What do you think about the New York Public Library’s renovation plan?
“Many objectors raise valid concerns: the introduction of wait-periods for newly off-site books, the prioritization of renovation over investment in library staff, the potential harm to the architectural integrity of the building. But some do not raise valid worries: among them, those who fret that the scholars stand to lose even if the masses stand to gain—that creating a circulating library within the research library will diminish the place of scholarship. “[S]cholars are people, too,” wrote historian Edmund Morris in the Timeslast Sunday, “and we are beginning to feel, well, if not threatened, increasingly crowded out.” University of Chicago historian Joan Scott, author of the letter circulated to intellectuals and academics, writes that she fears the NYPL will cease to be “a destination for international as well as American scholars” and instead will become “a busy social center where focused research is no longer the primary goal.”
My main complaint with such concerns is the presumptuous distinction that they draw: the scholars and the others. Libraries—the NYPL in particular—are where people go tobecome scholars. Isn’t a studious thirteen-year-old a scholar? A journalist, who visits the library to immerse herself in some arcane matter? How about a lawyer, chef, or dancer investigating a kink in history that forever altered her profession? Or, for a specific example, consider Alfred Kazin, who composed On Native Ground at the NYPL far before he was established. “[T]he spacious twin reading rooms,” he later wrote, “gave me a sense of the powerful amenity that I craved for my own life, a world of power in which my own people had moved about as strangers.””
- Chloë Schama, Let in the Riffraff: In Praise of the New York Public Library’s Renovation Plan
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