2007.08.07 Library renewed affection for NYC

Written by David Green.

I love libraries

even in New York


By COLLEEN LEDDY

“If you’re touching me, you’re standing too close.”

That’s what the lady in front of me said as I was inching my way through the security line at Detroit Metropolitan Airport early Friday morning. She uttered those words in a slow, matter-of-fact but not very friendly way, as she stared straight ahead, never looking at me.

I was anxious to get on the plane and to the Poughkeepsie, New York, hospital bedside of my sister, Linda, and I guess I was inching just a little too fast. I instinctively reached out to touch her shoulder as I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Thank God she didn’t respond at all, not even to chastise me for once again touching her.

It was an unpleasant start to the journey and I hoped that it did not portend bad things to come. But when, after taxiing for what seemed like forever, the pilot said we could not take off because they’d just closed a runway at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, I started reciting my Hail Marys a little early.

I could go on and on, talking about all the bad things happening in my life this past week, but I will spare you the negativity and tell about the good. Why I was in Brooklyn for four days is a long story, but the upshot is that my sister is alive and well and won't be getting on a 4-wheeler any time soon—if ever.

By the time I arrived at the hospital she had been moved from the ICU and was being discharged on Friday evening after we’d been told to anticipate a hospital stay until Monday. At 52, Linda is a hearty soul and surprised everyone with her ability  to walk and get around. I arrived intending to be her nursemaid and advocate with my niece, Linda’s daughter, Vicky. Instead we brought her home where she improved even more.

At 22, Vicky is a very competent and attentive caretaker; she should definitely pursue a career in nursing. It was quite obvious I wasn’t really needed, so it was easy for me to leave Linda in Vicky’s care while I explored the neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday.

“I’m very jealous of your little vacation,” David told me on the phone.

He had been exploring the neighborhood via the internet, trying to help me pin down the nearest library. He finally located it—the New Utrecht branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Goose-bumps literally rose on my arms when I surveyed my surroundings at  the library, and it had nothing to do with the welcome air conditioning on that 90-plus degree day. Graffiti littered the walls outside, but inside, what an amazing place: lines of people to return books, lines of people to check out books, people at every computer, people browsing in the stacks, people sitting at tables reading newspapers and magazines, people lined up at the desk of the librarian, who sweetly helped them with their needs.

All ages of people, all colors of people, all nationalities of people populated the building. Well, maybe not all nationalities—most people were dark haired; the only blonde person I saw had roots of brown. It’s rare to see natural blondes in the city.

While browsing the shelves I noticed books written in Russian, Chinese,  Spanish. I could have stayed all day in this place that so wonderfully  embraces the peoples of the neighborhood and provides for them. And I hadn’t even gone upstairs, to the children’s section.

I had arrived just after the 11 a.m opening on Saturday but the atmosphere  was the same Monday afternoon when I returned to write this column. I looked more closely at the shelves and shelves and rows and rows of books written in other languages. Whereas on Saturday I only noticed Russian, Chinese and Spanish, on Monday I saw books in languages I never would have fathomed—Urdu, Turkish, Polish—in addition to the more ordinary French and Italian.

The library was a microcosm of the world and I felt so proud to be in this place that so admirably reflected the true nature of our country, a place with a history of embracing and accepting all peoples.

The New Utrecht branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system touched me deeply—and nobody seemed to mind that I was standing too close.

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