Over the weekend the apparently fourth annual 24 read-in took place to raise awareness against the 35 percent proposed budget cuts to public libraries in New York City. The event took place from 4 pm June 8th to 4 pm June 9th 2013. Urban Librarians Unite (ULU) is a non-profit, and has been a boost for library advocates across the city. Christian Zabriskie, Lauren Comito and the rest of the group coordinate all of these advocacy events on their own time. They can state things or express viewpoints that are not official viewpoints of the library systems. First I’d like to thank ULU for what they do and for letting people get involved and feel part of something. A lot of people feel strongly about the importance of libraries. A lot of library workers are not only concerned about their own fate career wise, but work in libraries because the feel it matters and they can make a difference with the communities they serve. Now I’ll get back to tooting my own horn, and tell about my experience at the 24-hour read-ins, I’ve taken part in all four of them.
I guess June 2010 was the first one, and I volunteered at the table a few hours and read late at night. I think I read at one or two. The Brooklyn central library has architectural merit and it is large with a very wide front that is maybe 50 feet high. In front they actually have a plaza area, which serves as the perfect setting for this. I even think the Brooklyn Library could have weddings on that plaza, maybe not weddings, but I’d drink wine and eat cheese and crackers for sure. The first year it was a nice peaceful vibe to it. For reading I originally picked Tropic of Cancer but chickened out before I left my apartment. Instead I read another favorite book of mine Confederacy of Dunces which while enjoyable to read is a mouthful to read out loud. Also reading out loud for fifteen minutes is a challenge, time slows down. Overall I enjoyed the camaraderie that night.
For the second year I planned to read late night again, but got a cold last minute. And that year it rained throughout the night. I felt better that Sunday and went for the last few hours of the event. The organizers look exhausted and said the night was brutal. Since it was 3 in the afternoon, I decided not to read Tropic of Cancer, and instead chose another favorite of mine A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. That was much easier to read than Confederacy of Dunces. Much to my surprise after I read, a cute twenty something reporter interviewed me and I got my picture and quote on a Brooklyn webpage called L Magazine.
For the third year I was able to read late night, and again liked the vibe of being with friends and colleagues outside at a late hour. I thought of reading Tropic of Cancer but chickened out yet again. Instead I chose another favorite classic of mine Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald. I don’t remember much of the reading, but like every year, 15 minutes can feel like a long time. I think last year this and the other rallies citywide really helped, most of the funding was restored by City Council. The service hours this year to the public citywide are basically the same as last year’s and that’s kind of amazing since there are hiring freezes.
This year I didn’t chicken out for better or worse, and read Tropic of Cancer. I volunteered at the welcoming table for two and a half hours before reading. I enjoyed seeing my friends and colleagues. Here is a shout out to them: Vijay Ramanathan, Kacper Jarecki, Logan Ragsdale, Alison Mc, Rita Meade, Christian Zabriskie, and Lauren Comito. Again it was perfect weather and that along with the camaraderie created a good vibe. Waiting two and a half hours to read a book that was illegal in this country for 25 years was a little nerve wracking, but I enjoyed the company, and I even met a few cool people. I read, and it was a thrill. I purposely read quickly probably mincing some long words, but conveying how it’s suppose to be read, bluntly, brutally, and comical. All I got to say that I’m thankful that that the recording on the site is time consuming to get to individual readings, not sure if I want people to watch that online. My train ride home to Queens was abstract and 4 trains instead of 2, but I don’t regret the late night stint for the read in, it makes it kind of epic in a way, and memorable to say the least. Now that it’s been four years in a row it would be cool to make it an annual event regardless of future proposed budgets in the years to come.
Lastly, now is the time to write city council and the mayor that we don’t want cuts to NYC libraries. Libraries have been trimmed enough in the past 4 years of cuts. In 2007 the city gave extra money to libraries for 6-day service, every library was to be open on Saturdays. After the recession it went back to at least 5-day service everywhere quickly. To me the use of libraries justifies 6-day service everywhere, but that hasn’t happened in 4 years. Once a city service is cut, it takes a long time to get back to what they once had. I believe if the libraries are cut this year, it will take a long time just to get back to what we currently provide. ULU, library systems, and library advocates are fighting for the future of libraries. I don’t think anyone wants the great institutions of access to information, supplementations to children’s educations, access to self education, community hubs, and so much more simply to became part of history instead of being vital for the present and future.
(Pictures– me, Christian Zabriskie, crowd with Logan Ragsdale, Vijay Ramanathan, and Kacper Jarecki)