Fun with the New York Public Library

April 17, 2013

Yesterday I took a day off from work and spent the afternoon at the library. It’s been a while since I did that, but last time I was unemployed I used to go once a week. I don’t remember whether I’ve described this before, but it’s great. I go to the main branch of the New York Public Library — the building with the lions out front and rotating exhibitions inside — and go up to the third floor, where the Rose Main Reading Room is. The Rose Main Reading Room is really two big, long rooms with rows of wooden tables and bookshelves all along the walls. The way they have it set up right now, you go into one of these rooms, consult one of the catalog computers, and fill out little paper slips indicating which books you want. You can hand in three of these slips every fifteen minutes.

When you hand in your slips, you get a number. Then you go to the other room and wait while people go find your book and send it up to the reading room in what’s basically a big dumbwaiter. There’s an big screen there showing all of the numbers that have books waiting. When your number comes up, you go up to the desk, show them your library card and get to take your books to a table, where you can read and gaze raptly at the ceiling every once in a while. The ceiling looks like this.

This is how you get access to all of the popular fiction that’s no longer in circulation. You used to be able to get pretty much anything on no notice, but now they store a lot of the books off-site. Look things up in the online catalog before you show up. What you’re looking for is things that say “In-library use only” and specify the item’s location as “Schwarzman Building – Main Reading Room 315”. The ones stored off-site are labeled “Available by request”. They only started moving stuff off-site recently, so I haven’t tried requesting yet.

I meant to start this post with something more along the lines of, “Yesterday I want to the library and read kind of a delightful book by Samuel Hopkins Adams,” but I guess I got a little carried away. Perhaps Adams’ venture into the world of 1920s beauty parlors is a subject for another post.


  1. I came across this review recently while on a Samuel Hopkins Adams kick–you might enjoy it. A review of “The Flagrant Years”, from 1929.

    • Weirdly enough, I read this review on Tuesday. Was The Flagrant Years one of the things you read on your Adams kick?

  2. So jealous! Visiting the NYPL–every branch, haha–is one of my dreams! All of those books! And some of them from 100 years ago! *swoon*

    • A lot of the branches are not worth your jealousy, but the main branch totally is. You should also visit Jefferson Market Library, which used to be a women’s prison. Come to New York! Visit libraries!

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