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.
In the 1960s the Society Library and the kind staff helped me begin the research for my first book. Since then, I've had to use the major research libraries in the city, but the Library has never lost its charm for me. And because I've learned that all libraries have their limits, it remains my library of first resort.
That great quiet house with its elegant reading room and its dim stacks hasn't changed much over the years. And with all the new titles in the collection, you can still find a few books by 19th-century British travelers describing their journeys across Mesopotamia or the Hindu Kush. Just the books we want now. Mr. Piel hasn't changed much either. He's always in a hurry—he has so much to do—but somehow he always has time to tell you how to find just what you want in his still-mysterious domain.