Jun 06

I hope you’ll all come out this Saturday to the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library for the Read-In to protest the Mayor’s enormous proposed library budget cuts, which if enacted would effectively dismantle the New York, Queens, and Brooklyn Public Library systems as we know them.

Most of the protest in support of New York City libraries these days seems to revolve around proposed changes to the NYPL’s flagship Schwarzman branch, where the research and circulating libraries are under threat. It’s a very unfortunate and arguably outrageous plan that could hobble one very important library in the wealthiest borough of our fair city, and I’m as concerned about it as anyone who’s ever done research there.

But let’s not let our opposition to (or acceptance of) that proposal distract us from the Mayor’s even greater, and far, far more wide-reaching, threat to literacy and to everything else our libraries help provide. As novelist (and friend of mine) Alexander Chee said when he signed on to the Read-In, “This is reprehensible — no library recovers from acquisitions cuts.”

And we’re not just talking reduced hours and fewer books in circulation. According to a 2010 New York Times story, the Queens system alone is  “the largest public library in the country, measured by circulation volume,” an innovative institution that has shown other libraries how to operate as “community hubs for job seekers, teenagers who are looking for a safe and comfortable place to study after school, students of English and people who cannot afford to own a computer but want to use the Internet.” All of the “city’s public libraries  are increasingly serving as makeshift employment centers,” part of a “surge in demand for libraries’ free goods and services that is typical during economic downturns.”

Over the past few years, Urban Librarians Unite and others have put up such fierce resistance to threatened cuts that money has quietly been restored, giving readers and employment seekers citywide a false sense of security. If we don’t protest, the Mayor and City Council don’t know what’s important to us, and the next time you show up at your library to pick up books on a random weekday afternoon, you just might find its doors locked. 

Anyone can sign up to read, and I hope you’ll join a wide range of writers, some of whom will actually be reading, some of whom are away and can only be with us in spirit, by signing up for a slot to read at this year’s protest, or just by stopping by.

Those participating and supporting so far include Megan Abbott (The End of Everything and Dare Me), Eric Banks (President, National Book Critics Circle), Josh Bazell (Beat the Reaper and Wild Thing), Phil Campbell (Zioncheck for President), Alexander Chee (Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night), A.N. Devers (WritersHouses.com), Jason Diamond (Vol. 1 Brooklyn and Flavorpill), Lauren Grodstein (A Friend of the Family), Will Hermes (Love Goes to Buildings on Fire), Evan Hughes (Literary Brooklyn), Jesse and Zoe Karp (Those That Wake), Julie Klam (Please Excuse My Daughter and You Had Me at Woof), Victor LaValle (Big Machine and The Ecstatic), Michelle Legro (Lapham’s Quarterly), Andrew Losowsky (Huffington Post), Ann Napolitano (A Good, Hard Look), Anna North (America Pacifica), Austin Ratner (The Jump Artist and In the Land of the Living), Rosie Schaap (Drinking with Men, and Drink columnist, New York Times Magazine), Elissa Schappell (Use Me), Lizzie Skurnick (Shelf Discovery), Amanda Stern (The Long Haul), Sadie Stein (The Paris Review), Emma Straub (Other People We Married and Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures), and Hannah Tinti (The Good Thief and One-Story magazine). And especially for kids on Sunday morning: Melanie Hope Greenberg (Mermaids on Parade), Ryan Sias (Zoe & Robot), Javaka Steptoe (In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall), Charlotte Jones Volkiss (Madeline L’Engle’s granddaughter), and Paul Zelinsky (The Wheels on the Bus).

The 24-Hour Read-In gets underway Saturday at 4 p.m. and runs through Sunday at 3:59 p.m. You can read your own work or (except during family time on Sunday morning) whatever you like. If you’re interested in signing up, email savenyclibraries@gmail.com.

If you don’t feel like reading, just join us for a little while to show your support. I’ll be there Saturday until at least midnight and again early Sunday morning. Please introduce yourself so I can shake your hand. 

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