Monday, December 10, 2007

A Library and Developers

Here is a charming article by Lucette Lagnado, a Wall Street Journal reporter. For Ms. Lagnado, whose family had emigrated from Cairo, French was her first language. Ms. Lagnado wrote the well-reviewed book, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, which describes her family's flight from Cairo to Paris to New York after the fall of King Farouk and Nasser's rise to power.

In this essay, she writes fondly about the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library, one of whose neighbors is the Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Lagnado's family was poor, and had little money to buy books. The Donnell library provided a haven for Ms. Lagnado and her mother, who visited the library every Saturday and browsed through the French-language children's books and then the adult foreign-language collection, "one of the finest in the city, with shelves and shelves of French novels."

The reason for Ms. Lagnado's tribute to Donnell is the impending sale of the library's building to developers. The neighborhood has gotten too "tony" for the library to stay there in its current incarnation. So the new Donnell, "in a considerably smaller form...will be lodged on the ground floor and a couple of subterranean levels, with a modern luxury hotel sitting above. But the 'poor, shabby' building...will be no more." It will be sorely missed, especially by those who still rely on our public libraries to help them make the transition to American life.

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