15 July 2009

Library Deathwatch: 92nd Street Y

The 92nd Street Y's Buttenwieser Library will close at the end of the month, 79 years after first opening its doors. The Library's 30,000 books will be dispersed throughout the building and a small, Wi-Fi equipped reading room is planned for the ground level. Job cuts are certain.

I learned of the impending closure last week from this strangely-focused and generally maddening City Room article. I love City Room, but sometimes their quest for quantity and speed triumphs over quality. In this case, the writer interviewed the Y's executive director, a patron, and a Yeshiva University professor, but no Buttenwieser librarians. Then there's his decision to frame the article with some mallarcky about Homer and e-books, culminating in this spurious conclusion: "...the community center’s transition to a more computer-centric model is emblematic of the sometimes painful merger of the analog and digital worlds." It's 2009! Administrators looking to reinvent their libraries for the 21st century have countless successful models on which to base their redesign. As more than one commenter noted, it's all about the MONEY and, possibly, some kind of premium office space land-grab.

Rant over. If you'd like to read a balanced article on the subject, click over to the Jewish Week.


Suralaye said...

The closure of this library should be fought tooth and nail! We saved some of New York's public libraries. Write, petition, discuss, complain!

Stephanie L. Gross, MLS
Organizer, NY Librarians Meetup
Member, AJL-NYMA
and others!

brent shearer said...

Op - Ed Submission

92nd St. “Y” Library to Close: Possible Madoff Collateral Damage

29 June 2009 – Bernie Madoff gets sentenced to 150 years for financial crimes.

1 July 2009 – Members of the 92nd St.Y’s Buttenwieser Library receive a letter from 92nd St. Y executive director Sol Adler saying the library will be closed on July 31. In an accompanying document, Adler cites financial pressure as the reason for the decision to close the nearly 80-year old library.

Part of the financial pressure the 92nd St. Y is under, like many other Jewish cultural institutions in the city, may come either directly from investments made with Madoff or from the secondary impact of the financier’s demise. It is clear that Madoff’s fall has affected a number of Jewish organizations. Many of the families he bilked are 92nd St. Y members and patrons.

92nd St. Y staff members were told in January that the Y had no direct investment in Madoff funds. But if there were no direct losses from Madoff investments, it would be interesting to know what the indirect effects have been. One of Madoff’s principal bagmen was J. Ezra Merkin, who is a past board member of the 92nd St. Y’s parent organization, the UJA - Federation of New York.

Investments with Madoff did kill off the Chais Family Foundation and the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation. But while it is too late to save these entities and other victims of either Madoff directly or the recessionary crunch his crimes contributed to, it is not to late to save the 92nd St. Y’s library.

It feels absurd to have to write an appeal that the leading Jewish community center in New York City not close its library. It is the enemies of Judaism, of democracy, of free speech, who close libraries. What’s going to happen next? Will Israel close Yad Vashem because of the recession?

Adler’s decison comes at a time when the public library system is not likely to provide alternatives. Donnell Library has been closed. Readers and writers who try to use the Mid-Manhattan library and others have to share space with the city’s homeless population. The $60 a year I paid to belong to Buttenwieser was well worth it.

The short gap between the announcement and the closing as well as its timing in the middle of the summer have led some Buttenwieser supporters to claim that the Y’s management wanted to push this through when a lot of people are out of town.

One example of the cultural programing that the 92nd “Y” rightfully prides itself on was held last Wednesday. There was panel discussion on recent events tied to the Iranian elections. The 92nd St. Y is an appropriate place for such a forum. In the first floor auditorium interested parties were discussing Iran, no doubt talking about what steps Americans can take to affect events in Tehran. Meanwhile, on the second floor, the Y’s own Buttenwieser Library sat with its last moments of life ticking way.

Events in Tehran will be hard to influence, but the discussion is an important one. Regardless of Madoff’s crimes and the recession, the ill-advised closing of the 92nd St. “Y”’s own library is a bad decision that is not on the other side of the world. It must be stopped.

Suralaye said...

Well said!!!!