Library Blog

Stacking Up

Monday, September 11, 2023

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines - it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”
~Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

The stacks are a treasure that any great library possesses. Our own 300,000-strong print collection, and the twelve stack levels where it lives, is no exception.

Why do the Library stacks feel like another world? There is something about roaming the bookshelves to find what I am looking for, sometimes to catch glimpses of books that I mentally add to my reading list.

There’s something about them, something magical and timeless, both a comfort and a place of stimulation for ideas. Honestly, there are many reasons why stacks are so incredible, from exploring them to finding sanctuary to read or write.

We asked members and staff to tell us about their favorite stack – knowing the only right answer is “all of them”!

Stack 1 (900-940.4 - History, Travel, and Collected Biography)

Stack 1 (specifically, Travel call numbers 910-919) has been my favorite hideaway since I first stepped foot in the Library, 16 years ago. It’s a magical place for those, like me, who are always pondering our next trips and adventures, and for those times in between when we can only travel to distant realms from the comfort of our couch. Stack 1 is where I discovered hardy, adventurous role models like Mary Roberts Rinehart, Isabella Bird, and Gertrude Bell. I’ve traveled to the Himalayas with Peter Matthiessen, to Patagonia with Paul Theroux, the Pine Barrens with John McPhee, and to 16th c. Italy, France, and Germany with Michel de Montaigne. I highly recommend all these authors and their books. Next, I think I’ll go to Greenland with Knud Rasmussen, though I’ve already been there with Tete Michel Kpomassie.
~Carolyn Waters, Head Librarian

A member adds
It's worth braving the "Duck or Bump" signs to visit Stack 1.  As an author who writes primarily about Italy, I love the travel section and the chance to consult travelogues from other eras. They offer a lesson in history, as well as a wonderful glimpse of places that may have changed beyond recognition in subsequent years. I just discovered Seán O'Faoláin, a wonderful Irish writer from the Fifties, whose book An Autumn In Italy I found rummaging through Stack 1.

Stack 2 (940.5-999, 200 - History, Religion)

To appropriate an evocative phrase from Art Spiegelman, Stack 2 bleeds history. Just look at the far-left wall as you walk in, all that gray, black, white, and gory red: there’s the 20th century for you in all its striving and brutality. If you continue around the perimeter, you’ll find the memoirs and histories of some of my favorite guys: the Second World War’s Far East Prisoners of War, from peacemaking Ernest Gordon’s Through the Valley of the Kwai to too-ornery-to-die Alistair Urquhart’s The Forgotten Highlander. Facing them are the friendlier urban and pop-culture histories of the 1950s and 60s – all that fun mod and pop-art lettering. And the big middle of the room is the heart of one of our strongest collections, New York City history and culture, including so many winners and other admired titles from our New York City Book Awards. Sit a few minutes between any two shelves down there, and you’re in a time machine…though you may also be glad to come back to the present.
~Sara Holliday, Head of Events

A member loves Stack 2
...for its wonderful histories.

Stack 3 (300, 500 - Social Science, Pure Science)

I grew up in love with myths and legends, folk and fairy tales, fables and epics, and many other stories. These narratives have inspired me to learn about other cultures because that is what folklore is about - cultural identity, rituals, stories and songs, recipes, the reason why some cultures admire blue and others don't, and so much more that has to do with heritage. It has led me to become a folklorist. Undoubtedly, I am in love with a section of 398 to 398.2 in Stack 3.
~Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant

Stack 5 (Fiction A-J) and Stack 6 (Fiction K-Z)

As a librarian with a background in the arts, Stack 12 has been my favorite, but my interest in all things Victorian (and a fondness for the Victorian sensation genre), led me to discover our (Victorian era) 30-volume set of The Works of Wilkie Collins in Stack 5! Having only been familiar with his more famous works (The Woman in White, The Moonstone, etc.) this opens up an exciting new world of Wilkie!
~Meg Donabedian, Assistant Head Librarian

Members love the two fiction stacks (Stack 5 and Stack 6) because
Trying to solve mysteries keeps my gray matter active.

I love to find authors I’ve never read.

Stack 7 (92 - Biography)

A member loves Stack 7 because
It has many essential biographies which cannot be easily found elsewhere.

Stack 9 (400, 800 - Audiobooks, Philology, Literature & Criticism)

Naturally, as a writer, I spend much of my free time avoiding writing. And the (somewhat) guilt-free way I do that: read about writing instead. That’s why I always wander to Stack 9. It’s the All-Star team of stacks (Shakespeare! Angelou! Austen! García Márquez!), but it also holds the books on authorship and craft. That 808 section is undoubtedly magical, as if the key to unlocking any story is somewhere on those shelves. Only in Stack 9 can I explore other writers’ routines, uncover their secrets—and okay, procrastinate—while literature’s greatest keep me company.
~Michelle Andreani, Children’s & Young Adult Library Assistant

Members love Stack 9 because
I never fail to find a stack of interesting books. Art & poetry are my favorite topics.

[For the] early and late 20th-century literature that others have deaccessioned.

Stack 11 (000, 100, 600 - General Works, Bibliography, Philosophy, Psychology, Periodicals, Applied Science)

I have loved time spent at the stove since I could reach it on a stool and time spent buried in food lit of all types since I first read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (IYKYK). I was a kid who read recipes for fun and cooking inspiration, and a teen who never missed the opportunity to bake from a recipe on the back of the bag, can, or box of pantry baking staples. Now I am an adult who still subscribes to print food magazines and reads the food section of the New York Times weekly. I enjoy the stories of the people and places as much as the recipes. Ergo, Stack 11 is my favorite, and, more specifically, the 641-641.5 range. I will probably never make my way through every cookbook, travelogue, culinary memoir, or food encyclopedia on those wonderful shelves, but I will certainly try!
~Randi Levy, Head of the Children’s Library

Stack 12 (700-799 - Arts, Recreation)

As a knitting librarian, one of my favorite call numbers is 746 at the tip-top of the building, stack 12. It’s a fun place to browse especially for those vintage treasuries of Barbara Walker’s stitch patterns. We also have a plethora of more modern publications. There’s a Japanese knitting bible and intriguing stash-busting techniques like marlisle alongside one-skein wonders and last-minute knitted gifts. Be sure to look out for Elizabeth Zimmermann’s titles, who is considered by many to be a sort of fairy godmother to knitters everywhere with her ingenious ideas that reexamined knitting from the inside out. Not a knitter? There are also lots of other handicrafts in this general area, so have a look and perhaps you’ll find a new hobby or the perfect ideas to inspire your next project.
~Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children’s & Young Adult Librarian

Growing up in a small town, movies provided a temporary sense of escape, and the less like my everyday surrounds the more I loved them - silent films, arthouse, international, classic Hollywood. While I was fortunate to have a video store within walking distance, much of my education came from 791.4, Dewey for "General works on moving pictures as entertainment" (located on Stack 12 here). The books in 791.4 contained descriptions and images of movies that I longed to escape to NYC to see - and here I am!
~Cullen Gallagher, Assistant Cataloger

Members love Stack 12 because
Art – and also no one overhead! is the spookiest.

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