Paul Holdengraber proved to be witty, engaging, and feisty when he interviewed Vint Cerf at the opening keynote. On Day 2 he was the interviewee and was even more insightful and delightful. I talked to Erik Boekesteijn before the start and he was a man on a mission to elicit Paul’s story about libraries and engaging people—how public conversations can make libraries “irresistible.”
(While Jane has already posted the archived video of the 45-minute conversation, I just want to convey some highlights and key quotes here. Permanent link: www.ustream.tv/channel/ILlive)
Paul, as director of public programs at the New York Public Library, is founder, curator, and voice of “LIVE from the NYPL.” He pours his energies into creating stimulating programs to bring books, ideas, and people together. His role is to make the Library’s lions roar—to “oxygenate” the library. People ask him how he comes up with his ideas for conversations in the library.
“I’m porous—I spend a lot of time listening to people. I spent a lot of time at the dinner table arguing with my father. I bring people together—and have the library become a place for exchange of ideas.”
What an eclectic and knowledgeable guy! He told Erik, “I believe in the friction of dialog. If you ask me any difficult questions, I will relish them.”
He basically hitchhiked around the world and spent an enormous amount of time in his childhood exploring with words. He’s not a librarian. He taught at many universities, worked at the Getty Museum, and began a program at the Institute for Art and Cultures at the Los Angeles County Museum. He was then recruited by NYPL.
First he changed the name – from Public Education Programs, PET, to Live from the NYPL. He actively worked to gain a younger audience. He changed the program times so people could come after work. He changed the format. He works to make the programs surprising, entertaining, exciting—it’s a happening. While he says it’s a struggle to pull it off every day, it must look effortless and easy. “You have to be passionate about what you do. Get to know your audience.”
He brings very large groups together – and makes the extremely private experience of reading public. He calls it “cognitive theater.” He brought Norman Mailer together with Gunter Grass. The program also has an artist in residence – Flash Rosenberg – she does absolutely wonderful, witty “conversation portraits.” Check it out at www.nypl.org/LIVE.
The push to provide gaming and popular activities, as espoused by Erik and others, strikes him as somewhat desperate – why should the library give young people the same as what’s on the street just to get them into the library? Give them something new and exciting.
Paula J. Hane
ITI News Bureau Chief