Have you ever been to the New York City Public Library?
It’s been in the national news this week after its spokesperson announced they’ll be making pornography available to any and all of its patrons. This comes as a shock on many levels, especially since adults and children share the same space inside its walls.
This national landmark sits at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Even if your travels haven’t brought you there, you’ve probably seen it on television or in the movies. Blockbuster hits like Spiderman and Ghostbusters featured the distinctive building, including the two giant stone lions that rest on either side of its main entrance.
For the last one hundred years, through every storm and every season, they’ve been sitting there, two lions at rest, silently guarding and welcoming the world to its doors.
Their names are Patience and Fortitude.
Tourists often wonder how those statues got their nicknames. The answer to that question, I think, brings us back to the current controversy regarding public funding of pornography.
The lions were originally named Leo Aster and Leo Lenox after the library’s founders, Jon Jacob Astor and James Lenox. But it was the city’s mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, who renamed the lions, believing New Yorkers needed two main things, patience and fortitude, if they were to survive the Great Depression.
Metaphorically speaking, these lions embodied what the human psyche so desperately craved (and still does) – strength, sturdiness, stability and a willingness to look up even when everything in the world seems to have been turned upside down.
Public libraries have always represented the nation’s highest ideals. Any citizen with a card and curiosity can, by walking inside, step into another world, thousands of miles or even centuries away. The best and brightest societies have always read early and often. They read about the sacred and the secular. They read about heroes and heartache, about wars and peace. They read to make sense of the seemingly senseless. They read about the past, present and future. They read about virtue and honor. They read about these things because they know they’re lacking them; they instinctively know their hearts have a hole – and by reading, they hope to fill it and be inspired to become something more.
But the decision this week by library officials to allow unfettered access to pornography is tantamount to social malpractice. It distorts the very ideals of the public library system – which is to build and train up its people to do good and mighty things.
Libraries were created to host students in search of answers, preachers, teachers, authors, playwrights, lawyers and researchers of every stripe in search of a story, a fact or mere inspiration. And dreamers. Lots of dreamers. Children investigating careers, explorers and adventurers plotting and planning trips around the world, even brides in search of the perfect dress. And the always steady stream of women and men trying to solve a problem, fix what’s broken, heal a hurt and make the world better and brighter than they found it.
Public libraries were not designed or intended to distribute or provide pornography to any curious citizen with a card.
It was Emerson who once wrote that “patience and fortitude conquer all things” – and indeed, for the most part, they do. In the context of the New York Public Library, these lions are characterized as peaceful because they’ve long represented good things. They have no prey; they practice patience because for one hundred years, those who have walked past them are curious and come in peace. But now another ravenous lion is on the loose behind them, up the stairs and inside the New York City Library, prowling and lurking to try and devour its victims – at taxpayer’s expense!
That lion is the scourge of pornography in any and all forms. And it is the antithesis of everything that the God who made us all represents.
Can sanity and common sense not prevail to rid our public space of such harmful material? Ask the little boy or little girl who will be harmed by predators who are lurking, seeking their prey in this place.