The Underground as a Public Library
There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration. ~Andrew Carnegie
Libraries are memory banks, institutions that collect and archive the documents of human thought, action, and experience. In New York City, much human thought and experience takes shape underground, along the subway lines.
Subways offer a sense of privacy for readers. Reading material acts as a kind of enclosure, asserting a place of stillness within which the reader is transported. The public-private paradox of subway ridership and readership is embedded within the busiest, most noisy and crowded part of the city.
UPL collects reading material according to the subway line where it is read, without any other curatorial, hierarchical, or editorial system. Readers visit the website and catalog their reading material according to their ridership patterns.
The mission of UPL is to study and and strengthen the community of readers who share the public space of the underground. NYC's readers are lifelong learners who exemplify the power of thought and consciousness to establish personal stillspots.
The underground is by its nature dispersed, organized only by geography. UPL's intention is to provide a forum that promotes curation and organizing according to geography, and also values and supports the creative use of public urban spaces.
UPL's collections are curated and organized entirely by the public. There are two main collections: the lists of actual readership and ridership, organized by line (in the left-hand sidebar); and the Editions.
The first step towards the establishment of UPL was studying and isolating the qualities of libraries that make them stillspots. Based on that work, the Founders conducted a semi-scientific survey of NYC readers via social media, reaching an extended social network. A survey of 115 NYC readers revealed that:
83% like to read on the train.
Of these readers, 86% said they like to read it makes the time go faster.
33% said they read because they can't get online or use their phones.
44% said it gives their minds a rest from the bustle of the city.
78% of readers said that they prefer to read paper on the train (newspapers, books, etc.)
22% said that they like reading either paper or e-readers (Kindle, iPad, etc.)
0% said they prefer to read e-readers.
71% of all NYC readers said that they read the same things in public and private.
29% read different things in public and private.
On a scale of "very aware" to "completely checked out," most readers (63%) report that they are "somewhat aware" of what is going on around them.
Based on these evocative but incomplete results, the Co-Founders decided to expand their investigatory work online by creating the Underground Public Library.
Founder and CEO