About Us

Testimonials

Many of these testimonials were written for the publication commemorating the New York Society Library's 250th Anniversary. Others have been added over time.

  • Writer

    When I was twelve, my mother moved my sister and me from our home in Tallahassee to Florence, where she was studying art history. With airy disregard for the Florida School Board, she deemed it unnecessary for her daughters to attend school during the year we were in Italy. Instead, we went to museums in the morning and every afternoon made our way to the British Consulate Library, where we read until nightfall, when my mother came to collect us.

  • Writer

    Quite a few years ago, after my novel The Two Mrs. Grenvilles became a hit, a magazine asked me to be photographed in a place of my choosing in the city that meant a great deal to me. I chose to be photographed in The New York Society Library. After all, I had done most of my research on that book (which dealt with a famous society shooting on Long Island in the 1950s) right there at the Library I was even sitting in the same chair in the photograph.

  • Novelist, critic

    The New York Society Library is a treasure of calm and usefulness in our city. Even though it charges a fee for membership privileges, it is not a "club" but a democratic institution. To roam the stacks in search of material for my profession as a literary critic is a necessity and a pleasure. The Library, although a handsome building, is a landmark, not of bricks and mortar, but of the intellectual and creative life of New York City.

  • Writer

    Of course I regard the Library as a refuge and a treasure house. But I also regard it as a powerhouse. I think it is real life and I fear for people who miss this because they are missing a great energizing force, even something frightening. For instance, when I look at the novels of Thomas Hardy on the shelf, I fear if I see Tess of the d'Urbervilles that I will read it again and have to suffer so much and have to understand so much more than I am willing to understand. These things go on in libraries.

  • Writer

    I have been a member of the Library since 1978. There were the early years, when I wrote my first novel in the communal writing room. In those days, typewriters were not permitted in the writing rooms; we wrote in longhand. With the exception of the occasional dropped book or breaking lead, the silence in that room was akin to a meditative aura. I could hear my fellow writers breathe. Years later, I saw a photograph of Virginia Woolf's writing table set at the edge of a pristine garden, on the table top a pencil and pad. The writing room circa 1980 came to mind at once.

  • Architectural historian

    When I walk through the door, I think of the formation of the Library with 650 volumes in 1754. I think of William Livingston, one of our founding trustees, who was later governor of New Jersey, served in three Continental Congresses—I think of him taking the trouble to design our first bookplate, with the four branches of art and a depiction of New York as Athens, and here I am, touching William Livingston's design.

  • Novelist

    In my twenties, my hangout was called Shopsin's—an extremely funky restaurant in the West Village that my friends and I frequented. In my thirties, having moved uptown and with a new baby in tow, I now had a floating hangout. Sleep-deprived and desperately looking for distractions, I'd take my son to the playground, the Met, to EJ's Luncheonette for chicken fingers, to storytime at the public library.

  • Historian

    In a city such as New York, with its permanent booming confusion, one frequently feels the need of an oasis. That this remark is far from original testifies to the necessity; everybody would like to find scattered over Manhattan a dozen places of instant rest and repose. For many of us—my friends and I will bear witness—The New York Society Library is one of these longed-for oases.

  • Critic, editor

    I write to call your attention to the important role played by The New York Society Library in the literary and intellectual life of New York. I have myself been a member of the Library for so long that I can no longer recall exactly when I joined. I know that during the seventeen years that I served The New York Times as its art critic, I found the Library an indispensable resource in my work.

  • Poet

    The New York Society Library is the city's best-kept democratic secret, disguised as an aristocratic institution. It has been indispensable to New York's cultural life for more than two hundred years; in the early years of this century, a great-grandfather of mine by marriage used to drive all the way from Chappaqua once a week just to take books out from the Society Library. Its marble halls, antique prints, and beautifully appointed rooms bespeak a kind of privilege: not economic privilege, but rather intellectual privilege.

  • Writer

    Everywhere books are under attack. Bookshops are diversifying and selling CDs, gift cards, coffee, magazines, DVDs, videos, and whatnot as if people have to be tempted into the bookshop, as if selling books itself can no longer provide sufficient economic return. Even the New York Public Library, the city's august institution, now provides stipends and offices to glamorous resident scholars—and the source of funding for that is not beneficent books but lethal tobacco.

  • Writer

    I'm somebody who's never been able to write at home. So I started coming here after school to write high school English papers. When I graduated from college I came home and I was taking writing classes and I still couldn't work at home, so I found my way back here and began writing plays here.

  • Biographer

    The New York Society Library, from the beginning, was the perfect refuge for me, a Ph.D. student searching for Edith Wharton, who I soon learned was a library maven herself. As I climbed the stairs, the Library's past trustees stared out at me from the photographs on the walls—New Yorkers from families Wharton might have known.

  • Writer

    I joined the Library sometime in the 1970s, when I had graduated from college and decided to cast my lot with this wonderful city. For years I wandered the stacks, entranced by one book or another, reading for hours in a corner undisturbed. I made friends with the other writers and readers who haunted the stacks. There was a special alcove in Stack 12 that we vied for, and I often found friendly colleagues taking a break in the elegant second-floor reading room.

