A Century Later, Children Still Finding Sanctuary at Brownsville Library – NYTimes.com


A Century Later, Children Still Finding Sanctuary at Brownsville Library – NYTimes.com.

Here is an institution that I have not found in any other country. One of the most unique institutions in the American history story is the public library. The early English settlers, or at least those in New England, believed that since everyone should be able to read the Bible, the community needed to provide education. Hence the public school system and, after the “industrialization” of printing, public libraries.  The libraries are supported by taxes and are free and open for everyone. Going to the library with a parent to get your first “library card” is a special occasion for children.

Anyone may enter the library and use any of the materials, and even borrow books, movies, music and whatever else the library might offer, to enjoy elsewhere.   The offerings differ from library to library, being the decision generally of a library professional with advice of a local board of directors in touch with the community.

The library will not disclose what the patron is reading or has borrowed. There are occasional assaults on this principle by law enforcement which the public strenuously opposes. Curiosity should never be investigated.

One of the great sights of New York City is the library at 42nd St and 5th Avenue. Its main reading room, with space for hundreds of readers, and its other specialized rooms, have been the incubator for many writers and ideas.  Henry Wallace worked here to develop Reader’s Digest Magazine.

You will be greeted at “The Library”‘s imposing front entrance by two stone lions  named  “Patience” and “Fortitude” by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in the 1930’s.    

Generally,  funds permitting, libraries are open 7 days  a week and often serve as important centers of public learning, with art exhibits, lecture series and concerts.  Many have ranks of computers available for free use. All are staffed with professional librarians who are incredibly gifted in pointing you to the right resource for your question.

Andrew Carnegie and the foundation of the same name has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to build public libraries throughout the country, and this is one of them.   Its mission is unique, and the need is deep and recurring.  The good news is, however, these children at least have an “address” where they feel safe and hopefully are becoming curious.  It’s not too much to say that in the US the public library has been and continues to be the address of the birth of many a great idea and gifted thinker.

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