If you’ve never visited the magnificent 101-year-old library building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42d Street, the one whose wide entrance is guarded by two enormous stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, you’ve missed one of the world’s most beautiful spaces devoted to books, reading and learning.
With the expansion the main branch will become the largest circulating library in the United States, Mr. Marx said, with publicly accessible stacks. “We need to provide the opportunity to browse for books at a time when bookstores are closing,” he said, adding that “scholars and researchers should be able to enjoy the serendipity of what they find on the shelf.”
But some patrons fear crowding at the main branch, where annual attendance is expected to rise to perhaps 4 million, from 1.5 million. “It won’t be O.K.,” said Donald Jones, 55, a Manhattan resident who uses the computers at the Mid-Manhattan branch several times a week. “One problem I already have is crowding with the computers.”
The plan also calls for turning second-floor offices in the main branch into workspace for as many as 400 writers and researchers and for keeping the library open until 11 some nights. (The latest it stays open now is 8 p.m. two days a week.) “We want this to be Writing Central for New York,” Mr. Marx said.
I confess, I haven’t spent a lot of time there, mostly because I work from home (as a writer) in our suburban apartment; I can’t justify the $15 trainfare and two lost hours commuting to go sit there, although it is truly a spectacular space.
I did spend a week or so there a few years ago working on a specific, fascinating and highly unusual research project for a fellow writer. He had discovered an amazing true story on a remote and distant Pacific island, Mangareva, about a crazy French priest who subjugated the natives and created a bizarre and highly punitive penal system using his own religious followers as his enforcers. Seriously.
My role? To translate original French documents — stored in Australia — into English so we could re-create and understand this story. It was utterly extraordinary. Reading the 150-year-old reports felt like opening a reporter’s notebook, so filled with specific details they were — from the narrow, muddy paths across the island to the huge piles of coconuts stacked aboard their vessel while in port. It was riveting reading and one of the most fun freelance jobs I’ve ever had.
Day after day, I’d settle into my seat at one of those long wooden tables in the glorious Rose reading room, my dictionary and laptop close at hand, disappearing for hours into a world thousands of miles away and decades distant. By day’s end, weary, I’d share my head, as if awakening from a delicious dream, walk down those wide marble steps and re-enter the riparian sidewalk on Fifth Avenue.
Here’s a fantastic trend already in 28 American states and worldwide, small boxes that resemble birdhouses or mailboxes called Little Free Libraries. The idea is to spread a love of books and community:
The idea has mushroomed. Bol now encourages people to visit his website for suggestions on how to build their own library.
Today there are Little Free Libraries in at least 28 states and six countries including Ghana, Australia and Afghanistan. And people from more than a dozen other countries have expressed interest, Bol said.
On Bol’s website he offers suggestions on how to build the libraries and sells kits for a fee starting around $100. Money donated to his non-profit helps build libraries in needy communities and developing countries. The website says, “If you need help let us know. Don’t let money get in the way.”
You can find the little libraries not just in front of homes, but also outside of health centers, coffee shops, bike paths, bus stops and store fronts. People are encouraged to send in a picture of their library so it can be posted on the website. In return they get a “Little Free Library. Take a Book, Return a Book” sign to post on what they’ve built, as well as a Little Free Library Charter number.
Do you have a Little Free Library near you?
Do you use (and love) your public libraries?