New York Public Library, that is. I love libraries–I always have. I was the kid who happily dropped by the local public library at least once a week, all the way through high school and the following summer until I arrived on my university’s campus and discovered an even BIGGER library just for students and faculty. I always participated in those summer reading programs in elementary and middle school, and in high school, I volunteered with Youth Services to help run those same summer and after-school programs for younger students. I think it is a testimony to the stupendous state of our society that anyone can get a library card at their local library branch and receive FREE access to nearly unlimited knowledge and adventures. Oh, no, libraries are not just where homeless people flock to enjoy the Internet and air conditioning. Libraries are magical.
I love bookstores too; I really do. My heart actually starts beating faster when I enter one and smell all those fresh, untouched books–or musty, well-loved used ones. There are very few things that thrill me more in life than discovering a truly fantastic used bookstore. You know the kind: overwhelmingly cluttered, totally disorganized, tucked away in some unexpected place.
But libraries will always have an extra-special place in my heart.
You have no idea how absolutely much it thrilled me to receive my New York Public Library card at long last a few weeks ago. It took a while because, long story short, I had to wait forever to get a new U.S. passport with my married name. I needed that passport to get the library card in some way, either using the passport itself with a recently postmarked piece of mail to my NYC address, or using the passport as the means to get a NY driver’s license and then obtain a library card (an even longer route). When I saw that piece of mail postmarked from the U.S. Department of State, I almost jumped with glee. And no, I’m not planning on any international travel any time soon–unless it’s fictional.
Did you know that there are more than 8.5 million items a person can check out from the New York Public Library? 8.5 million! “Why, life is so unfair! I’ll never be able to read them ALL,” the nerd cried.
Oh, but it gets even better: our nearest branch of the NYPL, the Webster branch, is all of four blocks from our apartment. Four blocks. I can’t handle it. That is closer than my preferred grocery store and the church we’ve been attending. Do you fully comprehend this? Sweet fate has place books closer to my current residence than both food and worship.
The Webster branch was built in 1893 and opened to the public in 1906. The branch originally served a predominately Czech immigrant population in the early 20th Century. Most importantly, the library branch’s founders foresaw more than 100 years in the future and determined that the Webster branch would be four blocks from the apartment of myself, an avid reader and loyal patron of public libraries everywhere. Ahem.
The library branch itself is fairly small, but the items within the branch change out as items from other branches are brought in. It is cozy old building filled with people reading and the occasional individual whispering in Czech (yes, really). But the absolute best part is The Book Cellar, a used bookstore in the branch’s basement operated by Friends of NYPL. The Book Cellar is a magical place filled with SO many donated books. There were too many books to fit on the shelves, so there were even more boxes of unopened donations stacked beneath tables and in high nooks. And everything was amazingly priced, even for places outside of NYC! I scored two good-as-new novels for $4.
Let’s do a little math problem: If Rebecca learns that she can purchase two used books for $4 from the basement of the public library branch that is all of four city blocks away from her apartment, how quickly will she drain both the savings from her meager copy editor’s salary and her husband’s more ample accountant’s salary?
Actually, let’s not think about that. But there is good news in terms of my book-
buying hoarding issues. NYPL offers quite a few ebooks for free temporary download on ereaders, including the Kindle. I received a Kindle as a college graduation gift from my parents last year, and I have used it quite a bit. Although ebooks are much cheaper than new novels, I am–as I mentioned earlier–a hopeless sucker for used bookstores. I go in hoping to save money, and leave with arms loaded down with books I won’t get around to for months and a wallet that is $40 lighter. But do you know what tempts me more than the allure of cheap, used books? FREE LIBRARY BOOKS.
Checking out ebooks from NYPL is so convenient, it’s ridiculous. I don’t even have to walk the measly four blocks to the Webster Branch to retrieve new reading material. I can sit on my couch and have a new book in minutes. After searching around the NYPL website and discovering an available volume that catches my eye, I simply request a copy, fill out my email, and receive an email directing me to my FREE download on Amazon. You can choose to “check out” ebooks for one, two, or three weeks, after which time, they will no longer be available for you to access until you check them out again. If an ebook isn’t available at the time, you can request it and you will receive an email when it’s available for you. Needless to say, I’ve requested a lot of ebooks in the past week or so since making this discovery.
I consider my ability to park it on the couch and receive a new book to be the epitome of New Yorker laziness. In this city, you can have many things delivered to you–from Chinese or pizza to your groceries and your laundry. But what do I get most excited about? Ebooks from the public library. Figures.
OK, so the only thing that has made me slightly more excited about the library than the ebooks is finally getting Downton Abbey, Season 2 delivered to the Webster Branch. I have been watching it religiously after work every day so I can be sure to finish all of it by the end of this upcoming Labor Day weekend, when it is sadly due. Can we please talk about how incredibly emotionally invested I have become in the Crawleys and their servants? Can we please talk about the fact that I sit on the edge of my seat for entire episodes and then shake my hands at the goshdarn cliffhanger endings of every. single. episode. Because it means, SIGH, I have to watch yet another episode right then and there.
Can we talk about the fact that I want all of Lady Mary’s dresses, even if they went out of style with pantaloons? Or about the fact that seeing Daisy scrub all the upstairs people’s dishes motivates me to finally go clean my own dishes? Or that it makes me want to read The Remains of the Day all over again? And want to adopt a British accent?
Seriously, if you have never watched this show before, do yourself a favor, and do. You’re missing out on some quality television. At least the first season is available for instant view on Netflix, so no excuses. (Plus, you get to learn about WWI-era history and British culture and stuff because, I mean, it’s PBS.) It has so many things I adore in it, half the time I like to believe these brilliant television makers created this show just for me. I’m only slightly delusional…turns out, a lot of people adore it!