Annual Report June 2003 - May 2004
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
Susan L. Robbins
Theodore C. Rogers
Constance R. Roosevelt
Daniel M. Rossner
Jeannette Watson Sanger
Barbara H. Stanton
Margaret Mather Byard
Ashley Forrest Curran
Alex G. King
Peggy Levin Salwen
Linnea Holman Savapoulas
Grace Elaine Suh
(June 2003 - May 2004)
250th Campaign Steering Committee
Benita Eisler, Chair
Marilyn Bender Altschul
Henry S. F. Cooper Jr.
Theodore C. Rogers
Daniel M. Rossner
Susan L. Robbins, Chairv
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
Report of the Chairman
William J. Dean
(June 2003 - May 2004)
Perceiving their city of 13,000 residents to be a cultural wasteland, in March, 1754, six young New Yorkers - five lawyers and a merchant - came together to discuss establishing a library.
These were men of action, for only a month later, they published the "Articles of the Subscription Roll of the New York Library." The document began: "WHEREAS a Publick Library would be very useful, as well as ornamental to this City & may be also advantageous to our intended College ...." The reference is to King's College, now called Columbia, which this year, along with the New York Society Library, celebrates its 250th anniversary.
On April 8, 1754, the New-York Mercury reported that "A Subscription is now on Foot, and carried on with great Spirit, in order to raise Money for erecting and maintaining a publick Library in this City.... We make no doubt but a Scheme of this Nature, so well calculated for promoting Literature, will meet with due Encouragement from all who wish the Happiness of the Rising Generation."
In May, the trustees assembled to approve a list of books to order from England. These included the works of Addison, Milton, Locke, Cicero, Hobbes, Marvell, Prideaux's Life of Mahomet and History of France, "the best."
In October, the New-York Mercury reported the arrival of the books by ship from England. "We hope that all who have a Taste for polite Literature, and an eager Thirst after Knowledge and Wisdom, will now repair to those Fountains and Repositories from whence they can, by Study, be collected.... We finally wish, that New-York, now she has an Opportunity, will show that she comes not short of the other Provinces, in Men of excellent Genius, who, by cultivating the Talents of Nature, will take off that Reflection cast on us by the neighboring Colonies, of being an ignorant People." (Our fellow colonists apparently had a low opinion of the intellectual attainments of New Yorkers.)
Out 250th anniversary year has been a whirlwind of activity. The Long Range Planning Committee, led by Ralph S. Brown, Jr., developed an excellent plan for the Library's future, and the Renovation Committee, also chaired by Mr. Brown, working closely with architect James. V. Czajka, came up with a renovation plan worthy of the Library's 250th anniversary.
The plan will not alter our beautiful public rooms, but will double the numbers of reading places available for members; expand the Children's Library; improve lighting and air conditioning in the Members' Room; rationalize staff offices; and make out entrance handicap-accessible. The membership of the Library is being asked to contribute funds for this $4 million project. Barbara H. Stanton heads the anniversary fund drive.
The anniversary planning committee, chaired by Jeannette Watson Sanger, organized two special events. On Saturday, April 17, children and grandchildren of members gathered at the Library for an open house with a colonial theme, and the following day, hundreds of members filled the Library for an afternoon of talks, music, games, good food and a magnificent birthday cake.
Another highlight of the year has been the publication of The New York Society Library, 250 Years, written and edited by Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr. and Jenny Lawrence. The book includes essays on our city and the Library and plumbs our extensive archives.
Earlier this year, Mark Piel, who has served as Head Librarian for twenty-six years, informed the Board and Membership of his intention to retire by the end of 2004. A search committee, chaired by Charles G. Berry, is now hard at work to find a worthy successor.
Let me close with one of my favorite letters from our archives:
"Gentlemen, I am extremely sorry to inform you that the Jusserand French Ambassador was damaged while in my keeping. A young dog of mine unbeknownst to anybody chewed the cover and I fear the binding is ruined.
- Yours very truly, Cornelia Otis Skinner"
William J. Dean, Chairman
Report of the Librarian
(June 2003 - May 2004)
"I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library."
- An unnamed guest at one of Gatsby's parties, The Great Gatsby
Yes, there are as many uses of a library as there are kinds of libraries. Yet all libraries share three essential elements: books, a place to house them, and services that allow them to be read. This trinity is indivisible, requiring balance and excellence in all three areas. I think the New York Society Library shows excellence in its collections, its building, and its services.
It is almost impossible to summarize the wide reading habits of Society Library members, except to assume they follow James Thurber, who wrote, "I always begin at the left with the opening word of the sentence and read toward the right, and I recommend this method." As for reading matter, a wide variety is required to form a collection serving both researcher and general reader.
