May 11, 2010 | Spanish

Library Crisis, Language Crisis

A huge cut in funding for the New York Public Library.

Today, amid my Spanish studies, I was forwarded an e-mail announcing sad news for this city’s libraries.

Mid-Manhattan Library, 40th and Fifth

The message began as follows: “The New York Public Library is facing a potential $37 million cut in City funding. This is the harshest cut in our history and comes at a time when more New Yorkers than ever are using the Library, many with no alternative for the services we offer. We are preparing for the possibility of closing 10 library branches, a reduction of staff by 36% percent, 25,300 fewer programs and classes for kids and adults, and a cut of 6-day service to 4 days across the NYPL system.”

This news troubled me, in part because of what libraries have meant in my own life. When I was a kid growing up in California, one of my family’s most important rituals was our biweekly trip to the Los Angeles Public Library. Every other weekend my mother, my sister, and I would collect all the books we had checked out on our previous library expedition, pile them into our big blue station wagon, and head over to our local branch, where we would joyfully amass a huge pile of replacement books. I believe we were allowed 10 apiece, and my recollection is that we would walk out with the maximum of 30 each time.

Two weeks later the cycle would begin again.

Language Books for Lease

For a long time I didn’t really use libraries, but they resurfaced in my life last summer with this project. In fact, the state of New York City’s libraries is critical to the underlying philosophy of my language venture. Back on July 1, the day it began, my first stop was the Mid-Manhattan Library on 40th and Fifth, where I found all sorts of useful materials to help me study Russian. Learning languages need not be expensive! People who are on a budget, or who do not have time or inclination to take a class, can borrow a remarkable array of language resources from the library, for free.

But with such drastic budget cuts, who knows? Already last fall, only a few months into the project, I began having a hard time finding the materials I needed. Pimsleur products, for example, were suddenly no longer available to me as downloadable electronic files. I could still check them out in the form of physical CDs, but the problem was, there weren’t that many sets of them, so the CDs were not always available. That meant far fewer New Yorkers would have access to these valuable lessons at any given time.

In spite of cutbacks, and despite an abundance of empty shelf space, the languages section of the Mid-Manhattan branch is still pretty amazing. I never even knew this resource existed until last July 1. I would love to see it grow rather than shrink.

So, should you have a large pile of money lying around, or even a small one, and should you find yourself unable to figure out what to do with it, perhaps you would consider a donation to support this critical urban institution at this critical time.


Swahili! Ojibwe!





Comments (1)

javier hernandez-miyares • Posted on Wed, May 12, 2010 - 1:03 am EST

perspicacious post about what is a developing tragedy at nypl, and the two other public library systems in nyc.
i am going to share this article!

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