Annual Report June 2002 - May 2003
Trustees & Staff
Charles G. Berry
Ralph S. Brown, Jr.
Robert A. Caro
Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr.
William J. Dean
George L.K. Frelinghuysen
James Q. Griffin
John K. Howat
Anthony D. Knerr
Linn Cary Mehta
Jean Parker Phifer
Theodore C. Rogers
Constance R. Roosevelt
Daniel M. Rossner
Jeannette Watson Sanger
Barbara H. Stanton
Margaret Mather Byard
Ashley Forrest Curran
Gladys M. Gomez
J. Michael Keeling
Alex G. King
Peggy Levin Salwen
Linna Holman Savapoulas
(June 2002 - May 2003)
Benita Eisler, Chair
Marilyn Bender Altschul
Margaret Mather Byard
Henry S.F. Cooper Jr.
Theodore C. Rogers
Daniel M. Rossner
Susan Robbins, Chair
Andrea Labov Clark
Linn Cary Mehta
Jean Parker Phifer
Jeannette Watson Sanger
Lecture and Exhibition Committee
Member Relations Committee
New York City Book Awards Committee
Constance Rogers Roosevelt, Chair
Joan K. Davidson
Joshua B. Freeman
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
Daniel M. Rossner
Report of the Chairman
William J. Dean
(June 2002 - May 2003)
As our Library approaches its 250th anniversary, I have been spending time reading early Library-related documents. One of my favorites is "A Catalogue of the Books Belonging to The New-York Society Library," printed in 1758 and sold by H. Gaine at the Bible and Crown in Hanover Square.
If I had been studying the catalogue in 1758, I would have presented myself at the Library's first home, a room in City Hall, located then at the northeast corner of Wall and Nassau Streets, between two and four o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, the only hours it was open. I would have asked Benjamin Hildreth, "the Library Keeper," to let me look at these books in the collection:
- Franklin on Electricity
- Paradise Lost
- Brown's Lives of the Princes of Orange (William of Orange, called the Silent, being one of my favorite historical figures)
- The lives of Homer, Richelieu, Sir Thomas More, Muhammad, Cromwell, and Czar Peter (being partial as I am to biography)
- Pope's translation of the Iliad and Odyssey, and Dryden's translation of Virgil
- Swift's works and Fielding's Tom Jones
As a lawyer, I would be duty-bound to glance at Acherley's Britannic Constitution in folio, Grotius' On the Law of War and Peace; Cicero's Orations in three volumes, and select trials at the Old Bailey.
Poor Mr. Hildreth would be worn out by now from bringing all these books over to the table. I would not burden him further by requesting Hawney's Trigonometry, Hale's Vegetable Statics in two volumes, Art of Speaking in Public, or Scotch Improvements in Husbandry.
As closing time approached, I would need to decide what books to borrow. To my dismay, I would learn from Mr. Hildreth that the "Regulations" for the governance of the Library, adopted by the founding Trustees, limited a member to the "Right to take out one Book at a time," with the stipulation requiring a deposit "in Cash, at least one third more than the value of it," and that the length of the loan "be proportioned nearly as possible to the Bulk of the Volume."
I would select Tom Jones, put down the stiff cash deposit, bid Mr. Hildreth farewell, and exit onto Wall Street, anticipating with pleasure the reading of this saucy, popular book, called by critics "a novel" - indeed, one of the first in English literature.
William J. Dean, Chairman
Report of the Librarian
(June 2002 - May 2003)
John Pintard (1759-1844) was a prosperous merchant and important philanthropist in the cultural life of the New York City of his time. It was said that DeWitt Clinton was always ready to allow Pintard to use his name and moral support for any measure. Pintard took a leading part in organizing the New-York Historical Society and the General Theological Society, encouraged the establishment of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and was a Library trustee here in two phases, 1790-92 and 1809-17. The lapse in trusteeship (but not membership) most likely occurred when because of poor stock speculations he lost his entire fortune and was sentenced to debtor's prison for 13 months. In his book Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence, Bruce H. Mann reports that "Pintard described this period as 'the most profitable part of my life, I had access to the best English authors, and read at the rate of fourteen hours the day.'" This is a fine testament to the printed word. I like to think that Pintard's books were borrowed from this Library, and that some of the same works continue to give pleasure to current members-in jail or not.