  • Writer, film critic

    A West Side friend and I were comparing neighborhoods. "You've got the Lincoln Plaza Theatre," I said enviously. "Yes, but you've got The New York Society Library." I wouldn't want to have to choose between them, but let's just say there are only six films playing at the Lincoln Plaza at any one time, while there are upwards of 250,000 books at my cherished Library.

  • Historian, educator

    As one who has been a devotee of The New York Society Library for many years, I rejoice at the opportunity to say how much the Library, its books, its informed and courteous staff, and its cooperative habits have meant to me, and to generations of New York writers. It has been at once a resource and refuge, and I hope that, in this age of changing and costly library technologies, funds will be found to enable the Library to continue to serve writers for generations to come.

  • Lawyer, novelist

    I love the Society Library: the way it looks from 79th Street, showing off its modest but ineffably chic facade; the cheerful librarians, compulsively helpful and well informed; the seriousness of the Reference Room, which makes me think of green eyeshades and scholarly toil I shall never know; and the southern exposure of the sunny top floor, large study room where encyclopedias slumber peacefully. That is before I even begin to think of the often surprising riches of the Library's collection.

  • President emeritus of the American Antiquarian Society

    Recently, I had an opportunity to visit The New York Society Library where I was shown hundreds of titles that made up James Hammond's Circulating Library. Hammond's Circulating Library originated in Newport, Rhode Island, at the turn of the 19th century. The collection was given to the Society Library in 1868. Because it remains intact, it demonstrates the reading tastes of American readers of light literature of its period better than any other surviving collection.

  • Writer

    I grew up just a few blocks away from The New York Society Library, and in childhood it was my platonic idea of a library: a grand house with attic upon dimly lit attic, basements upon basements, perhaps haunted and surely containing the history and literature of everything in the world. How all those books got there was a mystery to me. I simply assumed that they had been there for a very long time and would remain there forever, being borrowed and returned, borrowed and returned.

  • Writer

    My children and I grew up in a place where there was no public transportation and people had to drive their children everywhere. That meant that when I was young, my mother deposited me at the entrance to our public library and picked me up. Years later when my own children had learned to read, I moved from the foothills into what were called the flats of our city, and the library became accessible by bicycle.

  • Writer

    Working in my first job as an editor's assistant at the New York Review of Books, I learned an amazing thing. You could call an elegant-sounding place called The New York Society Library to ask about a title, and some nice person would look it up in the catalogue and then actually go into the stacks to find out whether or not the book was on the shelf. Now, of course, the librarians can check on availability by computer, but they are still extremely nice about it.

  • Writer

    Truth to tell, it was a shallow reason that brought me first to The New York Society Library. My aunt by marriage, Lydia Kirk, who had written about diplomatic life in Moscow in the late 1940s as well as several smart detective books, pointed me there when I confided my intent to do a research project on the Punic Wars for a freshman course at Sarah Lawrence College. The reason I was so involved in early Punic issues was I had conceived a crush on a handsome Tunisian delegate in the then (c. 1959) very glamorous United Nations.

  • Writer

    Ever since I first walked in its doors in the summer of 1969, The New York Society Library has been my refuge and inspiration. The Library's ancient, cramped elevator, so reminiscent of the tiny lifts in European hotels, has always given me a mild case of claustrophobia, and whenever the gate creaks open with a medieval flourish, I give silent thanks as I walk into the stacks.

  • Editor

    On the left, just through the Library's front door and up the steps, is a long high bookshelf of new books on tape. The Library's first book in this special category, Robert Benchley's The Best of Benchley, was acquired in 1989. My first experience with books on tape was a few years later on a two-day road trip, listening to Derek Jacobi's bardic rendition of Robert Fagles' translation of The Iliad.

  • Former owner of Wittenborn Art Book Store

    I first used The New York Society Library in 1971 to help in cataloguing a collection of Riche family papers of the 17th-century (mostly on the explorations and colonization of Bermuda). The Library had the Public Records Office papers, which were of great help, as well as older books of U.S. history to help in identifying persons and places. Many of these have been used to pulp in the larger libraries.

  • Writer

    I can map my life using as coordinates the libraries I've used: from the dust hovering in the air of the children's room in my New York City branch library; the smell of freshly waxed linoleum in the too-small library of my girls' school (no books that hadn't been assigned at least for "Summer Reading" on the shelves). The Smith College Library introduced me to the first professional librarians I'd ever known, more ingenious in linking bibliographies than any Internet search engine will every be.

  • Writer, Actor

    Your agent e-mails politely, but persistently. Your book . . . Is it ready to show to publishers yet? The theater festival deadline is drawing near. They need to see the script. Things are pressing. Working at home is good—but there are distractions. Family members, pets, chores stare you in the face. What to do? A quiet place—a sanctuary—is what's needed.

