To the Editor,
I read with dismay of the decision by the Harrison Public Library Foundation and Harrison Public Library, in connection with the downtown Harrison library’s planned renovation, to name an area set aside for teenagers the Marmot Teen Center in response to the Jarden Corporation’s pledge of up to $100,000 of matching funding. Marmot is a brand name owned by Jarden for a line of clothing, outerwear and equipment. This decision, which was approved by the Harrison Town Board, is an unwarranted, and unwanted, intrusion of commercialization into one of this country’s few remaining havens from such activity, our public libraries. That this intrusion targets an area that will be frequented by our teenage children makes the decision all the more objectionable.
We are bombarded daily by commercial messages in all aspects of our lives. As adults, we have grown used to this onslaught of advertisements so we are able to ignore most of them. Even so, we welcome those places that allow us to escape, albeit temporarily, from the constant barrage of hype. Our publicly-funded libraries are one of the last bastions of relief from commercial messages. They provide an oasis where the community can enjoy activities with minimal exposure to advertisements. As the author Zadie Smith recently commented about the closing of neighborhood libraries in London, libraries are “the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet.”
When it comes to our children, our attitudes toward advertising are obviously more vigilant. Children haven’t yet developed the skepticism toward commercial messages that we have as adults. Accordingly, we restrict advertising in areas that our children frequent; for example, in our public schools, playgrounds and youth sports facilities.
Naming rights—which is the term for what the library is proposing to grant to Jarden in this instance—are just another form of advertising. A company that sponsors a public benefit under one of its brand names, such as a renovated area in a library, is trying to establish a positive impression with users of that benefit, which the company hopes will prompt users to purchase its products or services in the future.
Granting naming rights to Jarden in the case of the proposed renovations to the portion of the library devoted to teenagers is objectionable on both grounds discussed above. It is an unwanted intrusion of advertising into a public institution that has typically afforded a haven from such activities. And, since the naming rights are associated with an area provided for teenage children, it reaches an audience that is particularly vulnerable to such messages. Accordingly, the decision should be rescinded. Instead, Jarden’s very generous donation should be commemorated by a plaque in the library expressing the community’s deepest thanks.