Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why Is Manhattan In The Dark?

Our Town downtown
September 18, 2006

The best light in the world is the light in a classroom. There is nothing warmer in a rough world than to go by a school on a darkening fall afternoon and see the rectangles of bright yellow in the brick walls of a neighborhood school. In some cities and towns, when school is closed at the end of the day, that same great light shines till late in the neighborhood library.

Not here. The lights do not stay on late in our libraries. In the nine downtown libraries, the latest a light is on is 8:00 and in only one of the nine is it on that ‘late’ more than once a week. Eight of the nine only have one night till 8:00? Yep. Check it out. Here are the numbers in the downtown branches:

New Amsterdam: One night till 8:00. Not open Sunday (or Saturday). 37 hours a week.

Jefferson Market: Two nights till 8:00. Not open Sunday. 40 hours a week.

Epiphany: One night till 8:00. Not open Sunday. 44 hours a week.

Chatham Square: One night till 8:00. Not open Sunday. 44 hours a week.

Seward Park: One night till 8:00. Not open Sunday. 44 hours a week.

Hamilton Fish: No nights till 8:00. Not open Sunday. 33 hours a week.

Muhlenberg: One night till 8:00. Not open on Sunday. 36 hours a week.

Ottendorfer: One night till 8:00. Not open on Sunday (or Saturday). 36 hours a week.

Tompkins Square: One night till 8:00. Not open on Sunday. 36 hours a week.

It astounds me that in Manhattan such a disregard for literacy and literature and learning exists. If that’s all the city thinks of its libraries, what does it think of its schools? Its students? The dog runs in the parks are more open.

The Barnes & Noble on Union Square is open every day from 10-10. That’s 84 hours a week. What does that say about the supposed progressive mentality of Manhattan that rails against Starbucks and other chains and generally thinks government is the enlightened answer to civics needs? Is it saying we’re turning over the dissemination of ideas and literature in our culture to a chain book store because our elected government on who we’d rather rely doesn’t care enough to keep the local libraries open? It may be saying: Can’t you see we’re too busy reading about people like Les Moonves and Sumner Redstone in the Times every day, we can’t worry about libraries.

How much money can it cost? How much real money can it cost to keep a few small library buildings open 12 hours a day—like Barnes & Noble? In this mammoth town where an obscene amount of people make oodles of money without wearing work shoes or breaking a sweat, there isn’t enough money to keep these libraries open longer? What if the oodle-gatherers gave some money to their local libraries instead of giving it to their alma mater which is near Boston somewhere?

Shouldn’t libraries be the community center where young mothers take kids to get an armload of picture books? Shouldn’t they open up early and stay open late to accommodate students? Shouldn’t their lights be on in your neighborhood?

-- Bill Gunlocke

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