601 in the collection
Ms. Bailey’s sad and wonderful gift to New York libraries--and why you should care
by Susan Ohanian
The Life of golden silence New York Post article that inspired a letter from Stephen Krashen provoked me to look up the founding of the New York Public Library and that led to a few other things (including the statue of Lenin atop a New York City apartment complex. But that is another story).
You'll find Stephen's letter below and it points to the core of the issue, the thing we must never forget: the importance of public libraries in keeping a democracy.
Starting a Public Library/Opening Cages
Samuel Tilden, governor of New York and reformer who led the fight against political corruption of Tamany Hall, actually won the popular vote in the 1876 election over his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, but the chicanery of the electoral college gave the presidency to Hayes.
Remarkably, this event did not leave Samuel Tilden a bitter old man. He left $2.4 million 'to establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.' (He left more but greedy relatives opposing the bequest ate up much of the donation in lawyers' fees.) Tilden nearly changed his mind when he found out that ninety per cent of the books checked out of the Boston Public Library were fiction.
I was unsuccessful in tracking down who arm-twisted Tilden's small-minded prejudices and preserved fiction at the library but I find it fascinating that the inability of corporate and political types to understand the power of fiction has a long history.
Or blame it on Yale. Tilden graduated from that institution in 1837. He was admitted to the bar in 1841. His high-profile clients included more than half the railway corporations north of the Ohio and between the Hudson and Missouri Rivers. Although he probably did not graduate from any law school, Yale University awarded him an honorary L.L.B. in 1875. You remember that Common Core huckster David Coleman has a Yale degree.
Maybe there's something in the water.
Samuel Tilden's better instincts prevailed, and the New York Public Library was dedicated May 23, 1911, leaving decisions about content in the hands of professional librarians. When the library opened to the public the next day, between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors streamed through the building. One of the very first items called for was N. I. Grot's Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni (Ethical Ideas of Our Time), a study of Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Tolstoi. The reader filed his slip at 9:08 a.m. and received his book six minutes later.
The American Library Association
The American Library Association (ALA)was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 and was indeed a momentous event in the public library movement. Until then, public libraries required an annual fee for access to their collections. The ALA conference in Philadelphia, and many other subsequent library clubs, espoused the values of free access to and circulation of materials for the entire community, rather than merely scholars. The sad thing is that by 2012, the ALA was acting as loudspeaker for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Continuing its commitment to finding new ways to support school and public librarians and educators, Booklist Publications is increasing content and guidance for implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).--American Library Association, Press Release, Aug. 30, 2012
I don't see that any Gates grants to ALA had anything to do with the Common Core or other school management endeavors, but sixteen-and-a-half million bucks speaks loudly, and so the American Library Association steps up to the plate to support a Gates Foundation pet project. NOTE: The Gates Foundation money is aimed at technology benchmarks--moving libraries in its chosen path. Bill Gates may have an odd phrase from The Great Gatsby engraved on the ceiling of his house, but his enterprise is not about promoting books.
New York Public Library Update
The historic main library on 42nd street is now the Stephen A. Schwarzman. Founder of Blackstone,largest investors in leveraged buyout transactions over the last decade, Schwarzman's personal wealth is listed at about $6.5 billion. He gave $100 million tax deductible to the New York Public Library's $1 billion redevelopment project and in return, the library's main building is to be renamed the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building with the private equity mogul's name appearing five times around the building--carved into the base of each of the center columns at the main entrance, on a gold plaque in the marble floor outside the front door and in the marble of the pedestals beneath the lamps at the library's entrance.
John Jacob Astor and Samuel Tilden's names are carved atop the building's facade.
The small person
Builds cages for everyone
The politics intent on destroying democratic institutions comes full circle with the history of Samuel J. Tilden High School, which opened its doors in Brooklyn 1929. To save money during the depression, seven high schools, including Tilden, were built from the same set of blueprints. I began my teaching career at another of these high schools, Grover Cleveland.
In 2006, New York City ed deformers declared Samuel J. Tilden High School to be a failed school. In 2007, with Mayor Bloomberg and ed chief Joel Klein holding hands with Bill Gates money, Tilden High became the Tilden Educational Complex, home to several new, separate small schools with aspirational names. With the growth of the new schools, Samuel J. Tilden High School was finally phased out in June, 2010. All that's left of the Tilden name is the street running in front of the small schools. Maybe we should give some credit to New York City politicos for not renaming it Bill Gates Boulevard.
Stephen Krashen letter to The New York Post, from Schools Matter
Mary McConnell Bailey's gift of $10 million to New York libraries is both sad and wonderful ( Life of golden silence, January 1).
Wonderful because Ms. Bailey understood the importance of libraries.
Sad because these kinds of donations are necessary. Libraries, school and public, are poorly supported, even though research consistently tells us that when children and adolescents have access to good libraries with plenty of good books and with adequate staffing, they read more. The result is that they do better on reading tests.
For those living in poverty, libraries are often the only source of reading material. The US now has the second highest level of poverty among all "economically advanced" countries, 23.1%: Nearly one in four children lives in poverty.
We keep complaining about children's low reading achievement, and we keep preventing them from improving by failing to support libraries.
Importance of libraries:
Krashen, S., Lee, SY., and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36.
Lance, K. C. The Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement. http://www.lrs.org/impact.php
Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), 'Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world's rich countries', Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
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