Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Irony: Manhattan’s Newest “Library Of The Future” Will Be Named The “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library,” But A “Librarian Of The Future,” Personified By Edward G. Robinson In His Last Role Says Niarchos Acted “Miserably”

Edward G. Robinson playing a librarian of the future in his last role had stern and unappreciative things to say about Stavros Niarchos after whom the NYPL will name its newest "Library of the Future"
Perhaps you have picked up on this point already: What was once the Mid-Manhattan Library is undergoing going changes now, and it will be relaunched under a new name the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library.”  But is this “SNFL” rechristening of the library to name it after the Greek shipping millionaire fortuitous? . . .

The NYPL is promoting the book-eliminating changes at the Mid-Manhattan Library, a consolidating shrinkage that will simultaneously eliminate New York’s biggest science library (which will be turned into a comic book focused “Pop-Culture Museum” by another ship-owning multi-billionaire) as a “Library of the Future.”  There is, however, one thing that may inconveniently haunt that “future”: It’s a “Librarian of the Future” who says the Greek shipping magnate Niarchos “acted very miserably” towards him. 

We are speaking of Edward G. Robinson who played a librarian of the future, a “book,” in the science fiction, future dystopia film “Soylen Green.”  Robinson’s role as a future librarian was famously the last role he ever played shortly before dying: He died January 26, 1973 just 12 days after the filming.  Robinson’s remarks about Niarchos were published in the New York Times shortly before his death, November 5, 1972, in an interview about his life that he gave to promote the film: Little Caesar' Is Still Punching, by Charles Higham.

It’s an interview well worth reading.  You’ll find yourself feeling for the elderly Robinson who had suffered and was feeling the effects of a number of tribulations at the end of his life, including having battling with the House Committee on Un-American Activities when his blacklisting meant he was suddenly deprived of any opportunities to work in the early 1950s.

In the interview Robinson describes the Soylent Green film:
“Soylent Green’ is, I believe, an important picture, a harrowing projection of our existence 50 years from now. It shows very clearly what may well become of us if we don't look out. It is set in Manhattan, a city of 40 million people living miserably and horribly in a depersonalized Orwellian state.
Made in 1972 and released in 1973, the film looked forward to what was then decades away, the year 2022, a year we are now actually about to arrive at.  Whatever people will tell you about when we truly first knew about the dangers of greenhouse emissions and global warming, the film presciently explains that in its version of 2022 “greenhouse effect” has created a stiflingly warm world climate, “A heat wave all year round” where “everything’s burning up.”  The world ecosystems have collapsed and people are starving because food production is minimal.

In this Manhattan of the future, wealth inequality is extremely accentuated, with the wealthy living apart in tall luxury towers protected by extra security.  They treat the common folk of the world as disposable and, with a sort of Harvey Weinstein sort of callousness, apartments come optionally with attractive and usable young women referred to as “furniture.”  The wealthy of this world are more likely than not connected with a few conglomerate mega-corporations, which, if you look behind the scenes, are in control of and virtually indistinguishable from the government that's in charge.  The highest government official wears a military style jacket.  The public is helpless and uninformed.

If you want to know anything, if you want to have any hope of piecing together any part of the big picture to understand matters in context, things that might otherwise never be fully understood or investigated in this world of the future, then books are important . . .
Edward G. Robinson, the future's librarian, a "book"
. . . That’s where the character played by Edward G. Robinson comes in.  He is the one who has access to books and who does critical research to understand the world better.  In the future slang of the movie’s invention he is known as “a book,” but that slang term is essentially the term for the librarians still functioning in that future. The Sol Roth character played by Robinson has his own personal library of books in his shared apartment.  To extend the utility of that small collection he periodically meets with other “books” (other librarians of the future) to exchange books and their knowledge of them as part of a more effectively functioning commons.  A key point plot in terms of learning the landscape of power behind what's unfolding is a banned corporate book that reveals what the powerful corporate elite knew, but weren’t sharing about the escalating waste of the world’s environment.  The frail and elderly Roth is also a touchstone in that he remembers distinctly the once robust natural world of plenty that has vanished.
A key censored book: what the powerful corporate elite knew, but weren’t sharing about the escalating waste of the world’s environment.

Roth, “the book,” lives with and is a symbiotically functioning sidekick assisting the film’s main protagonist, a police detective played by Charlton Heston.

Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in the film
A major set-piece in the film that sets up the film’s climax is the ceremonially orchestrated death that Robinson’s Sol Roth chooses for himself.  The scene was filmed just days before Edward G. Robinson’s own actual death and, to add the ultimate pathos, Robinson reportedly waited to tell Charlton Heston  (and only Heston) that his doctor had told him he was actually about to die until just before the cameras rolled.  And this reportedly affected Heston’s performance.

Edward G. Robinson’s gripe with Stavros Niarchos, laid out fully in the Times interview, involves how  Robinson lost $3 million worth of paintings in a divorce suit.  Robinson had been an avid art collector.  Then, when he was still financially weakened in the wake of his recent blacklisting, he was forced to sell much of his collection.  He sold to Niarchos who later was unwilling to sell back paintings that Robinson was most personally attached to:
    . . .  in order to comply with the California community property laws in his divorce from the former actress Gladys Lloyd, whom he had married in 1927, he had to sell more than half his superb collection, started in 1933, of masterpieces of art. “It was so brutal—the worst ordeal I ever went through. I went to everyone I could think of—rich men who had an affinity for art—Winthrop Rockefeller, Bobby Lehman, Kirkeby out hereto try to arrange for a loan to pay off the estimated worth of half the paintings, but these men played games with me; they only agreed to help provided I would sell them four or five of the paintings for little or no money. And so I said, ‘No deal.’

    “My wife had been very ill, and it proved impossible to reach any kind of sane agreement with her. I had no real estate, very few stocks, nothing else could sell. I had put my money, my whole life's blood, into paintings. Finally, some dealers took the paintings for over three million on behalf of Niarchos, the Greek shipping millionaire. He acted very miserably in the whole matter. He wouldn't let me buy back what I wanted when I finally got the money. Just a few things he condescended to part with, crumbs from the master's table. It was horrible.

    “The worst blow of all was losing Rouault's ‘The Old Clown.’ It was the king of my collection, I used to call him ‘Everyman’ The symbol of man's inhumanity to man. After that divorce suit, I realized just what the phrase inhumanity to man’ really meant.”

    Robinson's eyes clouded over with tears. “As for the remainder of the pictures, I don't know what I'll do with them. For years selected groups, classes, have come to see them. I have never closed them off from the public. You don't own any painting, you pay for the privilege of being a custodian. But I don't like the idea of them ending up in a museum. It's like putting a beautiful dead man or woman in morgue. Last December, I was in the Prado and I was horrified: the paintings there are badly hung, badly lit, you can't see the details. And it's supposed to be a foremost tourist attraction of Spain. No, I don't want to leave these lovely things to a museum, although I suppose inevitably they will end up there. What will I do with them otherwise? I don't know. I don't know.”

George Rouault's "Le Vieux Clown" or "The Old Clown." 
"The symbol of man's inhumanity to man."  -
"It was horrible. . .  I realized just what the phrase inhumanity to man’ really meant.”

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