Our Collection

Libraries & Librarians

"There are a lot of people in the reading-room; but one is not aware of them. They are in the books. Sometimes they move in the pages, ilke sleepers who turn over between two dreams. Ah, how good it is to be among reading people. Why are they not always like that?" —Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

February is National Library Lovers' Month and we are celebrating in the best way we know how: with a list of staff recommendations featuring books about, or set in, libraries, including books for kids and young adults. A list of titles cited by members in response to the survey question in the February 1st e-news follows.  

Leigh Bardugo | Hell Bent series 

In Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House series, a library can be a font of knowledge, a place of comfort, or a portal to hell—and sometimes all three. That’s the nature of the secret world that lives in the shadows of Yale University, where its erudition, thirst for the sublime, and casual elitism are amplified to supernatural proportions. Alex Stern doesn’t belong there. She was supposed to die in an overdose or get shot by some sleazy dealer. But when her ability to see ghosts suddenly becomes an asset within Yale’s ivied walls, she gets a chance to start over. A manufactured scholarship later, Alex has a full course load and a gig monitoring the magical rituals practiced by the arcane student societies on the New Haven campus. There, libraries abound: the expansive Sterling Library, the impressive Beinecke Library, and the library of Il Bastone, headquarters of her own arcane society. The question is whether they can supply what she needs to hold on to her new life, or—as she dives into Yale’s decadent corruption—if she even wants to keep it. —Kirsten Carleton, Assistant Circulation Supervisor/ILL Coordinator

Elizabeth KostovaThe Historian: A Novel

A vivid memory: I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time while stuck at a friend’s house during the December 2005 New York City transit strike. A few days later, I traveled to see family for Christmas. Some brilliant relative gave me this just-published related novel, and I read it on the flight home. When I say I read it on the flight, what I mean is that I buckled my seatbelt, pulled out this book, thought “I’ll give this giant doorstop a try and in a bit I’ll listen to music or eat snacks or whatever,” and then suddenly they were announcing that we should put up our tray tables because we were about to land at La Guardia. It is that absorbing. It’s also ideal for travel - not by weight, goodness knows, but because its heroine-narrator spends most of the book tearing around from one library to another, from the U.S. to the former Ottoman Empire and all over Eastern Europe, including universities, monasteries, and archives in locations that this geographically challenged reader had never even heard of. It’s an ideal combination of the thrills of literary and historical discovery – turning a page nobody’s turned in centuries, finding a key source nobody else has thought to consult – and the thrills you get when you’re being tracked by…well, you’ll have to read it for yourself, in transit or not. —Sara Holliday, Head of Events

Haruki Murakami | The Strange Library

If you’re looking to dip your toe into the vast pool of Haruki Murakami’s oeuvre, you might start with The Strange Library, a quick but fascinating tale wherein a young boy undertakes a bizarre adventure when popping into his local library on his way home from school. He meets a variety of characters on his short journey, which occasionally threatens to be much longer, including a sheep man and a mute girl. Fable-like in its telling, this almost reads like a children’s book but there are sinister elements and instances that may cause nightmares, so best to call this an illustrated short novel for adults, also fine for teens. —Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children’s & YA Librarian

Susan Orlean | The Library Book

In 1986, a fire broke out in the downtown headquarters of the Los Angeles Public Library.  Hundreds of thousands of books were destroyed or damaged in an apparent act of arson.  This unsolved crime is the just the sort of story that Susan Orlean relishes, having previously used the vandalism of a national park as a window into the world of flower obsessives in The Orchid Thief.  Untangling the clues that lead to the suspected arsonist is but one of the pleasures contained in The Library Book.  Surprisingly, the firebug hardly rates compared to the cast of eccentrics who shepherded the growth of the library over its history, and the current employees who constantly find new and innovative ways of meeting their patrons’ needs. Orlean admits that it had been a while since she really utilized a public library.  Her childhood was spent roaming the stacks, but the real surprise for her is the variety of services that a large urban public library system provides and what the “public” part of a public library has come to mean. “It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace,” she writes, summing up the basic truth that underscores the importance of what libraries and librarians provide to their communities.  That public libraries continue to meet the needs of precocious kids, job seekers, homeless communities, researchers, and anyone else who wanders in their doors despite tight budgets and unsympathetic politicians is the real revelation here. —Patrick Rayner, Acquisitions Assistant/Circulation Assistant

Jorge Luis Borges | "The Library of Babel" (short story included in the Borges collection, Labyrinths, and the anthology In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians (Michael Cart, ed.)

