Everywhere books are under attack. Bookshops are diversifying and selling CDs, gift cards, coffee, magazines, DVDs, videos, and whatnot as if people have to be tempted into the bookshop, as if selling books itself can no longer provide sufficient economic return. Even the New York Public Library, the city's august institution, now provides stipends and offices to glamorous resident scholars—and the source of funding for that is not beneficent books but lethal tobacco. I spent a total of nearly ten years in colleges and universities with libraries, so to speak, in my backyard. In those days, libraries had no other justification for their existence than to be themselves. I remember that even the librarians refrained from using typewriters in case their noise disturbed students and scholars.
One of the reasons we moved into our 79th Street apartment, some twenty years ago, was because it was only one street over from The New York Society Library, still in its way as chaste as the virgin Madonna. The Library is very fortunate in having as its custodian Mark Piel, who I imagine is like a Hindu god with many heads and hands, all of them at the service of his supplicants for information and research. My only quibble with the Library is its name, for which there are good historical reasons but which belies the democratic function it serves.