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Public Reading

2011 January 12

The New York Public Library’s famed main building is one block away from my office. I walk by it every day when I get off the subway.  I have yet to set foot inside.

When I began my job, it was August, and I would use my break to take my lunch to Bryant Park and read. It was lovely to have a place to go sit outside and people watch, and a good way to ensure that I got away from my windowless office building for a little while each day. But I’ve had to give up that luxury in the winter months, and now I usually find myself heating up leftovers and eating alone at my desk, in front of the computer.

It occurred to me one morning, as I passed by the giant library, that it would be the perfect place to pass my lunch hour–I could browse for books, read, or write at one of the giant tables. And I could still people watch. But I haven’t made this plan a reality yet. Why?

Something about this imposing building is intimidating to me. The very basis of a library is that it’s open to the public. That’s its entire purpose–to give people like me (and not like me) a space to read and sit and wander. But I just can’t seem to shake this feeling of apprehension–as though I’m going to try the door and it will be locked, or I will be yelled at, told to leave, or I will get lost and wander somewhere I am not allowed. Or maybe it’s the ever-present discomfort of sitting in public alone. Don’t get me wrong–I do it all the time, but there’s always a sense of vulnerability I get, as though everyone is watching me and judging me because I’m there by myself. It’s ridiculous, but I usually don’t let it stop me from doing things on my own.

Does anyone else get this feeling?  I promise to go to the NYPL on my lunch break, by the end of January. And I will tell you all about it.

5 Responses Post a comment
  1. January 12, 2011

    You haven’t been inside yet?! Just go take a walk around it! I’ve been to the NYPL many many times throughout my life– starting with when my mom used to take me there as a child to check our suitcases for the whole day, and then walk around NYC without having to carry anything.

    But this is the catch: I find the 42nd St building a nicer place to walk around for a bit than to sit and read in. I had the same experience at the Boston Public Library– the courtyard is beautiful, but I’d rather go sit and read in a cafe. Also, while this building has some special collections, exhibits, and divisions (like the Millstein New York history and genealogical division), the main building doesn’t have that many books. Go across the street to the 5th Ave/40th street building for the main humanities branch with a great collection of novels, plays, contemporary nonfiction and lit crit.

    But… in the famous 42nd street building, the lions are epic! The reading rooms and stairwells are beautiful. The gift shop is seductive. You should go inside! I know it looks intimidating but it’s worth it. Good luck!!!!

  2. January 13, 2011

    I definitely know how you feel! It’s funny how paranoid we can get about people seeing us doing something wrong or different. I swear I’ve spent my life trying not to be noticed by strangers on the street and it’s prevented me from doing things that I’ve really wanted to do. It’s ridiculous. But just think, you’ll go, you’ll love it and look back and wonder what you were so worried about. Let us know how it is!

    Now, if I could only convince myself of the same thing here in Buenos Aires…

  3. January 14, 2011

    You should check out the library! It is imposing, but the reading room is beautiful! Plus, a lady who works at the front desk has amazing fashion sense and the best hair and glasses.

    I’ve also felt the same way about sitting alone in public, and I’ve decided it’s just something I have to get over. Yes, people look at you when you walk by, but I shouldn’t assume that people are watching my every move. Gotta tell myself to be less paranoid!

    – Meredith

  4. Raquel permalink
    January 14, 2011

    I am the same way with the BPL. I go into the McKim building all the time with no problems: it’s old and drab and frumpy and I feel perfectly at home in it. (hmm, what does this say about me?) But I have only tiptoed ONCE through the old building with the courtyard and I felt so much like I was trespassing that I fled. I need to get my butt in there!!

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