The Library's collection represents the selections of members and librarians over two centuries. Their tradition is now enhanced by Steven McGuirl, Acquisitions Librarian. In addition, for the past twenty-five years an informed Book Committee has filled in gaps.
Acquisitions have come in new formats in the last few years. In 1980 the Library began to purchase and rebind paperback books. Also in the early 1980s we started a now-substantial collection of unabridged books on cassette, and shortly after, large-print books first appeared. To give members a sense of newly available materials, we issue the monthly New Books list. Selected new fiction and nonfiction, along with Book Committee recommendations, are regularly updated and continuously browsed in the lobby.
Inventories ascertain that the reality shown in the catalogue is also the reality found on the shelves. A 1982-1984 inventory began the job, covering less than one-third of the holdings. In 1994-1995, the entire staff divided into teams and attacked the remaining shelves. This exercise enabled us to make knowledgeable upgrades to the collection and laid the groundwork for putting our catalogue online.
The collection's security is guarded by a sophisticated alarm system, but perhaps the best protection began twenty-five years ago with the extraction of frail, valuable books from the circulating stacks and their consolidation in a locked stack level. In a collection as old as ours, items bought when they were new can now often be considered rare books. Despite a massive early effort to identify and relocate rare books, a quarter of a century later we are still finding items in the stacks to enhance the closed collection. Some titles of interest were pulled from the stacks and recatalogued as rare books this year. One was the first edition of Alphonse Daudet's Port Tarascon: The Last Adventures of the Illustrious Tartarin (1891), translated by Henry James. This was the only translation James undertook after his youthful efforts with Mérimée's stories. James's preface restores passages that had been suppressed in Harper's New Monthly Magazine as likely to offend the religious feelings of readers. Another was Lorenzo Da Ponte's memoir, Storia Compendiosa della Vita di Lorenzo Da Ponte (1807). Da Ponte, Mozart's librettist, resided in America after 1805, where he taught Italian literature at Columbia College and established a collection for his students at the Society Library. Our volume is a gift of Clement Clark Moore, who was a trustee of our Library and was responsible for getting Da Ponte his teaching position.
A worthy collection needs not only security but also preservation. In 1995 the Library appointed a part-time conservator, Howard Stein. His death in 2003 was a loss to our staff, but his ministrations to needy books and documents are skillfully carried on by George Muñoz. Mostly basic work is performed, on a principle expressed by Charles Lamb in his charming essay "Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading": "To be strong-backed and neat-bound is the desideratum of a volume. Magnificence comes after." Ten years ago the Library received a grant from the New York State Discretionary Grant Program for Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials for in-house care of our Hammond Collection. These books are unique survivors of what was, in the late eighteenth century, the largest circulating library in New England. Our prized map showing Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights around 1725, on display in the Reference Room, was treated by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts.
John Ruskin required that an ideal building "[Do] its practical duty well and be graceful and pleasing." In a glance one sees that the structure designed by Trowbridge & Livingston in 1916 meets Ruskin's latter requirements both within and without. Indeed, it was designated a landmark in 1981. As for its "practical duty," our building is far more than a handsome place to keep books: it is an excellent environment for studying or browsing, and an efficient setting for service and for events. We are fortunate in our attractive reading and periodical rooms, bright study facilities, and private studies far from the activity downstairs. The ground-floor Reference Room allows both members and non-members to get reference assistance.
Since 1995, building maintenance has been under the capable supervision of superintendent John McKeown.
After the initial move here in 1937, the last comprehensive renovation took place in 1982. This added study and reading rooms, central air conditioning, new lighting, and rolling book stacks. Since then, only minor changes have been made. Nevertheless, membership surveys from 1988 and 2000 returned repeated requests not to alter anything-indicating that we have managed to maintain the ambience that makes the Library the haven its members often call it.
We are planning a major renovation to extend that special atmosphere as our collection and membership grow. Over the past year Board and staff members have been working with our architect, James V. Czajka, to complete an enlargement of the building. Most of the building and the vast majority of services will continue throughout the renovation, and the new space created at the end should be well worth the inconveniences.
The third crucial element in the Library triad consists of services.
We have established regular channels of communication with members, from the new-member letter introducing our building, procedures, and services, to the quarterly Library Notes with its updates on programs, staff and policy changes, and other news.
Communication from members has increased in the last twenty years, as with the aforementioned surveys and open member suggestion books located in the Reference Room and Large Study Room. Suggestions receive at least a written response, and many are considered by the Member Relations Committee and other Board entities. Members also regularly write in to the Acquisitions Department (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Systems Department (email@example.com), and the guestbook on the website.
Suggestions acted upon have included cushions for study-room chairs, additional table lamps, and lockers on the fifth floor. Some comments we agree with but cannot act upon-such as a request to prohibit chewing gum.
