Monday, May 23, 2011

Losing the Library: A Cultural Tragedy

In the current cultural and financial climate, the library as part of our community seems under constant attack. In The New York Review of Books, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Charles Simic, offers some stirring thoughts on libraries and their importance, while contemplating the impact of their potential loss on a society in peril:
All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.
Meanwhile, at the San Francisco Public Library’s Jewett Gallery, look for *Public Library: An American Commons, a photographic exhibition that runs until June 12.

The exhibition is the work of San Francisco photographer, Robert Dawson, who since 1994 has photographed “hundreds of libraries in nineteen states. From Alaska to Florida and from New England to California the photographs show a vibrant, essential yet vulnerable system. This exhibition includes approximately 70 black and white and color photographs of urban, suburban and rural libraries across the U.S.”

Simic’s NYRB piece is here. More information on the exhibit at the San Francisco Library is here.



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