NYPL Research Fellowships

I’ve written here about how transforming my space in the Wertheim Study of the New York Public Library has been. I have use of that spot till the end of May and, believe me, as soon as I finish a few pedestrian errands, I’m heading right over there for a quick Friday research fix.

Jay Barksdale, the wonderful librarian who manages the Wertheim and Allen Rooms sent along this link about short term fellowships for scholars. If you live far from New York and have research that depends on the collections at the NYPL, why not apply?

A few preliminary details, more at the website:
The New York Public Library is pleased to announce the availability of 20 fellowships to support visiting scholars conducting studies in the Library’s unique research and special collections between June 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. The Fellowship stipend is $2,500. Scholars from outside the New York metropolitan area engaged in graduate-level, post-doctoral, or independent research are invited to apply. Applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents with the legal right to work in the U.S. Applications must be received by April 1, 2011, in order to be considered. 

Into the Well

I was on the phone with a colleague the other day and he asked how my leave is going.

I groaned. He laughed. He told me that when he’d seen our colleague for the first time, back at work after a year’s research leave, he looked like he was still at the bottom of a deep well. We both laughed and then we talked about the well for a while.

I like that metaphor because that is what it feels like when I spend the day in the library. It doesn’t take more than three or four hours for me to turn into a disoriented, blinking mole, shocked at the clamor and noise of the world around. When I get deep enough into my work to actually break ground—which is rare—it can be hard to return to family life. Most days, however, I have to be so conscious that I need to leave at 4:30 in order to fetch the girls that all I do is peer down into the well, imagining what I might find in the distant darkness.

Peering down isn’t enough, however. If you want to find the treasure that lies beneath the surface, you have to dive down into the well.

Merry little magpies like me find many reasons to peck around at the ground instead. The sky is blue. The children are charming. Smart friends and acquaintances are tweeting away, updating statuses with wit and energy. Why leave this happy conflagration for the mysteries of the deep?

Because the treasure is at the bottom of the well.


This stretch of research leave marks the first time since my children were born (more than 7 years ago) that I have had hours to spend in the library poking around. I thought I’d left it behind—worried, even, that I wouldn’t want to be a scholar anymore--but, though the muscles have atrophied, I am gaining strength again and returning to that delicious sense of pleasure in going deep, deep, deep into a bit of reading to see if there’s anything there. I like almost every bit of it: the silence, the mental effort of reading a theoretical essay, the pleasure of skimming something that, in the end, doesn’t fit, and, to my point today, ferreting out little bits of historical research.

Today, after a couple hours of responding to colleague’s writing, I rejected a tedious project (collating editions has still not risen to the place of pleasure. When it does, I think I will have achieved Boddhisathva-hood)—the one I really should do—in favor of opening the cardboard box on my shelf. What was inside?

A bound black volume with COMMERCE TLC p.v. 126 stamped on the inside masked an imperfectly bound collection of pamphlets. How these 12 documents came to live together, I don’t know—and I’m smart enough not to get distracted by the desire to find out. I called this out of its dusty home to consult No. 8: London Municipal Society and National Union of Ratepayers’ Association. The Greater London Traffic Problem: A Scheme for Its Solution. No. 18. London: London Municipal Society. n.d. stamped 1923.

There is some talk in Mrs. Dalloway, in several spots, about London traffic. Most germane for me, Richard Dalloway thinks that something should be done. It occurred to me that a committee on traffic reform is just the kind of thing Richard Dalloway, MP, might be on. Was there such a commission?

Well, it turns out that traffic lights were introduced in London between 1923—when the novel is set—and 1925—when it’s published. So I called up the pamphlet in case it said something about this innovation. It is silent on this score. Instead, for 11 pages, the authors describe all the competing interests and stakeholders in the problem and summarize the reports of other commissions and committees. Unlike other traffic-related documents which mention specific intersections or the problems with buses, say, or pedestrians crossing multi-lane roads, this one never stoops below the level of bureaucracy to describe the street.

How, then, did No. 8 come to be bound alongside No. 2 “Sorelle, R.P. and J. R. Greeg…Teacher’s manual to Secretarial studies (1923)” or “No. 6 “U.S. President, 1801-1809 (Jefferson)..Message transmitting a memorial of the merchants of Baltimore, January 29th 1806” or No. 12 “Review of the commerce of New Orleans. For 1875-76” which begins “The hopes of the trade, freely indulged in last September, have not been altogether fulfilled.”

Indeed. My hopes—for pamphlets on municipal traffic or otherwise—are seldom altogether fulfilled. I will say, however, that it is quietly thrilling to learn that I still really do like the scholar’s life. I just hope there will be more of it again some day.