It seems my back yard is not the only place I did not visit often enough. Today, after picking up the bib and T-shirt for tomorrow's 4-mile Central Park Conservancy Run at the NYRR office on 89th Street, I went looking for a book for my son's summer reading. He will go to Bay Academy in September and they already sent him a reading assignment for the summer. I figured I know my NYPL pretty well and would just visit some library in the area. I could have gone to the Yorkville Branch, at 79th St. and Third Avenue, since it was the closest library to the NYRR office. However, for exercising purpose, I walked along Fifth Avenue from the Apple Store to the NYRR office and would rather walk back the same way and do my library search from there. Donnell Library Center on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues would then be the best choice. Much to my surprise, the library was closed for good! I just met some visiting distant relatives at MOMA a few weeks ago but I did not notice the library at all. Further research later in the evening revealed that the Donnell Library Center was actually closed in August 2008. That means for almost three years I never went by that place. Either that or I forgot being there in the past three years!
Years ago when I still read Vietnamese literature, Donnell was the place to be. As far as I know, Donnell had the best collection of Vietnamese books in the NYPL system. It was from the Donnell collection that I read "Ngọn Cỏ Gió Đùa", which my late father often mentioned as the only novel he ever read. He was the oldest child in a big family and had much to help the family. He was very interested in futbol and did not care much about literature, but he did read that one book, by Hồ Biểu Chánh. Much to my surprise, the book was really just a re-packaged version of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables". Different setting of old-time Viet Nam during some war, but same story.
Also thanks to Donnell that I got to read the classic Chinese lit "Water Margin", translated into Vietnamese as "Thủy Hử", of course. My Chinese is too poor to be pitched against the Chinese version and English version somehow just would not cut it for me. I might have read a few other Viet books but "NCGĐ" and "TH" are the two I recall in recent memories. While we are on the topic of Viet lit, one disappointment I have about it is that there seems to be no impartial books out there. Maybe I have not read enough, but the few I came across are either for or against the topic at hand, especially when it comes to modern Viet history. They are more like propaganda materials, for or against the Communist regime, or other topics. It was like reading The New York Post, where every Jew is a hero and everyone else in the Middle East are referred to by some negative adjectives.
My memory is failing me now but I think I used to go to Donnell's media center to watch videotapes or listened to music at the many cubicles set aside for such consumption. Those were the days before the advent of YouTube and the Internet. Certain pieces of music or movies would be available only at some media center, some physical place you have to be at to enjoy the work. It is entirely possible that I am confusing Donnell's Media Center with NYU Bobst Library's. I used to take advantage of the shared resources between The Cooper Union and NYU.
My #1 blog fan used to work near Donnell, I wonder if she has any special memories about it...