Reading Rooms in Jeopardy

An old friend who writes in a rather urgent, heated style, emailed me last week with news and a request for action. I skimmed the email, saw that she and her family seemed to be in good health, and, moved on.

My hesitation comes partly out of the exigencies of my own life but also the dilemma her email posed: the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress is slated to close to make way for an Abraham Lincoln Exhibit. Would I speak out about this outrage?

Well, I wasn’t sure it was an outrage.

Besides, it’s not just any exhibit. It’s a Lincoln exhibit.

Nonetheless, I was haunted by her plea.

Looking into it further, it does seem that my friend and her friends’ suspicions are justified: the Library of Congress seems indeed to be planning to close a beloved Reading Room temporarily, likely as a ruse to transform it into exhibition space in the longer term. I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist, yet fear that the Lincoln exhibition is a convenient ruse for few Americans will speak out against a large celebration of this great American, a secular saint.

Nonetheless, these public spaces where scholars can work, research, and, occasionally talk with each other about discoveries and challenges are essential to intellectual progress.

Young scholars, urban scholars, isolated scholars all benefit from such spaces. We do not all have adequate rooms of our own: my apartment has no separate study; my office has no window; the grand reading room of the New York Public Library is my great intellectual refuge and inspiration.

It would be a terrible shame if the Library of Congress closed this room, beloved of scholars of Europe and European scholars. And it would be a sad footnote to this parochial administration if we closed one welcoming spot for those working on international issues under the guise of honoring Lincoln.

You can learn more about the reading room here and you can learn how to register your pleas to save it here.

N.B. I've opened up a "diary" over at the DailyKos because I was tiring myself out with all my political talk here. This, both literary and political, is cross posted but if you want more Obama-talk, you can look for the Fernham diary over at the DailyKos.