Will the new Firestone, with its massive ranks of dead-tree media, attract student readers who have always read on screens? Will the new NYPL keep up its world-class collections of books in dozens of languages — Slavic, Semitic, and African — and the staff of specialists needed to keep finding and cataloguing them — books, most of them, that won’t be available in digital form in the foreseeable future? Will the new Firestone work as social space? Will the new NYPL still support scholars — especially the independent scholars who need it most — and give students a chance to know and love real books as well as their digital shadows? Can public library budgets support the constant upgrading needed to keep a digital workspace usable?
The world’s full of confident experts who have answers to these questions. I’ve got nothing. My heart’s with what we’re doing in Firestone. My stomach hurts when I think about NYPL, the first great library I ever worked in, turned into a vast internet cafe where people can read the same Google Books, body parts and all, that they could access at home or Starbucks. And my head tells me that I can’t predict a thing because we’re living through a great revolution, and we don’t yet know what lies on the other side.