The printed word was much in demand this past year. Jane Goldstein, Head of Circulation, reports that in 2002 the circulation desk checked out 84,522 items, 3,336 more than we had in 2001. With reserve requests coming in over the Internet as well as by phone and in person, the hold system continued to generate a large portion of this circulation. An average of 400 books are waiting for members at any one time. The members are very prompt to pick up their reserved books. Three-fourths of these books wait under the desk for less than five days, allowing for constant turnover.
What distinctive features enable us to successfully serve our readers? I believe most members intuit the mission of this historic Library. We are dedicated to making available to general-interest readers and to scholars a wide variety of books and other resources in a comfortable, attractive setting that gives its members and others a quiet place for reading. The goal of the Library is to serve its members and community as it has for generations; to maintain and improve our holdings and building; and to add new services, in such areas as technology, to help meet the needs of an increasingly complex world. This dedication was renewed in the report of the Library's Long-Range Planning Committee, completed in 2002 under the chairmanship of Ralph S. Brown Jr. The document assessed our status and made recommendations for maintaining and improving our building, holdings and services. Here I will review some statements it contains on membership, collections, cataloging, preservation, stack space, programs, and technology.
Responses to a questionnaire sent out by the Long-Range Planning Committee in 2000 gave us a new sense of the size and makeup of the Library's constituency. Fifty-seven percent of respondents indicated that they had been members before 1990. This points to a steady enrollment, which conforms to the report's recommendation: "Any growth in membership should be gradual, in order to permit the Library to assess its effects on membership comfort and services....The membership has become too large if at any point the Library is having difficulty providing the personal service to its members that has been so important to its history." Statistics show that household memberships have risen from 2,054 in 1973 to 3,275 in 2003. However, this has occurred in small yearly increments, with only one sharp jump following David Halberstam's 1997 New York Times article on the Library. Other demographics have remained constant in the past decade, with 94% of members being New York City residents, and 72% of them living on the East Side above 49th Street.
The report goes on to recommend that "the Library should attempt to recruit younger members and families." This, too, is being accomplished, as anyone who visits the third-floor Children's Library can see-and hear. Many families have joined the Library since Carrie Silberman was hired as Children's Librarian in the fall of 2000. This has happened with no publicity efforts. Word of mouth brings in new family memberships. Over 200 families currently receive the monthly Children's Events Calendar, and a part-time assistant Children's Librarian was recently added. Younger members enliven the Library and are essential for our future.
The report calls for "a greater effort to familiarize [Library] members with the services available," and suggests the creation of a Member Relations Committee. That committee was formed in October 2002 with Linn Cary Mehta as its chair, and it has since begun communicating current policies, most notably cell phone restrictions. Earlier signs asking "Please turn off your cell phone" were ineffective. Better results came from the later version: "The use of cell phones is forbidden." Notebooks have been placed in reading and study rooms to solicit questions and comments. Positive responses by the Library have included cushions for hardwood chairs, portable table lamps, and Internet connections, all for the fifth-floor study room. Discussion continues on the possibility of adding writing counters in the stacks and providing more seating in the Members' Room.
"The Library should continue its commitment to provide members and others with research materials and serious literature....The Library has always stressed the humanities, literature, history and the social sciences....Our collection should include the books that would be needed for advanced level undergraduate courses and midlevel graduate work," says the report. It also emphasizes the need to strike a balance between the interests of current members and the long-term depth and relevance of the collection, especially in fields, such as Islamic studies, which are now coming into prominence. Consultants with specialized knowledge in various fields have been reviewing our holdings and suggesting deletions and additions.
