Donnerstag, 8. Februar 2018

A Peek at Famous Readers’ Borrowing Records From a Private New York Library

The New York Society Library, a subscription library now located in a prim townhouse on East 79th Street, has been squirreling books away since 1754. Today the collection occupies nine stacks, and like any library, it can be bit overwhelming if you don’t know what to read. But the Library’s archive offers an unusual book trail to follow: the borrowing histories of its readers past. ....

The card catalog at the New York Society Library's Reference Room.

The Society Library has survived in part because New York is a city of readers and writers who have been willing to pay the annual fee, like a gym-membership for the mind. While anyone can walk in and ask for something to read in the Reference Room, only members have borrowing privileges and access to the stacks, as well as electronic resources, access to reading and workrooms, and the children's library. Past members on the roster include Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Henry James, Edward Steichen, Willa Cather, P.G. Wodehouse, W.H. Auden, Djuna Barnes, George Plimpton, Malcolm Cowley, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman, John Cheever, Barbara Guest, Lewis Mumford, Helene Hanff, Roald Dahl, Leonard Bernstein, and Shirley Hazzard. The Library has preserved the circulation records of its membership with a few small gaps, so readers today can work their way through the collection by following the breadcrumbs left behind by readers from the 18th to the 20th century. (Privacy laws prevent the preservation of such records today.) The first decades of records were lost during the Revolutionary War when the British occupied New York, so the earliest records date to 1789. That year the Library reopened in Federal Hall, the meeting place of the first U.S. Congress, and was used by 42 Congressmen and Senators. On April 7, 1790, 14 years before their famous duel, Hamilton and Burr both visited the Library: Burr was reading Voltaire, Hamilton was reading Goethe. Transcribed records from 1789 to 1805 are all available online at the Library’s City Readers project (which I worked on), with visualization tools to explore the collection and its use by members. ... [mehr]

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