Urban Librarians: We Will Not Be Shushed

It was the literary equivalent of a filibuster, a bookworm’s take on 1960s-style protest. Aliqae Geraci called libraries “a huge support system for the unemployed.”

A 24-hour stream of sentences and stories, spanning the canon from George Eliot to “Gossip Girl,” flowed from dozens of book-loving New Yorkers this weekend who were concerned about austere budget cuts to libraries proposed by City Hall.

Not typically ones to raise their voices (ed.-oh yeah?), librarians staged an overnight read-in on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library on Grand Army Plaza to criticize the city’s plan to close 40 branches by month’s end, and to reduce hours and employees at those that remain.

“In the Great Depression, the New York public libraries were kept open seven days a week,” said Aliqae Geraci, a librarian in Queens and a coordinator of the event. “It is a huge support system for the unemployed and the transient.”

Another organizer, Christian Zabriskie, put it more bluntly.
“We librarians have a saying,” he said with a grin. “You can close our libraries when you step over our cold, beaten bodies, chained to the doors.”

The organizers are hoping the City Council will restore financing to avoid the cuts, which they say will particularly hurt the city’s less fortunate, who depend on libraries for Internet access and employment help. The reading attracted more than 200 volunteer readers, twice the number needed to fill each of the 15-minute slots.

The marathon started at 5 p.m. on Saturday with “Here Lies the Librarian,” a children’s story by Richard Peck featuring a gravestone on the cover marked with the word “SHH!” Texts ran the gamut from Woody Allen to classic works by James Baldwin and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Report from the New York Times.

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