Young Mr. Byron Bennett sells chocolate. He has an elaborate shop in Manhattan offering 36 brands of the luxurious substance, hailing from ten countries. He also believes in order, so his chocolates are ranged on shelves with careful precision as to type and origin. To reflect this combination of succulence and seriousness he named his shop The Chocolate Library. It would seem to be a sensible and harmonious marriage…
…to everyone, that is, except the New York State Education Department.
What, you might ask, does a department of education have to do with a chocolate shop? The answer makes about as much sense as that to Lewis Carroll’s riddle of why a writing desk is like a raven.
The word “library,” it turns out, is a special word in New York Law. Chapter 316 of the Laws of 2005 requires, among other things, that the Commissioner of Education give consent to articles of incorporation that include in the corporate name any of a number of words having to do with education, “library” being among them. And, alas, unaware of the law, Mr. Bennett, as we learn from the story in the New York Times, failed to obtain the requisite consent.
This is no doubt a sensible law in most respects. It prevents citizens from being gulled by phoney “colleges” or “academies” and the like. But it seems to overreach at times, as evidenced by the regulation of any and all uses of the word “library” in a business name but also by the capture of the words “history,” “museum,” and “arboretum.”
The New York Commissioner is invited to consult with the Chocolate Library in Scotland, which has been operating for about three years now, selling a combination of chocolates and design, to learn that the authorities there are content to let their citizens suffer whatever confusion may result from the use of “library” in the name. But then the Scots might be harder to fool than New Yorkers.