March 18, 2024

No Cuts to Libraries!

Last week, leaders of NYC's three public library systems (NY, Brooklyn, Queens) launched a campaign against Mayor Eric Adams' and the NY City Council's proposed budget cuts in the coming FY 2025; these cuts would be the highest proposed budget cuts to the libraries in over a decade. If you're a NYC resident, please send a letter to Mayor Adams and the City Council via this form!

I used to go to the public library a lot when I was a child, specifically the Montana Branch of the Santa Monica Public Library, which has an iconic mid-century modern natural stone facade:
Image source

And studied for the SATs at what was then the newly-updated SMPL main branch:
Image source

While I loved libraries for their books, they were, more importantly, cherished Third Places for me growing up: I didn't have to spend money to be there, I wasn't in my hyper-competitive school or ballet environments, my parents weren't watching my every move.

And though I loved libraries as a child/teenager, I am ashamed to admit that after moving to NYC for college, I didn't actively continue going to public libraries; partially because those on Columbia's campus were also beautiful spaces with any book you could want—but my friends could also be found there, at all hours of the day and night. And after undergrad, I got into the habit of buying books and perusing bookstores, which was a privilege: my justification at ~$25/book was that it wasn't too much more than a movie and would entertain/engage for much longer than 2 hours. This logic doesn't really make sense in retrospect...

What got me going back to the library again was the lovely, kind, gentle librarian Mychal on TikTok; he reminded me of *library joy* and how libraries are inclusive by design. Hearing his stories and encouragement reminded me of how libraries were my safe space as a child, and that there was no good reason they shouldn't continue being joyful, safe spaces to me today. 

The closest library to me is the Jefferson Market library, which was initially a courthouse. When it was converted to a library in 1967, it was apparently one of the first adaptive reuse projects in the US. It is a wonderful, wacky piece of architecture that ends up feeling like a temple to books: 
Jefferson Market @ Nite // Jefferson Market @ Daytime. From street-level, you walk up this stained-glass spiral staircase in order to visit the main reading room and library desk.

I'm also impressed with the NYPL website and app, which are efficiently, but not overly tech-enabled. For the last two and a half years I've been unfortunately using Amazon to track my book wishlist, and I'm happy to report the NYPL app is a very happy alternative:
I was impressed that, with a recent book I checked out, the book was automatically renewed when I still hadn't returned it a week before the due date (though this is only true of books with no other holds/requests on them). Yay for simple, useful tech! 

All of this is to say that the NY Public Library is an absolutely essential space, service, institution in our city, and the budget cut being proposed for 2025 is unacceptable!

My hope is that this budget is a bargaining fake-out between the Mayor and the New York City Council (as is implied in the amNY article), and that these cuts were never actually proposed in seriousness. But it's a terrible thing to be toying with, in a time of disappearing Third Spaces and zealous book bans. What are we saying when we're saying these spaces are disposable, and that free access to books is unessential? How are we going to attempt to nurture curiosity and empathy in our children? How are we going to do that for our adults??

In other news, Happy St. Patrick's Day: Lá Fhéile Pádraig!