“This is our moment!” said Tony Marx, the President and CEO of the New York Public Library (NYPL), as he was winding his comments about the present and future of libraries up to a crescendo: “Libraries are the central institution of civil society with the largest reach for everyone.” He continued with his carpe diem challenge that now is the time to work in a bigger way than ever before to scale up his library’s reach and to both preserve its long-held traditions and transform its offerings to suit the 21st century.
Marx, formerly the President of Amherst College, was on stage in conversation about libraries with Arianna Huffington at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
The NYPL, like many other libraries around the country, has already begun to seize the day in an effort to answer the needs and wants of its community.
Marx listed a number of the efforts underway in the NYPL system: free classes for English as a foreign language and citizenship preparation, after-school (10,000 strong) and pre-school programs, basic computer skills and even coding instruction, and a program to lend 10,000 wifi hotspot modems to New Yorkers needing internet access. He described a dream to build a two-block long educational space to showcase some of the library’s unique treasures (long stored in protected vaults) so school kids can come to see an original copy of the Bill of Rights, a copy of the Declaration of Independence with Jefferson’s own handwritten edits, and a letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand declaring, as Marx paraphrased, “I think I found something.”