Reprinted from yesterday's late edition
The big deal at some libraries (as the Librarian of Congress was saying Tuesday night) is to protect the books from the public, but that is not the job of the Library of Congress.
No, said Dr. Daniel Boorstin, the nation's library is open to all adults. They don't have to be vouched for, he went on, and they don't even have to be literate. Some people, he said, with a barely disguised wistfulness for more austere standards, practically live at the library and have made it "a way of life." You gathered they liked the architectural space and good central heating and air conditioning rather than the books.
Nevertheless (he went manfully on) there really is something wonderful in having knowledge open to anybody.
"You do not know any less because you give me what you know," he said, and the book, he added, warming to a sort of trumpet-blast of honor for the printed page, "has been the main vehicle" of knowledge for the last five centuries.
his remarks were delivered in the great marble lobby of the building where 110 diners had gathered to mark the library's newest step in making its resources available to everybody.
Candies blazed and the carved marble cherubs weighed down with their marble garlands shone like wax in the magnificent setting, and the mosaics, which turned out to be colored once they were cleaned a couple of years ago, glowed with the richness of a Byzantine church. There was, after all, someithing monumental and solemn and gorgeous about a feast in honor of books.
The library is installing a new computer system that will make its vast catalog vastly available across the country, and has hired many guides to help people who do not quite know how to go about using the library.
At the tables, conversation was brisk, even for a capital where talk is often good. Robert Giroux, partner in the publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, said he likes to read Seutonius. A lot of the stuff published now is quite boring. Jonson, Henry King, Shakespeare, Walker Percy, Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson figured more often, perhaps, in the table talk than commonly they do in the town.
Don Curran, assistant librarian, recalled the great Christmas when workemn cleaning the interior dome of the reading room, topped off with a lighted tree. What a scandal. Such a thing is not promised. Nevertheless, there it was.
Boorstin assured anybody who cared that public money was not paying for the dinner. A publisher was.
Back of his microphone was the great mainz Bible of the 15th century, and some wonderful books printed by Caxton and letters of Freud and items dealing with Walt Whitman. The library exhibits are nothing if not catholic. Also cartoons from Judge and The New Yorkers.
Somebody spoke of Cervantes and Dante, and there was a very rich feeling. Glory is on pages and when Boorstin proposed a toast to Books, people thought of the great ones, not the boring ones, and the printers slugging it out with the type and the editors wrangling and the writers hollering.
You could see the big Mainz Bible. Glorious to see and a work fit to awe common writers and readers. And there for anybody to see. People wondered about a cruddy computer getting near the glories of words, yet everybody knew it was a good thing.
There is nobody in all the nation, as Boorstin kept implying, unfit for the greatest things there are, and this - more even than the beautiful music and food - made the night memorable.