  • Historian, screenwriter

    For twenty-five years or so, I have been very lucky to be able to write books or public television scripts about everything from jazz music and the Civil War and baseball to Bengal tigers and Frank Lloyd Wright and Franklin Roosevelt. I could not possibly have done any of it if I hadn't had access to the extraordinary collections of The New York Society Library. The Library's stacks are indispensable—and that the fact that as a member one is free to explore them on one's own is a joy now only rarely encountered anywhere else in the city.

  • Writer, critic

    I have been a member of The New York Society Library since 1947. When I joined, I was proud that so many American writers had preceded me, from Herman Melville to Willa Cather, Truman Capote, and others. I soon discovered that the Society Library was an absolutely necessary resource. (I could not have written my books on American literature and New York history without it.) I owe it more than I can say.

  • Writer

    To me the Society Library is a very special place. It's a jewel of a perfect size, neither so large as to be an impersonal institution nor so small that its collection is lacking in the books that you want. It seems, indeed, to have every book for which I ask, and those books are provided with a graciousness out of another age.

  • Biographer

    I first became aware of The New York Society Library back in 1964 when I was appearing on Broadway in Jean Kerr's comedy Mary, Mary. The actor who had the dressing room next to mine—Ward Costello—used to come back between matinee and evening performances with his arms full of books. Art books, histories, biographies, mystery novels. When I asked him where he'd gotten them he answered, "The New York Society Library on East 79th Street. Best damn library in the city—you gotta go there!"

  • Novelist

    According to George Orwell, a bound collection of old magazines is the closest we can come to a time machine. I would add that reading that bound collection in The New York Society Library brings us a little nearer to that elusive invention.

  • I've more and more begun to appreciate the extraordinary job the people who select the books do to preserve human memory. It's an extremely hard-to-come-by talent. If I had my biggest homburg on I would doff it to you right now.
  • Architectural historian

    I often feel within the stacks of The New York Society Library that I am, in some way, mysteriously moving about within my own mind. For consciously and unconsciously, the tenuous webs of memory, which tie me to my very early youth, my schooling, all the books and essays that I have read, all the plays seen, and conversations entered into, link up, reverberate, and guide me over those twelve precious floors.

  • Writer

    As a member of The New York Society Library since the 1970s, I took it for granted that every literate New Yorker was a member. Not so: my husband, Karl Meyer, proudly announces to friends that his membership was the dowry he received when he married me. As writers of biographies and imperial histories, the Library is of indispensable value to us. It contains, for example, the impossible-to-find account by John F. Baddeley of the conquest of the Caucasus on which all later accounts have relied.

  • Former Assistant Head Librarian

    While The New York Society Library has always been happy to host and nurture its many fine writers, another group of members must also be recognized at this important point in our history. I refer, of course, to the many readers who have provided the sine qua non of the Library for lo these many years. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "'Tis the good reader that makes the good book." The Library has always numbered among its members a generous supply of good readers.

  • Writer

    Sometimes when I'm alone in the stacks at the Society Library, it gets so loud I can't hear myself think. I never have this problem at the other libraries where I do my research. There, I look up a book or journal on the computer, fill out a call slip, and wait for my number to come up. Then I go sit somewhere, just me and my one volume, in peace and quiet.

  • Writer, educator

    The New York Society Library, with its friendly, helpful, knowledgeable librarians, comfortable reading rooms, and easy access to an endless supply of books, is a replay of my first joyful library experience. My father, a Russian immigrant physician, and my mother, a Jew who had lived her entire life in Brooklyn, moved in 1950 to Lyons, New Jersey. We lived on the grounds of a VA hospital surrounded by dairy farms, apple orchards, and signs in the nearby town of Basking Ridge informing us that George Washington had slept there.

  • Biographer, theologian

    The New York Society Library is a haven for readers and writers and is one of the great treasures of the city. I've benefited from its wealth of research resources; I've luxuriated in its calm ambiance; and I've been welcomed by its trustees and staff as a lecturer. Fare forward, NYSL, with my thanks and deep appreciation!

  • Writer, editor

    It is a rainy afternoon in spring, and I'm sitting at a desk in the plush reading room where I have spent some of the most tranquil and productive days of my life. Before me is a fragile book, its thin ribbon untied, the leather spine cracked, the brittle pages yellow with age. The book is just over two hundred years old: 1798. The S in its elegant font is written as an F.

  • Writer

    When I moved from Boston to New York in the early 1960s, I left behind the Boston Athenaeum, where I had worked in a mouse-like way, hoping not to be detected by the surrounding adults, all of whom I assumed were well-known writers (while I had only just finished and published my first novel, called, with the assurance of youth, After Such Knowledge). The Athenaeum, terrifying as it was, had provided me with an escape from my domesticated life as a wife.

  • Novelist

    The Library has over the years served me in many ways. When I lived elsewhere, it sent me a constant stream of books. Once, when I was reviewing a biography of George Eliot, could I have requested all of her works that injudiciously? Anyway, I was stalwartly sent them, one after the other, for what seemed weeks (all faithfully returned).