The Park Slope BPL branch re-opened last Thursday, after a three year restoration project costing more than six million dollars. Renovations included structural work, new access for the handicapped, restoration of the historic, interior space, and upgraded technology. Oh and some books. Well, actually 20,000 new books. I thought that sounded like a good injection of reading material, but when I visited today I found the shelves half empty. The library was buzzing with vistors, but the books were in disarray. They leaned together in small, unsteady clusters, and some shelves were completely bare. A cheery librarian was hovering around and I asked her when the rest of the books would be brought in. She smiled, and explained that the books were all there. When a library is renovated, she said, the old stock is either thrown away or re-circulated to other branches. This was it. But surely, I said, there weren't actually very many books? Well, she beamed, they'd had quite a run on them, what with the re-opening and all.
Sleek and denuded, the place felt a little dispiriting. I do understand the need for free technology access (even the tots get iPads here), but I'm sorry that the book as real, physical object gets such short shrift. Clearly, a branch library can only offer a limited selection, but let's fill it the best we can. Let's cram the place with books old and new, let's hear the humming of voices from the volumes in the stacks. Let's allow for chance discoveries that change a reader's life. Let's feel that reading is important, mysterious, sacred.
Instead of this branch, I'd rather head over to the one at Pacific, the first Carnegie library in Brooklyn and a real beaut. Though smaller and more worn around the edges than its Park Slope peer, it's a far more welcoming space. And the shelves are filled.
The Pacific branch:
And just to add a few more books to this post, here are some of my own: