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. I remember getting on my own bike and riding ahead of the kids single file on a heavily trafficked boulevard, showing them that they could pedal between the cars and the curb and get there.
Since the library in question was the Beverly Hills Public Library, I think it is perfectly fair to compare it to The New York Society Library—a quiet, contemplative spot in the middle of consumer heaven. I can imagine me and/or my children, had we grown up here and become accustomed to public transportation, seeking it out—first for adventures into other worlds and other rhythms, then for escape from the terrible teens, and finally, as the place one goes to keep on learning and find a modicum of peace.
In my particular case, life has centered on libraries and archives. From the Casa Regala in Bucharest, Romania, to a family archive in Sigmaringen in southern Germany, to the Nanjing #2 Archive in China, they are the bread and butter of my vocation. In this regard, I frequently return to The New York Society Library for:
- browsing through the stacks (you never know what books you haven't heard of that you will find);
- rounding up or proving basic information; and
- the greatest blessing of all—the law that allows me to ask Mr. Piel to write the XYZ University somewhere in Canada to ask their librarian to send the Library one of the two copies extant in the world of a particular book without which I and my current project will not survive.
Walking up to 79th Street, I always feel that I will emerge from The New York Society Library a calmer, better informed person and writer, and if I stop at some glitzy emporium on the way, I guess that, like everyone else I know, I cannot entirely escape my childhood.