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Thursday, January 29, 2015

At The NY Public Library, A Physical Amazon



Shhh! I’m sitting in one of the nation’s most esteemed libraries, The New York Public Library.  The main building of the nation’s largest library system is located at the center of the country’s most culturally important city, on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.  I’m here to say the library is alive and well – but it’s lost in another century.

I saw that some of the shelves in certain sections were barren.  How could a library, especially an esteemed one, let any bookcase space go unused?  Apparently they are in the middle of renovations and the books are hidden in a basement or worse, stuck in a New Jersey warehouse.  The blank walls sadden me and serve to forewarn us about the fate of our beloved libraries and physical books.

Despite the empty shelves, plenty of hall space was filled with books, just as I remembered as a child.  This building is enormous in size and in its depth of materials.  It is primarily a research library and less a lending one.

Some of the volumes that caught my eye was a set of 800 tall, hard-covered books that contained copies of the old card catalogs from 1911-1971.  I opened a random edition and couldn’t believe how many books are shown, on a page.  When you multiply it out you realize how many books used to exist – and that was up until 45 years ago.  We have published more books in the time period since – than in the history of all book publishing combined prior to then.

There were a few exhibits going on.  The main one featured 175 years of photography, and of course, photography books.  Given the subject matter and available content, I was vastly underwhelmed but encouraged to know that such a tribute existed.

I sat down at these old, large tables, made out of solid wood, sitting in a heavy wooden chair.  A desk lamp provided enough shadowy light to remind me of being back in school decades earlier.

Though I live in a suburb of NYC, I could still get a library card for the NY Pubic Library.  When I went to look at a particular reference material, I was told I needed a card.  I marched down the hall and got one.  The room looked dank and temporary, without a window.

You can’t help but walk around this illustrious building and historically-significant, architectural marvel, and not feel like you are part of something special.  So many words, ideas, and experiences are contained here, sitting side by side, waiting for someone to rediscover them.

At the photography exhibit, there was a placard that noted the decade-old Facebook is the single largest photo-sharing source in the world.  Some 350 million photos are uploaded daily – and growing.  This means in a 10-day period, 3.5 billion images are added to an already overcrowded site to a fattening Internet.  From New Year’s to April 10, Facebook will have posted 35,000,000,000 new photographs.  Additionally, 10,000,000 blogs will have been created.  Further, some 200,000 new books will have been published.

The library used to truly be a place where information was stored.  The books, magazines, newspapers, and journals represented a significant percentage of all recorded information.  Now a day of content added online far outstrips the voluminous content stored in any single library.

Libraries still serve a valuable need.  First, for those who can’t afford books or an eReader, they can have access to books for free.  Second, if you need the help of a trained librarian to find the info needed, you’ll be happy.  Third, to gain access to non-digitized books, documents, and physical records, get to the library.  Fourth, if you want to see an exhibit or hear an author speak, come on by.  Lastly, it’s a safe haven to students, researchers, bibliophiles, and those looking for a quiet respite from the world out there.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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