Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Architeture (for Architecture)

Last week on Real Time with Bill Maher, the free-speaking HBO host shocked his library-loving fans by flatly asserting (although to me it sounded more like he was kidding, or being sort of ironic): "We have the Internet. We don't need a library anymore." As proof of this, he added: "I don't know anyone who's gone to a library since 1998." This was in response to Penn Jillette's definition of libertarianism: in short, that taxation is a valid means for preventing violence, but not for "building a library." However, even he seemed a bit taken aback by Bill's blanket dismissal, and mentioned how he likes to use the WiFi connection at his own public library while his kids check out the picture books. It reminded me of an episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which Ted tells Robin a cautionary tale about an architect who had designed the perfect library building—except for the fact that it would sink an inch or two deeper into the ground each year. "He forgot to account for the weight of the books," Ted sums up glumly. "Okay, first of all," replies Robin, "nobody goes to libraries anymore, so who cares about that guy?" Which, in turn, put me in mind of a report by Nicholson Baker published in The New Yorker in 2008 (ten years after any of Maher's pals supposedly couldn't have cared less) about the otherwise capacious new San Francisco Public Library, where staff was forced to start wholesale "weeding" upon moving in because adequate shelf space hadn't been factored into the architecture. Like the one in Ted's story, the New Main's architects hadn't "thought of the books." But you definitely should. As for Bill Maher, let's cut him some slack in light of his supportive "New Rule" from 2006: We Don't Need Drug Tests for Librarians. There were five examples of today's typo taking up space in OhioLINK, and 267 in WorldCat.

(Looking down in the atrium of the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, August 7, 2009.)

Carol Reid

No comments: