I walked up the subway stairs at the 42nd and 5th Avenue subway stop, looked around and headed for the New York City Public Library, 42nd Street branch. I had visited and worked at many libraries and would continue to visit and work at a variety of libraries throughout my professional career. However, this visit to the 42nd Street Library was a first, an assignment for my beginning graduate library science class. I walked up the library stairs to the entrance in awe, past the two library lions, Patience and Fortitude. I reached the entrance and in I walked.
John Grimes, the main character in James Baldwin’s first and semi-autobiographical novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953), walked downtown from Harlem to 42nd Street, a street he loved “not for the people or the shops but for the stone lions that guarded the great building of the Public Library, a building filled with books and unimaginably vast, and which he had never yet dared to enter.” The building was so big and he would be lost and never “find the book he wanted” …. He would read all the books using his library card at the Harlem branch and gain the poise he needed to enter the 42nd Street branch and any building, on another day.
I very quickly embraced James Baldwin’s feelings via John Grimes’ experience about the value and purpose of the public library: inviting and welcoming, open to all, and supportive without judgment.