The Librarian Is LIVE: Podcast, Ep. 121

By Gwen Glazer, Librarian
December 13, 2018

Listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.
 

Welcome to our first-ever live show, recorded in Frank's very own Jefferson Market Library! Gwen and Frank talk to Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and author of a new book about libraries and social infrastructure. Plus: the audience offers an invaluable assist during the guessing game.

Gwen, Frank, and Willa (Cather) in Jefferson Market.

Guest Star: Eric Klinenberg

Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg

More of his work in our catalog and on his website

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin

Books by Barbara Ehrenreich

O Cafe in Greenwich Village (and pão de queijo)

FULL TRANSCRIPT
 

>> Hi everybody, welcome to The Librarian Is In, the New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next, and we are here live at Jefferson market library down to the Village with an audience for the very first time

[ Applause and Cheers ]

Oh, my gosh, all right, and we're done. Thanks everybody.

>> That was amazing.

>> All right, I know, oh, my gosh. Okay, so, that was great. Our very first question for you, generally start by saying what's your background? Tell us about your bio a little bit, but we wanted to mix it up tonight, since we're on a little bit of a different track here. And so, when we were first brainstorming about questions to ask you, we were thinking, you know, have you kind of ruined the enjoyment of public life for yourself by writing this book? And so, we were joking about whether you're like really able to enjoy anything anymore, or whether you always have to have this like intense, hardcore, sociologist's hat on?

>> Oh my God, that was the saddest question. They don't ever ask -- I've done so many interviews. No one toughest ever started with like, "Eric, now that you're a sociologist, can you take pleasure in anything anymore?" My last book is about romance. And so, if it's good that when you study something, you can't enjoy it, I'm completely in trouble in life. It is hard, you know, when you become a social scientist, you can't take those glasses off. It really is hard to see the world differently. It's kind of who I am. At the same time, the truth about this book, in particular, is that it became about the library, because I had such a kind of passionate response to being in library, and because the library felt like the most soulful place I could be. And you know, the book has different origins, but one big reason that came together the way it did is because I started spending a lot of time in libraries around the 2016 presidential election, like in the run up to it, and then more after it. And I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this way in the room here, but like that was a pretty dark time for me. And you know, in the run-up, you didn't really know what was going to happen. But there were all these kind of dangerous and dark forces being awakened in American society. They're there a lot, but they were getting louder and creepier, and I found that going into neighborhood libraries was the best way for me to feel good about the place I was in. And I think that was partly because, as sociologist, I recognize this diversity of activity, but it was also just because as a human being, I love the feel of being around people who are my neighbors and participating in this public institution that does so much good stuff and not just being surrounded by people who are like in the place because they're looking for seven- dollar ice cream cones or a six-dollar coffee.

>> Do you actually think like -- because I think about this a lot, because I work here and manage this library and think about a lot of things that you wrote about, that you put far better than I could. Is there -- do you think all the people that need to know more about libraries, or are we missing people, and if we are missing people that should be in libraries who don't know what we do, where you think we're not getting to them? Or should we not let them know and keep it more exclusive, which is the antithesis of what a library is, which is a public space?

>> I mean, the danger is like it's already so crowded in here. Like, so, I bumped into Frank coming in. I have to admit that he completely called me out on this. I walked into the library like an hour early, and he's the first person I walked by. And he's like, oh, you're one of those guys who is just here to snoop around before the show. I can tell.

>> I said, we're going to spy on us, aren't you?

>> And it was true. I came because I want to just hang out library. But that's what I do, right? So, but then I went upstairs, and we're at the Jefferson Market Library, which is one of the greatest libraries, you know, on earth. Is just completely magical place. And by the way, I walk by this library a couple times every day, because I live right up the street, and my kids go to school down the street, and so, like we look at it and talk about it, you know, every morning. So, it's so fun to have it here, but I walked in, and then I went up to the second floor to sit down, and there were no places to sit down, because it's already so crowded. And that's been my experience at so many libraries in so many cities. Like it's hard to get a seat. But who's not coming to the library is, unfortunately, are the people who are making really big decisions about where to put investments. And so, like if you run a major business in the United States, the odds are that you're probably not spending a lot of time at a branch library. Sadly, I think, if you run a major philanthropy, they're not all philanthropies, you may be cut off from what's happening in branch libraries. You probably have been to lots of like banquets and benefits at the main library, like the glittery library that every city has, but you probably haven't spent time in the neighborhood libraries. And like, nominate the member of the presidential administration right now who spends time in branch libraries, or even has a library card, you know, and I will take you to dinner tonight. Because I just -- so I don't see really influential people here, and I think what that means is that when it comes time to budget for libraries at the city level, people think like, oh, the library is a luxury good. It's not a necessity. In the book, I called vital social infrastructure, but I don't think people see that, and it also means like I don't know, did any of you guys see the article that came out this summer in Forbes where this economist --

>> Oh yeah.

>> -- wrote that, you know, libraries are obsolete, and you know, they don't merit the public investment, and they should just be knocked down and replaced by Amazon stores. Did you guys catch that article?

>> Oh yeah.

>> Oh yeah, before they took it down.

>> And I know that you discussed it on the podcast, but like that article was so amazing, because it just like crystalized the sentiment that comes from some horrible place in American culture that says like, you know, if there's something that's good, people are going to pay for it, and forget about any kind of common investment in the public good. And I guess that, like, on the one hand, that represents a really powerful part of what America is right now, but on the other hand, there were the librarians of the world who united and got on Twitter and like shouted that thing down with such eloquent testimony to the extraordinary things that libraries do, that as you say, within 36 hours, Forbes had taken the article down. And that gave me some hope that, you know, actually, there's a lot of us who appreciate how wonderful libraries are.

>> So, do you think that that's kind of the right direction for both libraries and all the people in this room who, obviously, care about them? Like what you think should be done? Should we keep making noise on Twitter? Is there more sort of like social action to be taken?

>> I think their social action to be taken, yeah. I mean, I don't think Twitter hurts, but I don't think, you know, Twitter is the end of it. I think, you know, we can do more. And so, like one of the things I report on in the book is the story of Columbus, Ohio, where, you know, people decided that they wanted to make an even bigger investment in the public good of the library system and actually voted to tax themselves more, so that they could do more things with the public library system. And that's a very different idea that I think people generally have about how American taxpayers act. And look, we live in New York City, and on the one hand, this is a city that's been famous for its investments in our collective well-being. I mean, that's what made New York the great city that it is, but on the other hand, we're here in a moment where we are pulling away from a lot of public goods. It's not just -- I mean, so, the library has gotten a little bit more money, but like how many of you guys have taken the subway in the last month? You know? And it's a horrible thing was happening, because like you got this vital infrastructure that's also a social infrastructure, and if you treat really well, you know, when you're in New York City, and, you know, as you're going to the library or you're going on the subway, and the subway is working well, it's like New York City is so amazing. The subway system is fantastic. Like I was just at 125th Street, and here I'm at 4th Street. It took 15 minutes, and look at all the suckers who are in their cars. You know? It's a great feeling, right, to be like really throwing high-fives to the other passengers, you know? You throw a dollar to the guy who's like, you know, doing hip-hop on the train. Like everybody's happy when the subway is running. And when the subway is doing like with the subway has been doing for the last couple of years, you're just angry. You know, you're smushed into people on the track, you know, like in the cars, and you have this just like terrible, negative feeling about the city, and unfortunately, I think when we neglect infrastructure, including social infrastructure, that's the way we feel about our city and our government. And so, I think what we need to be doing on libraries is, you know, not just tweeting, but making it clear to the people who run the city, to people who represent us at the local level, at the mayor level, at the state level that this is not a luxury good. That this is an essential part of who we are. That this is -- the library is us at our best, and honestly like I think if it weren't for my decision to start spending more time in libraries the last couple of years, I would be in a much deeper and darker place, the one that you presumed I would be in when we started this conversation.

>> We're going to drive you right back there.

[ Laughter ]

>> I'm never coming back to this library again.

>> That's right.

>> I'm going to go to Seward Park from now on.

>> I've done my job. Well, we'll get to that. We'll get to the Seward Park Branch. Anybody go to the Seward -- I know, I see Andrew. I'm trying -- he's -- I'm not ambitious or competitive, but we have a librarian in the audience. We're going to talk about him in a second.

[ Laughter ]

But I wanted to say, if I haven't lost -- oh, just to talk a little about the concept of social infrastructure and what you mean by that, and why you think libraries are such a good example of that. I mean, just listening to you with the subway analogy, just if I can kick it off, or I'm going to steal from you, and just working here, I'm burning to talk, talk, talk, which I do too much up, and should let the guests talk, but you know, I'll just talk a little more. So, is I thought, one of the things when you're in the subway and is not working, you have a disembodied voice telling you something that you may or may not hear. There's nowhere else -- there's no one else around that's a subway person, and I think about, you might not want to deal with people sometimes, and that's fair, but in the library, at least now, and I hope forever, there's always a person. There's someone who is there to talk to you, to say, oh, I'm sorry. There's no more seats in there. I know, it's so crowded, and maybe we can do this. Maybe we can -- there's just, literally, at the very base, for me, if you choose to, you can engage, in hopefully, a positive way. I'm sure every single person in this room has had a bad experience in a library. Maybe we should cut that out. But it's because we're people. And so, sometimes we're in moods and stuff like that, but that, to me, is somehow the value added, but I want to let you answer the question. What you meant by social infrastructure and why the libraries are good example of that.

>> Yeah, so, I mean, I guess, first of all, just on this point you made about the bad experience. Like, yeah, we have bad experiences in libraries. It's like libraries kind of reflect who we are in some way. I mean, you see a lot of what our society is when you walk into a library. It's precisely not a place where we go to just be with people who are like us, you know, in like this kind of artificially perfect environment that allows us to forget what's going on in the world. Like the library is just completely real. And so, I've come to think of that as a feature, not a bug, of what the library system is about. And you know, I'm like a middle-aged professional white guy. You know, and I can basically go into any like McDonald's, coffee shop, like fancy café, Starbucks, and sit there with my computer all day long and no one's going to say anything to me. And like, you know, if other people come, and they don't look like they belong, like as we see -- I saw in this past summer in Philadelphia, like they're liable not to get kicked out but to get arrested, right? And that's a feature of American society, but when I come into the library, the feature is like, I don't have any more right to my seat at the table than any other person here. Like my whiteness and my education and my professional status and income gets nothing more than anybody else, and I think that's a really important thing, and one of the things that happens in libraries is all of us, including and maybe especially children, learn what it means to be citizens and to be participants in the community, from like getting your first library card and taking out your first library book and knowing you have to return that book or someone else won't get it. You know, all those things, they teach us how to be in a society with other people. Why libraries are a social infrastructure is because in the same way that to get water from a place to place or to get electricity circulating or transit systems working, you need a sort of a physical infrastructure that supports that higher-level activity that you care about. Our social lives, too, are really shaped by the physical places that are around us. And I think, I've come to see the social infrastructure as being this set of physical places and organizations that shape our capacity to engage with one another, and I first learned about it when I was writing my first book, which is about a heat wave in Chicago, the city I grew up in. And I noticed that like what was really explaining why some neighborhoods to really badly and other neighborhoods did really well wasn't just like poverty or segregation. It was actually like the places that were resilient had this incredible social infrastructure. Even if they were poor or segregated, they had like physical spaces that brought people together, and the places that were really vulnerable head like abandoned houses and empty lots of broken sidewalks and parks that were not taken care of, and not a lot of stores and very few like nonprofit organizations, and if you live in a place like that, you don't have a gathering place that feels comfortable to you. And what I wanted to think of like what is the absolute kind of ideal type of social infrastructure, what's the most amazing social infrastructure I can think of, like the library jumped to mind.

>> It's funny, one of my favorite parts of your book was when you were talking about the public pools and how -- and the segregation of the public pools and the way that the lawsuits were different depending on the public schools, and I was wondering where you felt like libraries fit into that continuum. Like, if public schools are here and public pools are over here, where you feel like libraries --

>> Yeah, like probably at least one or two people listening who haven't read the book yet --

>> No, I'm sure everyone here has read the book --

>> I'm just going to remind them of the thing that they read already. But there's a section of the book were like one of the chapters in the book is about polarization and the kind of search for common ground, and when I was doing research for the book, I started reading all this book about the pools of Iceland, which are thought to be like these great civic centers. Like people come together regardless of their class or their social status.

>> They sound amazing, by the way. It really makes you want to go to Iceland like right now.

>> Totally. I tried so hard to justify like a research trip to Iceland, and I couldn't like justify it in that way, but, you know, I like I read about it anyway from reading all these reports. And like, it made it sound like, oh, there's this whole kind of set of civic possibilities that happen because people hang out in these pools together. I thought, oh, well, the United States has will be swimming pools, too. Let's go look at the history of American public pools. And the history of American public swimming pools is like the vicious history of racial segregation and violence. And like it includes, you know, items like riots from people trying to use public pools. It includes like a story of a famous African-American performing artists who dipped her toe into a public pool in one town only to have -- not only was she kicked out, but they drained the entire massive pool. Like this -- right? And then like when the courts came in and said sorry, you have to integrate public pools, lots of towns decided that they would rather close the pools altogether than have integrated swimming pools. And so, it's not like if you just build the place, you know, you get everything, and actually, this is where we go back to your question about the librarians, because, you know, the building social infrastructure is just the beginning. You're going to also have to run them in as welcoming and accessible way as possible, and librarians are these extraordinary people, because like how amazing it is that not only do we have this building and buildings like it, you know, all over the country, but there are these people who are public employees who make sure that the experience people have here is as good as it can possibly be for the greatest number of people. And if I want the experience catered to me as like a middle-class, you know, like, you know, what guy with a professional job, that does not happen. Like I don't have the capacity to do that, because the librarians are here to say like, no, the experience is here for everyone. You don't get to go to the front of line in the bathroom or use a special bathroom. You have to wait like everybody else. And you know, it actually, like, I've come to think that it's kind of a miracle. So, where of the libraries stand on the continuum from public schools to public pools? They stand like way beyond public schools that is the most amazing place. Like imagine that the library did not exist as a concept. Like there is no library, and we have this conversation today, and we all get excited about this thing that we've come to call the library, and we say like, okay, tomorrow morning, we're all going to march to Mayor de Blasio's office, and we're going to say, okay, Mayor de Blasio, we have this amazing idea that we came up with last night. We want to have these things called libraries, and we're going to set up buildings. Some are going to be like really, really amazing, and some are just going to be kind of good, and we're going to put them in every single neighborhood in New York. And we're going to fill them up with comfortable furniture and a place to sit. And let's like throwing a bunch of computers, we'll put Wi-Fi access in there. Why not? And let's have lots of books and DVDs. Oh, and we'll have a group of people that we'll hire as public employees called librarians, and their job will be just open the door for people and say like how can I help you? What can I do for you? And we should make sure that everybody in the city can use it like regardless of their age or their social class or their race or ethnicity. You know what, actually, let's make sure that people who aren't citizens feel especially welcome here, because they're not getting enough love right now. And not only are they going to be welcome here, we'll have like English as a second language class for them, and we'll do citizenship classes for them. And also, there's all these people who are, you know, former felons, and they need to get integrated. So, let's do that. Oh, have we mentioned, by the way, Mayor, that we want all this to be free? Like we would all be like chained up and sent away somewhere, like, you know, because that's a crazy, crazy idea, and the fact is we, sitting here right now, have inherited this incredible institution because people who came before us cared enough to invest in our collective life, in our public life, and it's so easy to squander it, you know? And so, like why do we need to more than just tweet about libraries? Because if we take it for granted and don't fund them and then like, you know, they're not open on Sundays. I know you guys are open here, you know, from 1 to 5 on Sundays. If you're in the neighborhood, come by, but a lot of libraries in New York City are not open, and they close at 8 PM, which is earlier than they used to be closed, and like the of the structure is, you know, tired, worn in many places. And like if we let the library go the way of the subway, we all really suffer.

>> Yeah, yeah, there's so much there. I mean, thinking what you just said, and I think about it a lot, because I've been a library a long time. Like what is my job in so many ways, and my job, I always think, is people. So, if your job was clothes or cars or something, you'd sort of endeavor to know as much as you could about those things, because that your business. So, its people, and as you all know, people, I always say, is the best thing and the hardest thing about the job, because we all know, including myself, where a full range of people have good, bad, indifferent, bad days, good days, but I think a lot about that, and what I always think, it all spins out from, as a library manager, is it's a sharing place. Are you sharing? Are you sharing the books? Are you sharing the space? Are you sharing the library? And we have rules, but to me, they all come out of that, and because I am -- I work in the library, and the business, to use a terrible word, but is people, I have to think of my own self, my own bias, my own problem, my own blind spots, like my own problem with seeing people. Like am I pissed off at this person because they're being truly inconsiderate, or am I having another problem? I have to do that, and that's why it's hard sometimes, because you have to constantly put it back on yourself. Question like where am I not serving this person? Are they really not sharing? Do I need to step in? I could talk forever about this, but I'm not the guest. I'm sorry. But I want to be. Can I be the guest?

>> We will host you and interview you at NYU around the corner another time.

>> Libraries are my thing. I could talk for hours. [inaudible].

>> But on this point, it's hard for me to hear you put that pressure on yourself, because as an outsider coming in, what I observe, and I saw this like Andrew's in the first row, and I saw Andrew do this incredible stuff at Seward Park, and I --

>> Andrew's in the book, by the way, a lot.

>> Yeah. > We'll get to Andrew later.

>> Please.

>> But like, so, the issue I see for librarians is like we do have these incredible buildings, and we do have like an infrastructure, and it's not perfect, but it's pretty damn amazing, and the thing is like while there are problems with the libraries, there's like massive holes in other parts of the safety net, right? So, like if you're sleeping in a homeless shelter work tonight, tomorrow morning, when you wake up, it's going to be really cold here, and if you say, gosh like I'm new in town, or I don't really know this neighborhood very well. Where can I go where I can get warm? They will tell you to go to the library. And if you have a mental health issue, or if you're addicted to drugs, and you're at least seeking counseling, and people are concerned about you, and you say I don't have a place to go during the day. Where can I go? They will send you to the library. And if you're old and you're on your own, they'll send you to the library if you don't want to be in the senior center, and if you're like in a small -- if you're in a school and your school doesn't have a library, as many New York public schools do not have, you will come here or a pre-K program, you will come here. Like if you don't have enough money for Wi-Fi, you will come here. And so, basically, what happens is like everybody is rushing into the library, you know, to use this facility that's open and accessible and warm, and you guys are saying, "Oh, welcome, what can I do for you?" But we're asking so much of all of you. You know, we as citizens, are asking so much from librarians. Like I remember being in Seward Park in the summer and seeing like families where both parents are working, and there's like a three-year-old kid with an eight-year-old brother and a 12-year-old sister, and all of them come together, and the 3-year-old is there without a parent sometimes for hours and hours. And like no librarian, even a children's librarian, nobody wants to do childcare, and they don't have the time or the resources. It's not their job, but we're asking you to do that. And so, on behalf of the people of New York City, I want to say like we see what you're doing, and it's an incredible public service, and we're lucky to have you [inaudible].

[ Applause ]

>> Thank you.

>> Thank you. It's funny, because library schools are trying to grapple with that all the time. That like you see, I don't want to use the word crisis. That seems like blowing it out of proportion, but like, library schools really struggle with how to teach students how to deal with this kind of stuff that you're talking about, in addition to all the actual things that you need to learn about research and how you need to find information for people and how collections work and how cataloging works. You know, library schools are only two years, and there's a lot jammed into those things, and there's a lot of debate, I think, in the community about how, especially public librarians, because public librarians, academic librarians, special librarians all have completely different skill sets in certain ways. There's a lot of debate about how best to teach this kind of thing.

>> Where on the curriculum is like what to do when someone's having an opioid overdose, and like there's a fight about who's going to use the bathroom next?

>> Right.

>> Right.

>> You know? And meanwhile, there's like a kid who doesn't have a parent there.

>> It takes a lot of years to figure that out and to be there, it's still an ongoing thing. I mean, we have rules to protect us and stuff, but the real rules are only learned from actually dealing with people. And it's true. But like I took also, also, a lot of librarians take a long time to maybe accept that that is their job sometimes. I'm giving you the dark side of librarians.

>> We're keeping it real tonight.

>> Just the real, you know, like I'm so glad the perception is so wonderful, because that's the point, but it's hard, as you say, but to learn like I'm not stepping in when they're fighting about the bathroom, but you sort of do. You have to --

>> That's really true, too, because a lot of times their winds up being like a specialist, right? There's like one person in the library who's like, wait, this person is really good at dealing with unattended kids and is really good at figuring out something great for them to do that will keep them happy and busy and quiet. And then, it's like this person is really good at dealing with the Kindle that somebody bought for grandma last year, and she can't use it, and we have to show her how. And like, you start to sort of have these like specialist positions that are nothing that would ever show up on a resume.

>> But I'll say one thing that always strikes me as kind of amazing about what happens in libraries. Despite the fact that, as we know, there are tensions in difficult moments. Like in the year or so that I spent basically spending every day in some library or another, I honestly can count on one hand the number of times when like the situation was so bad that security really needed to be called in and there's a real problem that, you know, kind of overwhelmed the staff. And what I think the lesson for me there is, you know, these are really kind of impossible communities of people who are very, very different coming together into a pretty tight space, having to negotiate like just a few inches or feet from each other and share things, like, you know, computers are bathrooms that are hard to share, and there is something about both what it feels like to come into a library for all of us, regardless of who we are and what our social station, and the way the library treats us as an institution, and the way librarians treat us as individuals, which is like to recognize our humanity and our decency and to trust us, and to expect that we will be the best versions of ourselves when we're there. And you know, not everyone performs that way all the time, but if you think about that ethos, it's so different than like the ethos of the public school where you have to go in through like airport security, you know? Or like a shopping mall where there are private security people following you all over the place, especially if you're like a young person of color, right? Like there's just a -- there's a welcoming spirit in the library that I think exalts all of us. Not every moment, but it is pretty amazing what happens in a library on a daily basis, given all the pressure on this place.

>> Perfect segue, because we want you to talk about your time literally spent in libraries. Particularly, we know, Gwen and I, you spent some time at the Seward Park branch, which is down in Chinatown. Yeah, and someone's hear from Seward Park.

[ Laughter ]

One of our big, big, big pals is Andrew Fairweather. Andrew's like a star, let's just face it. Whatever, I'm getting too old. He's rising up and I'm being knocked over, but he's going to ascend to -- I'm not competitive, did I mention that?

[ Multiple Speakers ]

>> I'm picturing a mockumentary here. Like Christopher Guest is going to be all over this.

>> That's brilliant.

>> Can we do that?

>> Oh, I would watch that so fast. That would be great.

[ Multiple Speakers ]

>> There was like a 3-1/2-hour documentary about the New York Public Library.

>> Yes, Ex Libris, Frederick Wiseman's.

>> Right, which is one of those movies. It's like it's so amazing, but no one's ever seen it. But I think the Christopher Guest mockumentary of the library scene could be a hit.

>> Oh, that would be a major hit.

>> I bet you guys could pull it off.

>> Parker Posey's going to play me, obviously.

>> Well, library, what, party girl.

>> Great party girl, yeah.

>> So, let me say --

>> Which was actually filmed at Seward Park.

>> No, really?

>> The exteriors for Party Girls, starring Parker Posey, exterior, not the interior, was Seward Park, and we're back to Seward Park.

>> I did not know that.

>> Eric tell us about Andrew Fairweather in Seward Park and your time in the libraries please.

>> Well, you all need to understand like it's slightly awkward here, because basically like the star of my book is in the front row, just, you know, sitting there. Who knows what the judgment is, but it's got to be good, right, because librarians are nonjudgmental. That's my fantasy, right?

>> Can you just stand up and just turned to the crowd.

>> I think Andrew deserves a round of applause.

[ Applause ]

>> Librarian Andrew.

>> So, Seward Park is kind of like Jefferson Market. It's like, it's such a dreamy place. I mean, I understand -- I can see the rivalry here.

>> Look at Frank's face.

>> I think these guys are just going to -- I think we should have like a dance off before the night ends. And, you know --

>> Oh, I will win.

>> See who takes it. But it's like, it's kind of this magical place. It's like an old Carnegie building, and, you know, the book is called Palaces for the People, and I got that concept from Andrew here, because Andrew was telling me, you know, his view of how libraries should treat their patrons, and you know, it's on the Lower East Side. In Seward Park, which is the first municipal playground in American history, and it's an amazing neighborhood because it's, you know, famously and immigrant neighborhood. It's in a neighborhood that has a lot of poverty. It's also a neighborhood that is gentrifying. Like there are real issues around Seward Park about like who belongs there now, and you know, I was thinking about that long before the like the whole McDonald's/Starbucks thing happened. Like you're in the neighborhood, and you see the establishments going up, and like it's the kind of place where there's lots of vendors who don't accept cash, which tells you like who is welcome to shop there, right? You know, like, and so, the library just felt like a really, really important place to me, and I got to know people at the Charles Revson Foundation, which sponsors this kind of best library competition, and like, I wanted to know what are some libraries that you think I should go to, and that turned out to be not super productive, because they're like, oh, here's 50 libraries that are amazing in New York City, and there are actually more like a hundred. So, I picked Seward Park because just demographically, it felt like the right place for me, and also, like this library is so embarrassingly close to home that all my colleagues would think I was really, really lazy if I did my research and the one that I can walk like three blocks to. So, I got to the Seward Park and Andrew was like I think maybe the first person I met there, and I came to see that like actually Andrew is the first person lots of people meet in Seward Park. And I like -- actually, I have photographs from the first day that I was at the library. You don't know this, but like the first day I was there, before I actually did it officially, and you were opening the door for people. One of my favorite scenes in New York City -- I don't know. Have you guys ever done this? Like about 10 minutes or 15 minutes before libraries open, people start to congregate around them, and it's just amazing to see like who is there. And like there's -- I've seen footage of libraries like in Queens where there's like dozens or scores of people. In Seward Park, there's usually about like 15 or 20 people, and they start together, and you can tell that they're from all walks of life. And some people have been like sleeping on the benches, and some people are like heading off to work in a financial firm, and they're like returning a DVD. It's like this really interesting scene, and Andrew opened the door for everyone. And you know, I always, as a researcher, need to find like a person who is going to help like orient me to where I'm going. It's a trope among anthropologists and sociologists. Like you need a key access person, and Andrew just -- I think the first thing Andrew said to me is "How can I help you?" And that was perfect. And so, I learned that librarians in New York have much more discretion than I understood to do local programming, based on like the things that they pick up in the area. And so, Andrew was like setting up a research archive of neighborhood history and library history, and Andrew had like figured out that there were lots of programming needs, and the one kind of amazing thing. I'm going to stop here, because I'm going on and on and on about Andrew. Sorry to embarrass you, but when I interviewed Andrew, he told me, you know, this incredible story. His mother's British. Grew up in Los Angeles. We had worked at Starbucks and felt like Starbucks was little bit soulless, because it was just asking people for all this money, and not really doing much to give back, and the library, he discovered, he knew from going with his mother, was this place where you are given things for free, and you have these like really positive experiences. And Andrew realized like from his mother, who's British, that there's a certain nobility in the concept of the library also. Like the library is there to make people feel respected. And because his mother was British and into teatime, Andrew grew up --

>> Oh, that's the story.

