Mourning literary loss of Donnell

I am in mourning because they shut down the Donnell Library Center on East 53rd Street in New York City in order to build yet another huge glass building for the very rich. That says a lot about America today: Big buildings for rich people are replacing libraries where everyone can get an equal shot. I loved that particular library and to this day, I miss it terribly. Open from 9 in the morning until 10 at night, it offers those of us in the Berkshires an example of everything a great library should be.

When I was in high school, I would get down to the Donnell nearly every day (including weekends) and stay there until the place closed at 10 p.m. I would ride my bike from 96th Street through Central Park and lock it to a street sign outside the library.

The reference librarian in the room where I studied was Mr. Brown, a very nice man. One time he told someone who wanted to sit in my seat that “that chair was reserved for Mr. Chartock.”

Every once in a while, I would get lucky and meet someone (a girl) but most of the time I just studied. I often took made a long and very thin roll of impossible-to-remember Spanish words and phrases and took it with me wherever I went — on the subway, in the bathtub, on the ferry to Fire Island. I was never any good at memorization and that was particularly true when it came to the Spanish Regents which I barely passed every year. Of course, now I remember each and every one quite clearly.

One wonderful teacher, taking pity on me, suggested that I could get a free 10 points on the exam by memorizing one essay in five different tenses for the composition question. Thus was borne “My Trip to Spain.” No matter what subject they asked for on the exam, they got “My Trip to Spain.” If the assignment was to write a composition in the future tense on your mother, they got a composition about how I was going to take my mother on a trip to Spain. An essay in the past tense about a dog? Last year, I took my dog on a trip to Spain.

But, as usual, I digress. Another reason I loved the Donnell Library was that they were among the first to let you borrow records. I must have taken the “Weavers at Carnegie Hall” and “The Weavers on Tour” out a hundred times.

My point is that libraries have to be community centers. We invest huge amounts of money in our libraries so it makes sense that they are places where citizens can go after work and school to study and read. The Mason Library in Great Barrington is to be congratulated for finally doing the right thing and expanding its hours. They are using volunteers, as good an idea now as when I first suggested it years ago.

The idea is to keep the library open so our young people can go there to study and make us proud. The library should be commended for progress but we have to keep on keepin’ on.

On another matter, The Eagle’s managing editor, Kevin Moran, wrote a front-page story on the goings-on in Lee this past week. It appears that the Laliberte Toy Fund, run by Lee’s police chief, is being investigated by the FBI. We really don’t know enough about the investigation to pass judgment, however I have always believed that the police departments that raise money for any of these funds bear watching.

You really can’t help thinking that when the police ask for money in addition to regular taxpayer dollars, people may feel pressured to give. So if we have these “funds” for this or that, it is very important that they be totally transparent. We should know where every penny goes.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/11/13

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