After more than 100 years of existence, the New York Public Library is closing down. Movers have already begun the gargantuan task of emptying the main building, an ornate Beaux-Arts structure located on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets. Within a few weeks, 86 branch libraries throughout the city will be stripped of their contents and shuttered. Approximately 50 million items, including 20 million books, will be sold at city-run auctions throughout 2007. Google Inc. has agreed to absorb the library’s considerable online catalog. The move follows a sharp downturn in library traffic.
“The New York Public Library has been a great asset to the cultural life of the city,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement released by his office. “But times change and it is time to move on.”
“It’s a real smart move,” said chief librarian Frank Drammonds, who has worked out of the main library since 1958. “Make it a Duane Reade, if that’s what people want. Aisles crammed with crappy little medicines and ointments and whatnot. Massengill. Foot spray. Tea-tree shampoo. Seventy different kinds of facial soap. Lousy DVD’s for $14.99. Be my guest. The truth is, the people of this city don’t deserve the library. Last year I was talking to a third-grade class at one of these futile functions we’re always having, and some little snot-nosed brat raises his hand and says, ‘So we’re supposed to rent the books?’ I said, ‘It’s called borrowing, Timmy. Look into it.’ Kid was mystified.
“The only scholars who come by are half-dead. If a young grad student is able to pull himself away from his computer screen long enough to stop in, nine times out of 10 he wants to look at our comic-book collection for some moronic postmodern pastiche of a thesis that has nothing to do with anything. Our nation has seen fit to destroy one of the oldest cultures in existence as part of an unending war that would make Caligula blush, and students today are more concerned with debating the subtext of Stan Mack or Jessica Simpson than looking into anything of import. Great state of affairs.
“Couple weeks ago, we had a truly distinguished scholar—one of our regular visitors, God bless him. He had one of those metal walkers with wheels attached to the front legs and two little tennis balls, split open, at the back. I’m thinking: We live in a society that can’t come up with anything better than tennis balls for brakes on an elderly person’s walker? I’m going to commit suicide right now. And I almost did.
“Some people think we should have been more aggressive about making adjustments,” Mr. Drammonds continued. “Maybe we could have opened a café in the Reading Room. Sure, that would have been great. The New York Public Library & Café. Great idea. ‘Wanted: Librarians who can make a dry, half-caf cappuccino.’ Yes, that’s why we got into this line of work. Not out of any love for scholarship, but because we secretly wanted to become ‘barristas.’ Why don’t we install a glittering disco ball to the ceiling of the Reading Room and hire a D.J.? Oh, and how about a video-game room? And a titty bar. Free lap dances.
“The average New Yorker today thinks Thucydides is a sexually transmitted disease. Their idea of a scholar is George Clooney. Their idea of great literature is The Kite Runner. I thought things were bad when Oliver Stone, that moron, was the one to make a movie about J.F.K., but now we’ve got Emilio Estevez doing R.F.K. Wasn’t he in Young Guns? Have I gone insane?”
Asked to describe his future plans, Mr. Drammonds said, “I’ll tell you my future plans. There’s a little cave on the Afghani-Pakistan border. My ‘homies’ and I will be moving there tout de suite. Will I have mixed feelings about going on the attack against Western culture? Sure, but it beats living with these ding-dongs. I’ve had it.”