>> -- feeling like, you know, there's nothing that' makes you feel kind of more ennobled than like having your morning cup of tea and maybe like reading the newspaper and just like being at peace. And there's this group of elderly men, and there are this group of elderly men in every library, right? And they come first thing in the morning, and they beeline upstairs for the newspapers, and in the case of Seward Park, it's Mandarin newspapers, and a lot of Chinese immigrants there. And Andrew came up with the idea of doing a morning teatime at the Seward Park Library. And it's just this kind of simple thing. It doesn't cost a lot of money to serve tea and biscuits, and like the meaning, I think, that that took on for the people who became regulars was extraordinary.

>> By the way, what Andrew said was so perceptive and important, because sometimes as librarians, we deal in single digits. It's like three people are gathered for something, and there such a good feeling, and you learn something, or someone goes away feeling inspired. That's important. That matters. In the book, Andrew says about his teatime. He says, "It might seem like I'm just making tea, but to me, is one of the most important things I do during the day." And that's all I'm giving you.

[ Laughter ]

I'm on the stage, Andrew.

[ Laughter ]

I mean, that's a beautiful thing, and it's really true what we do in the library. It's like those are very important, those little blocks that build that connection with people, and they come back. You know, it's just beautiful.

>> I'll say this thing about Andrew. Like I mean, Andrew is a very special person. You should all come and talk to him afterwards. But here's the thing. Like I would to a huge number of libraries, and there are Andrews in every library. There are other Andrews at Seward Park, and that is an amazing thing about this institution, that people rise to the occasion, and everyone does it in their own way, but it's a pretty special thing. And so, again, like the fact that we have public servants who do this kind of noble mission and work to make this public good not an abstract thing, but an actual daily practice, that is something for us not to take for granted at this moment, right? That is something for us to really think seriously about at this moment, because it's my fear that like professions like this, you know, the Andrews of the world are in jeopardy, and like when we make the kinds of political decisions that we been making at the national level, you know, we're making a decision to walk away from those kinds of things and walk towards the Amazons.

>> Great, perfect time for the guessing game, right?

>> Thanks, Klinenberg. Well, we want to hear about what you're reading, and we also want to do the guessing game.

>> Right, and Andrew, you're not allowed to participate in the guessing game. You've already been far too involved here. So, this is the part of our podcasts where -- ooo, I like the folder.

>> I had to have it wrapped like Oscar style.

>> Where our guest reads a passage, a we try to guess it with no identifying information. We're allowed to ask questions, and we're hoping that all of the audience will participate, as well, too. So, there's going to be somebody with the microphone. So, if you want to make a guess or you want to ask a question --

>> [inaudible] podcast, we try to get it right away, but when we can't, we ask just the most the ridiculously obvious questions. Like what was their last name? What was the author's last name?

>> And then, sometimes we still don't know it.

>> Okay, I'm going to give you a hint.

>> So, if you don't get it, all bets are off, you know, pretty much. Okay.

>> Are you going to give us a hint before you even start reading?

>> Well, you're not going to guess this one.

>> I went through -- oh, that's a challenge. That's a challenge.

>> He loves librarians so much.

[ Multiple Speakers ]

>> Let's put it differently. I'm going to be so impressed if you know this one, because I went for like some really obvious ones at first, and then I was like, no-no-no. These are guys are -- you guys are going to get the other ones, but maybe not this one. Okay, so, but it is going to be library themed.

>> All right.

>> Okay, "Those days, their walks most often brought them to the neighborhood library, a one-story brick building taking up most of a city block. The building features columns of windows on each side of the entrance, along with columns of glass bricks in the circular lobby, framing scenes that hold meetings for residents of this predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. Places like the public library are crucial to the day-to-day survival strategies of this community. They offer a warm place to sit, a clean and safe bathroom, and a way to get online and complete a job application. They provide free educational programs for kids. Perhaps most important, they can help struggling families feel they are part of society instead of cast aside by it."

>> All right, this is a nonfiction book, correct? We're asking you.

>> Is nonfiction. It is nonfiction. It is nonfiction.

>> All right, well, first up, does anybody have a guess right off the bat? Nobody wants to blow him away?

>> Okay, all right, is it -- it's set in New York. I mean, well, they're talking is nonfiction, yes?

>> Yes, nonfiction.

>> Is the book about libraries?

>> No, it is not.

>> It's about urban poor or --

>> Yes, it is.

>> Is it a book you used for your research?

>> No, it is not.

>> It's not a book called Random Family?

>> Oh, that the great guess. You're in the right genre, sir.

>> What's that book?

>> Random Family is a really good book about families in the Bronx in the 70s and 80s and beyond about the crack epidemic and the poverty that was there, and it's a really, really strong book.

