Archibald MacLeish in 1944. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Today brought welcome news that the New York Public Library has abandoned its plan to “renovate” (i.e., reduce and/or ruin) its research flagship at Bryant Park, on Forty-Second Street. The renovation would have meant removing the stacks beneath the main reading room, thus displacing an untold number of books and research materials; the plan met with derision among scholars and authors, and a piece in the Times last year by Michael Kimmelman made an elegant case against it.
And wouldn’t you know it—today is also Archibald MacLeish’s birthday. His 1974 Art of Poetry interview is great reading, but given the news of the day, and given his role as the Librarian of Congress—a position he held from 1939 to 1944—it seems fitting to peruse his 1940 essay, “The Librarian and the Democratic Process,” which addresses … well, not many of the same issues at stake in the NYPL’s renovation controversy. It was 1940; the world was on the brink of war, and digitization was not a going concern for librarians. But the piece does find MacLeish asking, in a sweeping, stentorian tone: What is a librarian supposed to do, anyway? Read More