The Physical Book Archive of Manhattan (PBAM)


Posted on March 27, 2014 by Ruth O’Brien

As Julie Bosman asks, what is Bill (de Blasio) going to do about our missing bookstores with all the Manhattan closings? His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, already got rid of so many books through NYPL closings and consolidations.  But that was no surprise, given that he was (and still is) an online-information mogul, after all.  So now what?

How about a looky-loo library for writers and tourists?  Not a bookstore.  Not a lending library.  No check-outs of any kind.  Just a looky-loo store or an archive with documents one could handle.  So we (tourist readers/Manhattan readers/writers) could visit, almost like a museum, but without putting those pesky books on a pedestal.

A physical location in which we could read that first sentence that turned a potential manuscript into a book.  A looky-loo store for our children, including the all those impressionable teens and young folks who don’t know what a physical book* looks like.

Historian and biographer Robert Caro’s got it right.  He’s working “in a field that’s disappearing right under [his] feet” as we’re getting close to double-digit numbers of bookstores, with just 106 left thankfully standing (and affording) their ground in Manhattan.

* The first time I heard the phrase “physical book,” it was hard not to think “how awkward.”  What an odd turn of phrase being advanced by a university-press director from one of the oldest presses.

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see

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