About Us

Molly Haskell

Writer, film critic

A West Side friend and I were comparing neighborhoods. "You've got the Lincoln Plaza Theatre," I said enviously. "Yes, but you've got The New York Society Library."

I wouldn't want to have to choose between them, but let's just say there are only six films playing at the Lincoln Plaza at any one time, while there are upwards of 250,000 books at my cherished Library. I'll give her Lincoln Center—and Fairway, too—but my home away from home, my office away from my office, the without-which-not of my life in New York is the Society Library.

Less vast and intimidating than the Public Library, its atmosphere is closer to that of a personal library, but its purview larger. For research, I'll start with one purpose-reading a book on which an upcoming movie is based, or the earlier work of a writer I'm reviewing and wind up somewhere else, above or beyond, grasping a book whose touch or title arrested my hand. There are books for every mood, not to mention audiotapes, my latest addiction. (To listen to David Case's superb reading of Trollope is to fall in love with the author of the Barsetshire and Palliser novels all over again.) Such a cornucopia of luxuries.

In fact, every time there's an article on the Society Library I shudder. I'm pleased of course to have it recognized as the outstanding institution that it is, but I worry it will become overdiscovered and overrun. Yet, despite the articles and plaudits, it remains, if not a "best-kept secret," at least a kind of sacred ground, a sanctuary, private and quiet. The initiates already know and newcomers immediately understand, as if we've signed a pact to keep our treasure intact.

It seems to exist in another dimension of time, as all libraries do, only more so. I'm sitting at a desk or reading in the stacks and hours go by, the world outside forgotten as the mind expands into beckoning worlds and geographies, new, yet uncannily recognizable. Whenever I am stressed out by my life and have fantasies of leaving the city, I think of the places I love here, and chief among them, the piece de resistance, is The New York Society Library. Just contemplating it, knowing that it contains more riches than a lifetime of reading can exhaust, brings a kind of inner peace, solace to the mind, that others get from yoga or meditation. What did I do before I came to know it and love it?