When Necessity Feels Like Luxury
The autumn weather was perfect the other night for a stroll through Midtown. So when the theater let out on 45th Street, I headed a few blocks south, cut through the holiday maze of Bryant Park, and crossed Fifth Avenue to the Mid-Manhattan Library. It was late, but there was no need to hurry: The library was open 'til 11 p.m.
Even as I plucked the book I needed from a shelf in the fiction section, I felt a sort of warming gratitude. The New York Public Library fought hard earlier this year to fend off budget cuts that would have devastated its ability to provide services just when demand for them is highest. Its success says a lot about the city's priorities -- and about its wealth, too.
Elsewhere in the nation, the recession is having an ugly effect on libraries. Today's papers alone tell stories of numerous struggles. In Pittsburgh, several branches of the Carnegie Library face closure if funding isn't found to keep them open, and in Southern California, according to the Los Angeles Times, "the city of Colton shut down its three libraries and laid off nearly 60 employees to help plug a $5-million hole in its budget." The city of Ventura plans to close its most heavily used branch.
It's vicious out there -- for the populace and for our libraries, whose worth we recognize most clearly in bad economic times. So those of us who live in a place where the public library is not only open seven days a week, but open late as well, have reason to marvel.
It isn't a luxury, but it feels that way. Who could fail to cherish that?