Although I believe the story has elements of harrowing agony and horror, especially with how some of the librarians turned mad and burnt the books they deemed worthless, the idea of a multiverse library with a vast, endless collection is something that I love. Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant

If you are interested in the history of libraries in New York City, I highly recommend Tom Glynn's Reading Publics: New York City's Public Libraries, 1754-1911. Glynn explores the world of loaning libraries before the founding of the tax-supported, free New York Public Library system. It is a fascinating story, and Glynn's book is also a scholarly social and cultural history of the young city (and reading) as told though the stories of its libraries. The fierce debates over the inclusion of fiction in circulating libraries make for especially captivating reading. The 1754 date in the subtitle refers to the founding of New York's first library. That's us, and the Society Library is featured prominently in Glynn's excellent book.  For more 19th-century NYC library history, see the chapter in Thomas Augst's 2003 book The Clerk's Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in Nineteenth-century America entitled "Making society out of books: the New York Mercantile Library and the enterprise of reading." Even closer to home, two histories of The Society Library are enthusiastically recommended and consulted frequently by our staff. Marion King was a librarian at NYSL for 50 years and her 1954 memoir Books and People: Five Decade of New York's Oldest Library is a fun, informative, anecdotal history of the library told in King's charming voice. And don't miss the delightful NYSL-produced New York Society Library: 250 yearswhich features material—letters, board minutes, and more—pulled from our institutional archives. (Also available for sale: ask at the circulation desk.)

NLLM seems the perfect excuse to also recommend two novels featuring protagonists who work in public libraries: Philip Larkin's A Girl in Winter (one of two novels by the poet) and Kingley Amis's That Uncertain Feeling.  Although perhaps not entirely appropriate here—neither author paints the rosiest, coziest picture of libraries—they are both fine novels. A Girl in Winter is a muted, melancholic character study and examination of loss set in a claustrophic English town during wartime. Amis's novel is entirely different: an often slapstick-silly comic novel featuring a philandering librarian in Wales. Although not quite as on-the-mark as his comic masterpiece Lucky Jim, this is still good for a few laughs.  —Steven McGuirl, Head of Acquisitions


Kazuno Kohara | The Midnight Library 

If you’re seeking a sweet story for young ones, check out Kazuno Kohara’s The Midnight Library. This tale takes place overnight, where a petite librarian, assisted by her winged staff of owls, welcomes a variety of animals to her cozy quarters. Personally, I’m not sure I’d want to be in the NYSL in the wee hours, but if you find the idea appealing, you might enjoy our escape room—Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children’s & YA Librarian 

Polly Shulman | Grimm Legacy Series 

If you found your way to this post you’re probably a lover of libraries and books, so what could be better than a series of page-turning stories set in a unique library that is based, in part, on our own New York Society Library? Author Polly Shulman draws readers into the New-York Circulating Material Repository where library staff are charged with caring for three very special collections in The Grimm Legacy, The Wells Bequest, and The Poe Estate. Naturally, sometimes supernaturally, nefarious characters and creatures abound, and danger lurks for anyone who shows a glimmer of interest in the powerful objects and hidden treasures within. Recommended for fans of fantasy and fairy tale magic, classic sci-fi, haunted horror, or, of course, libraries. —Randi Levy, Head of Children’s Library

Zeno Alexander | The Library of Ever 

Lenora is terribly unhappy and bored out of her mind, and worse yet, it feels like no one wants her to enjoy her summer. However, after finding a secret doorway, she finds a library beyond what she has ever seen and visited. It has everything: all the books ever written, and maybe those that will be written someday. Here she becomes Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian, where she can travel through space. However, someone (or something) wants the library for itself. Maybe she will save the day? Here's a book to show that librarians (and library staff) are super! —Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant

Anika Aldamuy Denise (with illustrations by Paola Escobar) Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré 

Pura Belpré is one of my role models. This picture book is a tribute to an incredible person - a biography of a storyteller, puppeteer, collector of folktales, and New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian (she worked in the NYPL), who advocated for bilingual literature. This book is sure to inspire aspiring librarians and library staff out there - no matter who you are and where you're from.  —Marialuisa Monda, Events Assistant

Jessica M. Boehman The Lions at Night & Michelle Knudsen (with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes) | Library Lion 

In The Lions at Night, stone lions Patience and Fortitude guard the NYPL by day, but what do they get up to after closing time? How about a quick jaunt to Coney Island to ride the rollercoaster, win prizes, and look at their sea lion relatives? Meanwhile, in Library Lion, lions make good library patrons (and volunteer pages)—as long as they follow the rules. The New York Society Library doesn’t have any mascots, but maybe we should!  —Kirsten Carleton, Assistant Circulation Supervisor/ILL Coordinator 
(The recommendation of Library Lion is seconded by Marialusia Monda, Events Assistant, who adds: "This is such a fantastic and inspiring book that showcases how everyone belongs at the library, and that we all have unique gifts.")

In the February 1st Library e-newsletter, we asked NYSL members to name some favorite books that feature libraries. Here are the results

  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
  • The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • The Archivist by Martha Cooley
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  • Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth (Neil Klugman works at the Newark Public Library over the summer)
  • Travesties [a play] by Tom Stoppard
  • The Music Man (book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson; story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey)
  • Jorge Luis Borges's story "The Library of Babel"
  • The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Ulysses by James Joyce