better red than brain-dead (in the library)

Christine Karatnytsky christinekaratnytsky at
Thu Aug 17 09:27:06 PDT 2000

Peter quotes John quotes Billy:

>"At a free concert in Battery Park in New York six weeks ago, British
folk singer Billy Bragg observed, >between Woody Guthrie riffs, that the only signs of socialism he had seen anywhere in
>these United States were the public library and the carpool lane."

I hate to be the one to break the news to Billy Bragg, but, as far as New York is concerned, the public library is probably the original privatized public service, a less than orthodox sign of socialism than he may like. (But that's just how our mayor likes it.)

Reader's digest history lesson: NYPL was created in 1895 through a law that consolidated the private reference libraries established by bequests of John Jacob Astor, James Lenox and the Samuel Tilden Trust. The neighborhood library system absorbed several independently endowed circulating libraries into the "branches" built with Carnegie money in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island in 1901. Carnegie provided millions for the structures and got the City of New York to agree to provide the sites and the funds for staff, materials and maintenance--"Free to the People," as the cant goes. In turn, NYC contracts with Astor and Lenox Foundations and the Tilden Trust to ruin--er, that is to say, run--the system.

One can go on for hours about Carnegie's blood money, but you can take it from yours truly that the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library, that roomful of rich men who administer the services, doesn't give a damn about your local public library. Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth was tossed out one of those lovely Beaux Arts windows a long long time ago. Equally if not more disastrous to AC's ideal of civic altruism has been the Giuliani Administration's pernicious dismantling of our public service institutions.

more than you wanted to know,

Chris Karatnytsky New York Public Library

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