Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NYPL Paul Holdengraber

Today's keynote is an interview with Paul Holdengraber—he was brought in to ‘oxygenate’ the New York Public Library—"to make the lions roar in the front to make this heavy institution levitate. To make the building less formidable to make it sexy."

Paul Holdengraber:
Funny guy! He grew up in Belgium, born in Texas, went to Princeton, he taught at Princeton and other colleges, He was a fellow at Getty. Brooke Sheilds was one of his pupils.

Quotes: "52 million items in the library; at first you feel small, then it should empower you to want to learn, to grow, to discover, to get a tingle in the spine" He is interested in transforming things, in what happens in this public place where we go to do an activity that is extremely private. That relationship between public and private fascinates him. He had to make the library irresistible.

"If I knew where inspiration came from I would go there more often."

He institued “Live from the NYPL” --he’s had Bill Clinton, Martin Scorcese, Mario Balti, and many more. He invites people from all walks of life – his favorite moment Myra Kalman – illustrator –Illustrated the elements of style http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/2007/10/26/the-elements-of-style/
“I never ask for permission, only for forgiveness.”

“When a great man dies, a library disappears with him.”

He changed the demographics of the audience that comes to a younger audience.

Talking about twitter and blogs: "Info has a life in haiku form on twitter. However we can’t ‘tickle ourselves’ still need to be together."

"Maybe a librarian needs to be a lifebrarian. We need humor in the library. People are bleak cause of the economic situation. We need humor. Create havoc in the library. The books on the shelf are there-what should we do about it—what is our role—take those books off the shelf and make people desire them deeply. Libraries are places of desire. We deeply believe in communicating and transmitting this experience that we probably had as children with a book…how can we imagine a world without books, would I rather have my library or kindles lying around everywhere."

"Digression is the sunshine of narrative."

What is the future of libraries? Fascinated by how libraries might be able to make us focus> in an age of utter distraction, we can go to a library where you learn things, a repository where you can learn things, a place to focus. Use these technology tools to focus on new discoveries. And a great place for opportunities, especially in these times. The reading room in the NYPL is packed…it’s a haven. Our job is a job of hospitality, make people feel at home, public programs is a beautiful way of welcoming others into the home you work in. We have Facebook but let’s get into the face to face encounters. Explode that home, a library without walls, a library that is everywhere, the gift of ubiquity.

Since we are near Washington DC, he wants to end with this anecdote. Here’s how Barack Obama found his community organizer job in Chicago: In 2005, Obama told American Library Magazine that people always mention libraries in terms of sources of reading and research, but he probably wouldn’t be in Chicago if it weren’t for the NYPL, because he was looking for a job as a community organizer in NY…the librarian helped him find these lists of organizations, one of them wound up being an organization in Chicago that he got a job with…..the rest is history….

If Paul doesn't make you feel good about being a librarian, I don't know what will!


  1. Karen,

    As a child I would travel to the NYPL with my parents and indeed felt quite small but inspired.

    As a teen I would travel by train from my home in Queens and roam the halls and look at collections and then wait 20 minutes while a librarian would disappear to find me a book somewhere in a dark quiet study. Again, feeling small but not quite so overwhelmed.

    Years later as a young adult working in the mid-town area I would visit the library every day at lunch and visit the collections, or sit in the phone booths and listen to the stillness. Still awe-inspired, but feeling like there was nothing in the world quite impossible if one had resources such as these.

    As an older adult I realize now how those experiences have had tremendous impact in the way I view my environment and how the power of feeling you have the world at your fingertips can make you feel like there is nothing that you cannot do...given the right resources.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Your friend.

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  3. Paul Holdengraber!!! Peot of librarianship!

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