As Melvil Dewey, a librarian and the father of the Dewey Decimal System, observed 126 years ago in The Library Journal, "There is nothing in the library economy that influences the opinions of the borrowers as to the management so much as the system of issuing and charging books." Our patrons think well of the system here, as our bustling circulation department demonstrates. Four full-time and six part-time circulation staff members manned the front desk and answered the phones for fifty-six hours every week. From September through June, we are open seven days a week. Among New York City public libraries, only the Donnell Library can match our hours of service.
This year the circulation staff, under the direction of Jane Goldstein, checked out over 90,000 books, entered thousands of holds, processed over 2,500 renewals, and changed numerous addresses and member details. They also answered a multitude of questions and held many pleasant conversations with members. Five part-time pages shelved and reshelved these 90,000 volumes, along with giving tours to prospective members, taming copy machines, and labeling, stamping, and covering the thousands of new books and magazines yearly flowing into the Library.
Circulation is not limited to our own books; our Interlibrary Loan service, administered by Patrick Rayner, gives members access to other libraries' collections. In 2003, the Library borrowed 149 items from 87 different libraries. We also loaned 133 books to 85 other libraries-Interlibrary Loan is very much a two-way street.
Memberships are another over-the-desk service, with staff member Diane Srebnick processing 417 new ones in 2003 alone. Library membership was close to its highest number at the end of 2003, with 3,289 total memberships.
Reference and research services complement circulation in bringing together people and books. A few years ago, an individual researcher could monopolize a study room without limit; now reservation policies allow for more democratic use. Both the casual and the advanced researcher can find a full collection of reference books on the first and fifth floors; reference titles are being updated in book or electronic form, as with, for example, American Book Prices Current and the Dictionary of National Biography.
A great asset to researchers is our Rare Books collection, overseen by Arevig Caprielian. A massive retrospective conversion of rare book records by the Cataloguing Department, under the guidance of Mark Bartlett, means rare books can be easily located through the catalogue. This is a new service to researchers inside and outside the Library. Newspaper holdings are being compiled in electronic form and will appear in the catalogue as well. Both members and nonmembers can make appointments to use these holdings. In the past year two of the rare books consulted were the memoirs of Celia Fiennes, Through England on a Side-Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (1888), and the Official Documents of George Opdyke (1866). Fiennes famously visited and described every English county between 1685 and 1712. Opdyke, the notoriously corrupt mayor of New York City in 1862 and 1863, published his papers in an attempt to justify his mayoralty.
The Children's Library had a full-time librarian twenty-five years ago, but little funding for programs; for a number of intervening years, we had no children's staff or activities at all. With increased support and the appointment of Carrie Silberman in 2000, the Children's Library has blossomed into one of our most active departments. Seven hundred families are estimated to have joined the Library to partake of this service in the last four years, and approximately 2,000 new books have been added to the children's collection. More than 10,000 children's books circulate yearly, comprising about 14% of the Library's total circulation. More than 250 families participate in programs each year, with story-and-craft programs attracting a preschool crowd, and author visits and writing workshops serving older children and teens.
Another service was added in 2001, when the Education and Outreach Committee created Project Cicero to distribute books to classrooms and libraries in underfunded New York City schools and similar places of need. In subsequent annual events, over 500,000 books have been distributed. This committee, now called the Children's Library Committee, launched the Young Writers Awards in 2003; more than 100 young writers from the Library's family membership and member schools have submitted their work for the awards.
The introduction of Library programs in the 1990s hearkens back to a much earlier period in our history. When the Library was on Broadway at Leonard Street from 1840 to 1853, we gave a platform to speakers from Edgar Allan Poe and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Campbell's Minstrels. The modern revival of special events began with the Author Series and speakers Benita Eisler, Brendan Gill and Susan Cheever, held at Temple Israel. An Art of Biography lecture series begun in 1994 brought in Geoffrey Ward, James Atlas and Jean Strouse, among other distinguished speakers. Programs within the Library itself began in 1996 with the "Conversations on Great Books" format; three-session discussions with Joseph Anthony Mazzeo on Dante, Jacques Barzun on Montaigne, Aileen Ward on John Keats, and, more recently, Daniel Hoffman on Poe have made this format a staple of our season. Today we offer these series, along with lectures, poetry readings, performances, reading groups, technology workshops, and tours inside and outside the building.
The 2003-2004 anniversary event season has been particularly festive.
We were proud to have Charles Rowan Beye on his 'biography' of Odysseus, Eleanor Dwight on Edith Wharton, Jonathan Franzen, Nimet Habachy on Lorenzo Da Ponte, staff member Sara Holliday giving a recital of songs by Library members, Erica Jong on Sappho's Leap, Donald Kagan on The Peloponnesian War, Ross King on Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Galway Kinnell on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, poet Karl Kirchwey, Colum McCann on Dancer, Ecward Mendelson on W.H. Auden, young adult author Lois Metzger, children's author Jon Scieszka, and historian Mike Wallace on New York City during World War II.
