. One, from 1903, exuberantly put it this way: “I send you as many kisses as there are pennies in the world.”

I wish I could say that in 2013.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: New York Public Library, Jenna Weissman Joselit, From Under the Fig Tree

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.