“I’ve made us a cup of tea.”
Can there be any nicer sentence in English? When you meet someone for the first time, how lovely to already have that person caring for you.
When I knew I had a research leave coming up, I applied for one of those very amazingly fancy New York Public Library Fellowships. I didn’t get one; I didn’t expect to. But I did root around the website and found that, much less competitive than a fellowship were the two study rooms, the Allen (for people with book contracts) and the Wertheim (for scholars). I asked if I could have a space and was put on the waitlist.
Then, in February, I got notice that a space would come open on March 1. Could I fill out a form and come in for a chat?
I was nervous, but Jay Barksdale, the wonderful librarian in charge, put me at ease immediately with the aforementioned cup of tea in a real china cup with saucer. Really, the point of the meeting was just to make sure that I knew the rules and the procedures, but how many times nicer to learn about all of that with a cup of tea in hand.
What are the rules? I have a special electronic key card, but the room is open whenever the library is. There are special call slips for the Wertheim, too. Many, many people have access to the room—and, more to the point, the shelf where I can keep—yes, keep—any books that I need to use for my project, though the room really only comfortably seats about 15 at a time at its 3 wonderful long tables. And, to my immense narcissistic pleasure, I was asked if I would be willing to speak to, say, the New York Times, should they have an urgent need for a specialist. (Urgent needs for Mrs. Dalloway specialists being rare, I am not expecting a call.)
The Wertheim and Allen rooms run a series of lectures by the scholars at work there at the Mid-Manhattan Library (catty-corner from the big NYPL) many evenings at 6:30. Here is one upcoming event. And you can become a fan of the rooms on facebook, which is a good way to learn about upcoming and recently past lectures.
I cannot describe to you how much of a difference this space, full of silent scholars (when people sneeze, no one even says bless you!) hard at work on projects. But the light posting here since March 1 is perhaps the best indicator of the fact that I’m not just “writing” in quotes, I’m writing.
One more cool thing: the room was established by author and scholar Barbara Tuchman. Isn’t that awesome?
Here is the official description:
To assist researchers making intensive use of the general research collections for a prescribed period of time, The New York Public Library has made available the Wertheim Study. Established in 1963 by author and scholar Barbara Tuchman in honor of her father, Maurice Wertheim, publisher of “The Nation” and a founder of The Theatre Guild, the Study serves individuals engaged in research projects requiring extensive consultation of research materials related to the humanities and social sciences, preliminary to the preparation of a publication, report, or other research project.