>> Here's a hint, it's written by a friend of mine. So, I picked it up off the shelf and was shocked and surprised to even discover that there was a passage about libraries and it.

>> Really? Is this a female author?

>> One of the authors is a female.

>> Oh, there's two. Did the book get some notoriety?

>> It did.

>> Was that an, oh, like you know who it is?

>> No.

[ Laughter ]

>> I was thinking Nickle and Dimed.

>> You're so close. Oh, okay, so now like not only are you in the right genre, sir --

>> I know books.

>> -- but the language is exactly right.

>> What you mean the language?

>> Like Barbara Ehrenreich language?

>> The Nickle and Dimed language.

>> Is that kind of title?

>> That category of language.

>> You, first of all, impressed that I got so close?

>> I'm so impressed. My admiration for you and your tribe was not high enough when I walked in the door.

>> I'm thinking of another book like that --

>> Yeah, you are.

>> And it can't come to my mind.

>> I feel like Barbara Ehrenreich is like her own whole section of books.

>> No, there are other books about --

>> No, but the language. I'm just saying Nickle and Dimed.

>> Just the phrase, Nickle and Dimed?

>> The title for this will be reminiscent of Nickle and Dimed.

>> Because it's a sociology book like yours, it has a very long subtitle, right?

>> Ooo, good question.

>> What's the subtitle? Living on Almost Nothing in America. Think about what's almost nothing.

>> Oh, zero or less than zero. Or almost nothing. What is it?

>> Minimum wage?

>> Even lower.

>> Almost nothing.

>> Even lower. Oh, what?

>> Oh, you're so close. Keep going.

>> Dollar a day.

>> Oh, but you're basically. Just double it.

>> Two dollars a day?

>> [multiple speakers] Two dollars a day!

[ Applause ]

>> This is great book.

>> That's how you play the guessing game.

>> This is a very smart room.

>> Ask obvious questions.

>> A very smart room. This is a book, Two Dollars a Day, published, I think, by Houghton Mifflin.

>> It's a library book.

>> It's a library book, which was a rule, by Katherine Edin and Luke Schaffer. Katherine Edin is a professor at Princeton and a dear friend, and a tireless field worker who tries to understand the dynamics of poverty, and this was a really shocking book when it came out, and it came out during the Obama age. Remember Obama? We used to have this -- back in the age of reason.

>> That guy.

>> We lived in the age of reason, and it was a shocking book, because it documents this population of Americans who are surviving on two dollars a day. And the book is about their survival strategies, and I just picked it up because I thought, oh, that's my friend's book. And I started leafing through it like minutes before we came down here, because I had selected the biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg originally, because I think about her life. Like after friends and family, it's the life I care about the most. And then, I came across this, and I found this passage about the library, and I thought I have to read it.

>> Oh, that's so -- is it like the kind of experiential journalism that Barbara Ehrenreich does, or do they try to live on two dollars a day and then write about it?

>> They do not, but they're really great ethnographers, and they take you deep in the lives of people who do so. It's like, you know, the book Evicted by Matt Desmond? So, it's like their colleagues -- you know, it's all part of that genre.

[ Multiple Speakers ]

>> The aggregate of public gathered together, got the answer.

>> We've got a smart room. Thank you, guys.

>> Good infrastructure in this room. Now we want to hear some book you're reading just for pleasure or for work, but something you want to recommend to us and to people listening.

>> I just read The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. I love that book. Did you read it?

>> I've never read anything by Rachel Kushner.

>> Okay, I started The Flamethrowers a couple years ago, and I was like, has anyone read her fiction? I was totally captivated by the language. She just -- her sentences are on fire, but it just didn't totally work for me. I just didn't get it. I just -- I don't know. Like 80 pages then and I stopped, but The Mars Room. So, I used to live in California. I went to graduate school in California, and I'm like some New Yorkers. Like I have this kind of yin-yang thing, and like there are days when I'm in New York, and I have these California fantasies. And this book is set in California, but it's dystopic California. It's almost entirely set inside of a women's prison, but it's like so rich and interesting, like the complex social life that, you know, that you read about here. Is told from the perspective of this character who floats in and out of her experience in the prison and her experience at home. So, it's a little bit like Orange is the New Black. It's got that structure, but it's an amazing story about the world that I think a lot of us turn away from. And, you know, it is notable that we still live in a society where mass incarceration is like a real force, in fact, that we've -- it's this thing that we've created, and it means that there's like -- there are worlds that are just hidden from us, you know, by design, and then, worlds of people that are affected by that, you know, that maybe some of us in the room participate in but aren't part of the regular, you know, conversation. And I was just floored by this book. I thought it was great. I really liked it. What are you reading now? You wanted to be interviewed.

>> I don't seem to have that in my notes.

>> That's funny, we've done like 120 episodes of our podcast, and that's the first time anyone's ever asked us. Nobody ever asked that.

>> I know, wait, first do you have a non-book recommendation?

>> I'm like the Macaulay Culkin character in Home Alone. I'm a kid. That's my job. I'm a sociologist. That's what I do. That's where it's probably annoying to be around me. It's not that I'm joyless. It's just that I ask so many damn questions.

>> That question was not intended to suggest that you were joyless. It was supposed to be like an introduction to like the ethnography of a library and like what --

>> I thought it was good. I thought it was a good question. It threw me a little bit.

>> It did. I'm sorry. I apologize for that.

>> Yeah, because kind of a deep question.

