Tuesday, March 15, 2011
MILTON BERLE, TELEVISION AND THE LIBRARY
NYPL librarians closely followed the introduction of television sets in their neighborhoods. Marjorie Church Burbank, Branch Librarian at the High Bridge Branch in the Bronx, noted in her five-year report, 1946-1951, that “Television did not make itself felt at High Bridge until 1950.” When it did arrive, however, the neighborhood impact was dramatic. She reported that the popularity of the Texaco Star Theater, hosted by Milton Berle, caused the stores in the High Bridge area to change their late shopping night from Tuesday to Wednesday evening and the local PTAs stopped meeting on Tuesday nights entirely.
Burbank lamented that the branch’s circulation numbers had been rising steadily but began to drop once the “TV aerials began to sprout from every rooftop.” Having seen libraries survive radio and the movies, however, Marjorie Burbank ended by expressing confidence that the place of books “cannot readily be usurped” by television.
While the NYPL librarians were fearful of television’s impact on reading, in 1945 the Library had begun experimenting with the use of television broadcasting in its adult education courses. I intend to write more on this subject in the future.