Exhibitions are another service allowing us to share our book wealth. Over the last several years the exhibitions have showcased several of our special collections, including those of John Winthrop, Rev. John Sharpe, and Irene Sharaff and Mai-Mai Sze. Informative exhibition catalogues were researched and written by Harriet Shapiro. For the anniversary, she displayed miscellaneous treasures including George Bernard Shaw's own typescript of his first play, Widowers' Houses, a letter written by Lord Byron to Sir Walter Scott, and a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible.
Technology services have made the greatest impact on Library operations. The first computer came into the Library in 1986. Henry S.F. Cooper Jr., then our Board chairman, wrote, "We have recently acquired a computer, which should facilitate such matters as sending out notices to members, keeping records, and running the fund drive. Although this is the Library's first brush with the computer age, addresses and record-keeping are probably just the thin edge of the wedge, and we will doubtless think of more wonderful things to do." Prescient words, as we converted our circulation system and then our catalogue to electronic form and created a thriving Systems Department, headed by Ingrid Richter.
The catalogue, dating from 1996, was this year upgraded to the Millennium system, which unifies our acquisitions, cataloguing, and circulation activities. Among its advantages, Millennium allows readers to create a 'save list' of found items for e-mailing or printing and place their own book holds with the touch of a button.
As with Interlibrary Loan and other services, our technology allows us to be not just a single repository of information, but a link with resources around the world. Use of the American National Biography, offered through our website, doubled between 2001 and 2002; use of Oxford Reference Online almost doubled between 2002 and 2003; and the most popular source, ProQuest's database of the entire New York Times, hosted 17,538 searches in 2003, more than three times the number from 2002. We look forward to a continuing fruitful balance between books and the additional benefits offered by computers and the Internet.
If you pick up the paperback edition of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, you will see the Library's name on the back as the presenter of the New York City Book Awards. Since 1996, these awards have honored the best books of the year about New York City. The 2004 award winners were David Von Drehle for Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, Jon Boorstin for The Newsboys' Lodging House, and Stanley Greenberg for Waterworks: A Photographic Journey Through New York's Hidden Water System.
Annual participation in the New York Is Book Country fair and the sponsorship of the Young Writers Awards and Project Cicero have also served to increase the Library's visibility as a city institution. Trustees Henry Cooper and Jenny Lawrence wrote and edited our impressive anniversary publication, The New York Society Library: 250 Years. We sent hundreds of copies to libraries around the country, reinforcing our place in a broad literary network.
One of the year's highlights was the April weekend of 250th anniversary celebrations. About 250 children and parents attended a children's celebration involving well-researched colonial-style crafts, games, and music. Many more adults dropped in for the members' celebration the following day to enjoy readings by Susan Cheever, Meg Wolitzer, Richard Panek, and Wendy Wasserstein, tours of the building with trustee Christopher Gray, readings from the anniversary book by Jenny Lawrence, Henry Cooper, Jules Cohn, and word games with New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz.
There can be no puzzle about the success of this Library. By keeping in balance the needs of the collection, the building, and our services, we have remained a flourishing institution for two hundred and fifty years. How gratifying it has been to come to a place where so many have deep feelings for the Library's tradition.
It has been a privilege to serve the Library, and to have had such steady contributions from the volunteers, leadership from the trustees, and such dedicated support from the staff. To think that as I write, our staff celebrates Janet Howard's fortieth year with the Library! To all I express my appreciation.
A new era is beginning. Who can predict what promise the future holds for this Library, except to know that it will always be a place for like-minded readers, caught and stirred by the written word.
Mark Piel, Librarian
Report of the Treasurer
James Q. Griffin
(January - December 2003)
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 have clearly been in equilibrium, as were we last year. Our objective is to stay that way.
James Q. Griffin, Treasurer
STATEMENT OF REVENUE & EXPENSES UNRESTRICTED NET ASSETS
31 December 2003 with comparative totals for 2002
|DONATIONS AND REQUESTS||182,859||206,349|
|BOOKS REPLACED AND SOLD||7,153||4,591|
|COPIER FEES AND BOOK FINES||9,897||8,866|
|BUILDING (excluding depreciation)||320,424||286,486|
|INCREASE (DECREASE) IN NET ASSETS||2003||2002|
|BEFORE ALLOCATION OF |
FOUR AND ONE HALF PERCENT (4 ½%)
|ALLOCATION OF |
FOUR AND ONE HALF PERCENT(4 ½%)
|INCREASE IN NET ASSETS||$122,644||$129,464|
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, 2003 was $26,151,000