We are justly proud of the continuity of our old newspapers and periodicals. American magazines include The Atlantic Monthly from its inception in 1857 to the present, a complete set of Harper's Weekly. British titles include a nearly complete set of both Blackwood's Magazine between its founding in 1817 and 1960, and of Punch from its beginning in 1841 to 1987. Blackwood's gained notoriety in its first year with a long series of attacks directed chiefly against Leigh Hunt and John Keats. However, it did give considerable support to Wordsworth, Shelley, Scott, and others. As for newspapers, we own most issues of The New York Evening Post, the main nineteenth-century New York newspaper and predecessor of today's tabloid, from 1801 through 1903. The report recommends regular reviews of our current magazine subscriptions; following this, new subscriptions have recently been added in art, health, science, political science, and literature.
Book purchases in 2002 exceeded those in 2001; volumes added, including gifts, totaled about 4,800. A book-buying policy is like walking a tightrope, with constant adjustments needed for balance. The seriousness of additions has increased, with more publications being ordered from such American and English reviewing journals as the Literary Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, The Los Angeles Times, and The Financial Times. Acquisitions Librarian Steven McGuirl anticipates many of the Book Committee's selections. I have concentrated this year on retrospective buying in subject areas such as the Middle East, American social studies, Russian and Latin American history, and drama. The Library always benefits from worthy gifts; this year we are especially grateful for scholarly titles in 17th-century literature and science, from Margaret Mather Byard.
A further recommendation states, "The Library shall affirm its commitment to its older materials... All these materials should be cataloged." The Cataloguing Department has continued addressing this primary responsibility. As indicated in last year's Annual Report, the newspaper holdings project results are available in electronic format, pending the acquisition of a new system. The retrospective conversion of the Rare Books collection, overseen by Arevig Caprielian, is nearly completed. These records, however, will not be added to the existing system (GEAC) to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and expenditures.
Six hundred and two items were added to the Closed Stack this year, stemming from transfers from the general circulating stacks and a few new acquisitions. Two hundred and five pieces in the Z/Rare Books collection were recatalogued. Particular attention has been directed to the special collection of the Reverend John Sharpe, born in Scotland in 1680. Sharpe's connection with New York predates our Library, beginning with his appointment by Governor Cornbury in 1704 as "Chaplain of Her Majesty's forces in the Province of New York." The defining mission of Sharpe's life was to campaign for "a publick and provincial" library in New York City. In a 1713 proposal, Sharpe explains, "There is hardly any thing which is more wanted in this Countrey than learning there being no place I know of in American where it is either less encouraged or regarded." Sharpe's dream was not fulfilled during his lifetime, but his collection was joined to this Library when it was established in 1754. Many of his books were looted during the American Revolution, but the remaining collection is one of our treasures. One work is Nicolas Malebranche's 1677 Conversations chrÈtiennes, published in Brussels in 1677, in which the French philosopher offers a theory redefining the interaction between mind and body-favorite bedtime reading for Mme. de Sevigne. Another is the Malleus maleficarum of Dominicans Henrich Institoris and Jakob Sprenger, a handbook on prosecuting alleged witchcraft which was accepted by both Catholics and Prostestants and did much to spur the centuries of witch burning in Europe. Our copy was published in Frankfurt in 1580 by Nicolas Bassee, who, curiously, is also known for his German Renaissance Patterns for Embroidery.
In other cataloging projects, a provenance file has been created, encompassing names of donors, former owners of books, affiliations and associations of our collections. All are retrievable with a name search in the catalogue. The fiction holdings are being recuttered, and a new classification number has been added, allowing the separation of works on classical and symphonic music from jazz and popular music.
Finally, the process of selecting a new cataloging/circulation system has taken considerable staff time.
Preservation issues arise just from consideration of the wear inflicted on frequently circulated books. Old materials present an especial concern. The report recognizes "the value of the Library's older materials both as important parts of the history and traditions of our community and as sources for scholarly research." It says that "these older materials should be kept and treasured." To deal with this concern, a Preservation Committee, under the chairmanship of John K. Howat, was formed. We recently purchased an electronic monitoring system to record humidity and temperature fluctuations in stack areas containing rare or fragile items, and improved air filters were installed in the HVAC system. At the committee's recommendation we have begun to compile an inventory of non-book, uncatalogued items such as the furniture and paintings bequeathed to the Library by Sarah Parker Goodhue in 1917.
