LFF Review: Ex-Libris – The New York Public Library

Libraries have played pivotal roles within societies dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks, ancient Egyptians and even the Sumerians. In more modern times, they’ve been a vital public resource, allowing everyone the access to knowledge, information and betterment. However, with pressures growing on public funding and austerity kicking-in around the world, they’ve become in many ways an endangered species. The key to survival has been the ability to adapt and modernise in order to keep up with the new challenges modern technology have brought. The New York Public Library is a shining beacon of what can be achieved with passionate staff and creative thinking.

In Ex-Libris – The New York Public Library, the new documentary from the legendary director Frederick Wiseman, is an in-depth look at the day-to-day functions and services it provides to the citizens of the Big Apple. There are 92 branches throughout the city, each catering for a different and diverse demographic. Whilst their primary function may be the collection of literature and information, they administer a plethora of services and resources to the general public. Whether that’s getting them on the internet, providing audiobooks, arranging classes or hosting talks.

Ex-Libris – The New York Public Library is a fascinating and varied insight into what happens behind the scenes in one of the most prodigious public organisations. Whist it’s over three-hours long, it never once feels spun-out or become stale. I could have easily watched ten-hours of Wiseman’s footage, shot without narrative and superbly edited to keep up a pace that would make a thriller proud. They’re not simply building but organisms to educate, nurture and protect. The staff are their worker bees, pulling together for the greater good. The enthusiasm, dedication and passion of those involved within the institution is heart-warming and restores faith in these dark times. Whatever happens in American politics, there will always be people willing to dedicate their time and effort working to help others; especially the less fortunate. Ex-Libris – The New York Public Library is Frederick Wiseman’s love letter to the fourth largest public library in the world and an establishment which is clearly close to his heart.

Ex-Libris – The New York Public Library screens at London Film Festival on 11 & 14 October.

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