(K. Brent Tomer),
ONE of the reading rooms of the public library in Newark, New Jersey, where the teenage Philip Roth fired his imagination, is an events room now, empty of books. Another is a dusty storeroom for the library’s collection of art-history volumes. Hardly anyone reads them.
Erected by public demand in the 1890s as one of the first civic buildings in what was then a swelling industrial town near the mouth of the Hudson river, the library is now as much an information service for the poor as a books repository. Half the 10,000 people who pass through the main library and its seven branches each week are looking for help getting access to social services, or to type out a job application, or to learn English. This is important work, but not what its ambitious architects—who modelled the library on a 15th-century Florentine palazzo—had in mind. Paying for the library is a constant worry; its main benefactor, the city, is one of America’s poorest. During the recession in 2008, the library had its annual funding of $11m slashed by a third.
To this pathetic tale of urban decline, Mr Roth has added an…Continue reading