Space and Shelving
Finley Peter Dunne, through the voice of Mr. Dooley, once said, "Th' first thing to have in a libry is a shelf. Fr'm time to time this can be decorated with lithrachore. But th' shelf is th' main thing." To a degree Dooley is right.
The report's assessment concludes that current shelving arrangements, including shelves recently added at the top of existing stacks, will hold only approximately 16,000 more volumes, if space is left for returned and moved books. This means that "if additional stack space is not found...within two or three years, the Library will face a serious shortage of space in the building for its books and other materials. Library bookshelves are considered loaded to the point of gridlock when they are 90% full, since we have to retain the ability to insert books at any call number-otherwise the whole collection would have to be shifted whenever a book is returned. Stand in the middle of any stack range and look around at the crowded shelves. For me, the surroundings resemble the mad Kien's library in Elias Canetti's Auto Da Fé. He ends by immolating himself on an enormous pile of his books. We are looking for alternate solutions here. Fortunately, we have gained a few more years by shifting half our history books to stack 3. Rearrangements for additional stack space, more compact stacks, and offsite storage (what Gladstone termed "book cemeteries") are being considered as solutions to this problem.
In addition, a building renovation is being considered, with the planning of architect James Czajka and his firm. A proposed master plan would add space for books, study, and programs. The flexibility of the design allows exchange of these functions in the new areas. Most of the space would be gained by filling in the lightwell that is directly over the grand staircase and extends from there to the roof level. The expansion would also improve the Children's Library, the Cataloging, Systems, and Acquisitions Departments, and the Bindery. The proposed building documents are available for interested members' perusal. The report recommends that the renovation "be implemented in connection with the Library's 250th anniversary. Every effort should be made to keep the Library open during most if not all of the period of the renovation."
The Library has also expanded in one area where more physical space is not required-programs. These diversified and drew increased registration in 2002-03. Edgar Allan Poe first delivered a lecture at the Library in 1848 and in October 2002 returned, played by actor Norman George, to read "The Cask of Amontillado" and other works. This was the first staged presentation in the Members' Room, featuring a movable platform constructed for the occasion, lighting and music effects, and the appropriate serving of the title sherry, an imaginative contribution from Christopher Gray.
Conversations on Great Books included biographer Robert D. Richardson Jr. discussing William James' philosophy and psychology; and three sessions with Cathy Popkin in analysis of the compassionate short stories of Anton Chekhov, an author who never judges or comments.
Lecturers in the Library included Barnet Schecter talking about the role of New York City in the Revolutionary War, and historical novelist Alan Furst describing his writing process. We were honored to have award-winning poet Anthony Hecht read from The Darkness and the Light; and also to have biographer and theologian Donald Spoto lead two workshops on the craft of biography.
The Author Series this year featured Jim Lehrer discussing his Civil War novel No Certain Rest; Susan Cheever talking about the Concord circle of Louisa May Alcott; Middle East authority Ahmed Rashid on his book Jihad: the Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia; and Ellen Feldman on her novel Lucy, about Lucy Mercer and Franklin Roosevelt.
Events for families and children were some of the season's greatest successes. Readings by the multi-voiced Jim Dale from the Harry Potter books packed over 90 child and adult fans into the Members' Room in October. That same month, young adult author Paula Danziger also attracted a crowd; and in the winter season novelist and advice columnist Carol Weston shared her expertise, and Jules Feiffer illustrated some of his stories on the spot and led the audience in creating an adventure in pictures.
Reading groups continue to be very popular; this year sessions were led by Jill Davis, Angeline Goreau, Anthony Gronowicz, Donald McDonough, and Nancy Newman.