>> Sorry. We get deep here. This is a library.

>> Right away, boom. Right into it.

>> This is a library. We are serious here. Get right into it.

>> Another recommendation?

>> Another, or --

>> I have a recommendation. I want to make two recommendations.

>> You're really not going to say which are reading?

>> I want to hear him first. I can share, please.

>> Okay, I've got to recommendations, local recommendations, because they said like I can do a podcast. I can do food. Has anyone ever done food?

>> Anything.

>> Yeah.

>> Okay, does anyone live around here? Okay, I need to give a quick shout out to the people who make my mornings a little bit better. Right across the street on 6th Avenue at 12th Street is the O Cafe.

>> Oh, yeah.

>> You know the O Cafe? Has anyone ever been to O Cafe? It's a Brazilian Cafe. They make amazing coffee that is like, you know, life-sustaining, but also, in honor of my daughter, who turned 10 yesterday, I need to tell you about these things they have called [inaudible]. Do you guys know about [inaudible]. Have you had a [inaudible]? They're like this little -- they look like little kind of boring rolls, but they've got like this crispy outside, and then there's like this kind of soft, almost like gelatinous, chewy, completely delicious inside. They're like nothing else that you get to eat if you're not in Brazil.

>> What is it called?

>> It's called a [inaudible]. They're like two bucks. You know, they're not super expensive. They're very filling. They have like a little cheese. They're just like the most yummy, delicious thing, especially if you get them when they're warm, and they're right across the street. So, don't do it before 8 o'clock, because that's when I need to get the hot ones. So, I'd really appreciate if you would stay away from there, but after like, I don't know, 8, 8:15, you guys just go there is much as you want. It's a really --

>> It sounds great.

>> I'm just shouting out my neighborhood coffee shop there.

>> That's really good.

>> Have you not been there?

>> No, I haven't been there.

>> Oh, it's a special place.

>> And I spent a lot of time walking back and forth from my library to this library, too. So...

>> Well, it's funny like a very New York thing. Like I live downtown little bit more, and then I walked uptown to come to work, which is really nice, and I was thinking, I walk up to 12th Street. It's two blocks away.

>> Yeah, totally.

>> Is there anyone down like on 8th. So, I don't have to go and then backtrack? Eh, I don't know.

>> You're going to do like a seamless delivery here.

[ Multiple Speakers ]

>> Yeah, right.

>> It's only two dollars. You should go. Just take a break. Oh, my God, it's delicious. Here's the other thing I want to recommend.

>> Please.

>> I was listening to -- I also listen to a lot of podcasts. You guys listen to a lot of podcasts?

>> What's a podcast?

>> Talking to a bunch of groupies of your podcast. I've been listening to Chris Hayes's podcast.

>> Oh, which you were on, I believe.

>> Which I was on, and it's sort of like, you know, Chris Hayes is like a TV personality, but he's like a geeky graduate student, you know, like waiting to go back in the seminar room, and on this podcast, which comes out once a week, he just goes like really, really deep into all sorts of like big questions. The one this week I was just listening to walking over here is with the journalist, David Roberts, and they're talking about like climate change, but they're really talking about epistemology and like why do we know what we know, and why do we -- what do we think is reliable knowledge? And they're talking about social side of it, like actually all knowledge is not based on like the -- our like firsthand attempt to evince something. It's based on like who tells us things and who do we trust and who don't we trust? And the fact that like we accept things for people we trust and don't accept things from people we don't trust says so much about the larger situation. I've just come to think about this whole thing that been going on in the country as the situation. I find that so much easier than like detailing all the things that just happened on Twitter today. So, I just call it the situation. But it's really -- like every week it's just a really deep, good conversation. So, he doesn't need that much more love and fame, but it's just like this is a special thing.

>> All right, so I think we want to thank Eric for coming. Thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you.

[ Applause ]

>> That is a huge clap. That was a great episode. It was just so heartwarming.

>> It was so much fun to do that. It was so great to talk to Eric, and it was so great to do it in front of a live audience. It really was kind of unbelievable.

>> So, that's just some of the magic of The Librarian Is In, and if you're not subscribed yet, again, you can do that at iTunes or wherever you get podcasts, I recommend that you do it right now. And as for Eric Klinenberg, his book, Palaces for the People, is available at your local New York Public Library branch, or you can get it on our app SimplyE. Library Talks is produced by Schuyler Swenson, with editorial support from Richert Schnorr and myself. And our theme music was composed by Allison Layton-Brown.

[ Music ]

 

How to listen to The Librarian Is In

Subscribing to The Librarian Is In on your mobile device is the easiest way to make sure you never miss an episode. Episodes will automatically download to your device, and be ready for listening every other Thursday morning

On your iPhone or iPad:
Open the purple “Podcasts” app that’s preloaded on your phone. If you’re reading this on your device, tap this link to go straight to the show and click “Subscribe.” You can also tap the magnifying glass in the app and search for “The New York Public Library Podcast.”

On your Android phone or tablet:
Open the orange “Play Music” app that’s preloaded on your device. If you’re reading this on your device, click this link to go straight to the show and click “Subscribe.” You can also tap the magnifying glass icon and search for “The New York Public Library Podcast.” 

Or if you have another preferred podcast player, you can find “The New York Public Library Podcast” there. (Here’s the RSS feed.)

From a desktop or laptop:
Click the “play” button above to start the show. Make sure to keep that window open on your browser if you’re doing other things, or else the audio will stop. You can always find the latest episode at nypl.org/podcast.