To save or to close: that is the question
To save or to close: that is the question
by Alison Barnet
Saturday Mar 13, 2010
"You’re too soft-hearted, Jen. I have to tell you that all the time."
"Oh, I know, Buzz. But closing libraries! It seems so backwards somehow."
"Listen, I’m sure the mayor is doing what he has to do. There’s no money, and he’s got to cut somewhere. It’s only good business practice. He didn’t get elected to a fifth term for nothing, you know."
"It just seems funny that a couple of years ago everyone was all for the branches-didn’t they build a couple of new ones? And now they’re going to close branches. Am I missing something? What happened in between?"
"Jen, have you ever been to the South End library? I mean, I have no idea if that’s one of the branches they’re going to close, but, I’m telling you, they should. It’s full of fruitcakes and homeless people. And that park! Did you know the old benches were replaced with hard metal chairs just so the bums couldn’t sleep on them anymore? If you ever want to see what the Old South End was like, check that out. I mean, really, that’s not my idea of a library!"
"But all those children, Buzz. They go there for after-school programs and to use the computers."
"Jen," he said with fake patience, "these days every kid has a computer at home, maybe two or three. They don’t need to go to the library. And that’s another thing. Nobody needs a library anymore. Everything’s on the web, and everyone’s using Kindles. Who wants all that dry old paper taking up shelf space? Printed books will soon be a thing of the past, and good riddance! Most people don’t read anyhow. Maybe they read cheap novels and romances. Is that worth keeping a library open for?"
"Well, you might be right. But what about the old people, who still read?"
"They can buy used books online or join a private library. I’m sure the Athenaeum isn’t going anywhere."
"What if they don’t have the money?"
"Where there’s a will there’s a way, Jen."
"Getting back to the South End library, didn’t they just spend a lot of money fixing the exterior?"
"I don’t know, Jen. I’ve never been there."
"Well, you talk like you have! If they close it, what do you think they’re going to do with the building? It’s one of those Seventies eyesores. I wouldn’t buy a condo in there, would you?"
"They should tear it down. After all, it’s sitting on a whole block of extremely valuable Tremont Street real estate. There could be a couple of glass towers there, another Atelier 505 maybe."
"I don’t think they can tear it down. Isn’t there historic district protection?"
"Yeah, I guess you’re right. What could they do with that place? Maybe Upper Crust Pizza would be interested."
"Or Mike’s Diner."
By now, Buzz and Jen, who were driving home in their Jeep, had been discussing this issue-between cell phone calls-for an hour. Suddenly, Jen asked Buzz to pull over. She’d spotted a nice vase on a table outside the South End library park.
"How much is that vase?" she yelled from the passenger side of the Jeep. The man took his time answering, apparently finding her rude. Well, she didn’t care. "A dollar." "I’ll take it. And could you gift wrap it, please?"
When, a minute later, she looked over at Buzz, he was gone. Did he go into the library for a book? Unlikely! Run down the street for a newspaper? Possibly. Then she noticed the hole in the driver’s side seat. When she finally found him, he was sitting in the library park reading the Herald with a magnifying glass. Where were his new Prada eyeglasses? He looked scruffy, as though he’d been wearing that beautiful suit for weeks, and the little J. Crew bag beside him was filled with what looked like rags.
"Buzz! Buzz! What’s wrong? Honey, we have to go!"
He began to shout. "CLOSE THE LIBRARY! WHO NEEDS IT? LET THE PEOPLE READ CAKE!" Shouldn’t a guy on a hard metal chair want the library open? Buzz had clearly gone bonkers. Jen, mortified, went running inside for help.
"Oh, he’s here every day," said the woman at the desk. "He’s harmless."
"He can’t be here every day, he’s my husband! He’s an investment banker!"
Standing there helplessly, she was surprised to see how nice the place was. Long library tables, people checking out stacks of books while talking with the staff, and the children’s room was huge and attractive.
"We’re having an art reception. Why don’t you join us?"
Jen looked over at a small crowd of people drinking wine and eating chips. Some curious paintings hung on the walls near the windows, outside of which Buzz sat screaming his head off. Jen helped herself to a glass of wine and then another. She found herself talking to a couple of oddballs who said they’d lived in the neighborhood for decades. Jen couldn’t figure out what they were talking about but she enjoyed them thoroughly. Soon the paintings began to look better and better, and, by the end of the evening-she was the last to leave-she’d bought every single one of them.
"If they try to close this library," she thought, "I personally am going to do whatever I can to stop it."
Despite the fact that Buzz was no longer in the park, having been picked up by the Pine Street Inn van, Jen happily made her way back home to their condo, where she sat in a soft leather chair planning her strategy. As a consultant to nonprofits, she knew exactly what to do.
"Let me start with the library trustees and the mayor. Same thing, probably. First, I’ll go back to the library and talk to people. Buzz can go fry."