The New York City Book Awards, for the eighth year, honored the best books about the city. The awards comprised Book of the Year to Charles Denson for Coney Island Lost and Found; a Journalism Award to William Langewiesche for American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center; a Landscape History Award to Susan L. Klaus for A Modern Arcadia: Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. and the Plan for Forest Hills Gardens; an Architectural History Award to Michael Henry Adams and Paul Rocheleau for Harlem Lost and Found; and a Children's Book Award to Maira Kalman for Fireboat: the Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey.
Technology and Website
In 1989, when the concept of an catalogue was first approved, the predecessor of today's Long-Range Planning Committee recommended a retrospective conversion that would catalogue all books, circulating and non-circulating. These goals are being met. The catalogue system itself is now in need of replacement. Staff members have worked devotedly this past year on the selection process for an improved cataloging and circulation system to replace the current one. The new system will offer the option of regular updating and will provide members with easier access to the catalogue both within the Library and from their home computers.
Computer access inside the Library was further improved this year by the addition of laptop Internet connections in the fifth floor large study room and in the individual study rooms. A major addition to our online reference service is ProQuest, the digitalized version of The New York Times, which includes the Times from 1851 to the present, all superbly indexed.
Use of the Library's website is also rising among members and nonmembers. October 2002 was one of the busiest months, when 367 visitors used the site. The most popular items included the children's page, the travel article on Franz Kafka's Prague, and Christopher Gray's article on how to research the history of a New York City building. Recent updates include an interactive guide to the stacks, Book Committee recommendation lists, and a guide to medical information on the Internet.
The website's guestbook invites visitors to share their comments. One wrote: "The website is wonderful, as is the Library. I went online to look for some books for my teenage daughter, and ended up reading the history of the Rogers House as well as the Library, and the Long-Range Planning Report. I am glad the Library is in such competent hands-both staff and trustees. Keep up the good work."
Another visitor remarked, "This website just keeps getting better and better. You must have a great staff-or is it the trustees? The answer: "Don't be fooled. It's the staff."
It is truly gratifying when members, through the website or by any other means, show their appreciation for the Library, its staff, programs and atmosphere, and that is something that has remained consistent, however much we expand and change. While there is some nostalgia for the quieter days, many members enjoy the comradeship of so many other readers and writers. One commented, "Writing is a rather isolated profession, and you and your staff somehow manage to provide both the necessary solitude and the necessary vital touch of human companionship the work requires. Thank you for all you do for authors; it is truly appreciated.
My report's would exceed the length of this whole booklet if I were to record all the services performed this past year by the staff. I extend my thanks to our fine staff, and to the trustees, whose support and recommendations are truly appreciated.
Mark Piel, Librarian
Report of the Treasurer
James Q. Griffin
(January - December 2002)
The basic financial policies governing the Library are: a balanced budget, a four and one half percent spending rule from endowment funds (based on the average of the prior three years), a fairly compensated staff and our building properly maintained. If all of these occur, the institution is thought to be in financial equilibrium. Over the past decade we clearly have been in equilibrium as we have been last year. Our objective is to stay that way.
James Q. Griffin, Treasurer
Statement of Revenue and Expenses, Unrestricted Net Assets
December 31, 2002 with comparative totals for 2001
|DONATIONS AND REQUESTS||206,349||224,387|
|LECTURES AND CONVERSATIONS||4,591||2,130|
|BOOKS REPLACED AND SOLD||7,497||7,290|
|COPIER FEES AND BOOK FINES||8,866||9,334|
|BUILDING (excluding depreciation)||286,486||270,620|
|INCREASE (DECREASE) IN NET ASSETS||2002||2001|
|BEFORE ALLOCATION OF |
FOUR AND ONE HALF PERCENT (4½%)
|ALLOCATION OF |
FOUR AND ONE HALF PERCENT (4½%)
|INCREASE IN NET ASSETS||$129,464||$248,582|
Note: This statement includes unrestricted revenue and expenses only. All other funds are accounted for separately. Fully audited financial statements are available at the library. The approximate market value of investments on December 31, 2002 was $23,252,000.