About Us

Karl Kirchwey


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. For in these elegant surroundings, one finds a quirky and surprisingly ample library, with citizens of every age and stage of life availing themselves of its resources, from high school students eking out a term paper to scholars researching poetry. Nowhere is the anonymity of life in the city, so often lamented, more gratefully embraced and fiercely protected than within the walls of 53 East 79th Street. Indeed, the Library's greatest resource is blessed silence, whether for research, composition, or meditation: a gift made available to the Library's patrons even in the heart of the great city whose history mirrors its own.