The Observer arrived at the New York Public Library on Monday night to find the steps to the impressive building lined with candles, around 200 of them, lighting the way to the foyer where there were couples lining the steps as well, far outnumbering their waxy counterparts. Not all of them were attending the gala, but everyone seemed to be enjoying the picturesque scene nonetheless.
This was the beginning of the celebrations for the Library Lions 2011: six artists who have been honored by The New York Public Library for their support and all of whom have huge literary influence.
The evening began with cocktails and some time with the Lions themselves. Ian McEwan was extremely positive about the necessity for libraries in a time of Kindles and the Internet. “Without libraries, writing may not have been the direction I went in,” said the British writer, who at a young age studied in a library in Tripoli, Libya which was situated in what is now the compound of the country’s former dictator, Colonel Qadaffi. “My library habit started early and since then I’ve never stopped.”
Actor Jesse Eisenberg was a prominent presence at the gala and his support was close to home. “For me this is an important space, because it is a place I come to write. Also, I have relatives who volunteer in this public library.” And what does Mr. Eisenberg think the future holds for libraries? “Oh, I mean I’m not a sociologist but this place provides a community which transcends all technological advances, don’t you think?”
Mr. McEwan does. “It’s not at all an elitist institution…it can draw in everybody.” His sentiment was echoed throughout the large domed marble halls of the building, which received a $100 million dollar donation in 2008 from the building’s namesake and gala attendee, Stephen A. Schwarzman.
Dinner was next on the schedule, followed by speeches from the likes of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Public Library president Tony Marx. Both emphasized the idea that this was an all-inclusive institution that should be celebrated as such. Tennis hero John McEnroe was on his way out of the hall when he enthusiastically exclaimed to The Observer that, “You need books. I hope they stay.”
We made our way down several floors, guided by more candles, to where The Young Lions Party was to be held. This was a glamorous affair with many young supporters in attendance. We bumped into decorator-cum-writer, Thomas Jayne, who told us he came because “it was such a democratic charity, which has the ability to benefit all of us.”
There was, however, very little talking to be done downstairs and we had to settle for watching movie clips on the projector which hung above the dance floor, while the Young Lions reveled in the most inclusive of all playlists.