Freelancing from NYC’s Public Library

Morning sun broke through the clouds to illuminate Manhattan’s gray buildings. Across their tops, I could see water; was that the Hudson River? That Friday morning was turning out to be cool and crisp, a good day to get out on foot and explore. Just one hitch: I had work to do.

No problem–I’d combine exploring and working by finding a uniquely New York space to finish my editing.

View from 38th floor of Westin Times Square
Amazing view from the Westin Times Square’s 38th floor. See the water? Photo Credit: Leah Fisher Nyfeler

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Remember the opening scene in the original “Ghostbusters” movie? The camera pans over twin majestic lion statues before entering an iconic Beaux-Arts style building, then follows an elderly librarian as she collects books from reading room tables.

When I hear “New York Public Library,” that’s the image that pops into my brain.

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is the holy cathedral for book lovers. That 5th Avenue facade–the photo-famous location of those regal, step-guarding lion statues–has appeared in so many movies. Whether or not you’ve visited the New York Public Library’s main building, you’ve seen it.

When I needed a quiet place with room to work for four or more hours, I searched “public library.” The Schwarzman Building was less than a mile away from my Times Square hotel. In NYC, that’s practically next door.

view down 42nd Street of New York City Public Library with library logo flag
Flags sport the New York Public Library’s logo, redesigned in 2009.

The library doesn’t open until 10 a.m. (thank goodness I wasn’t there on Sunday, when it doesn’t open until 1 p.m.), so I divided my morning into blogging and email at the hotel, a short sightseeing walk, and then editing at the library. Hopefully, I’d finish my workday with time for additional sightseeing.

About 9:30 a.m., I stepped out into the brisk winter air. Just the weekend before, Manhattan had been covered in an unexpected blanket of snow (thank you, #PolarVortex2019!) but by Friday, the wintery mix had melted. On this January morning, the sidewalks were clear. A perfect day for a stroll.

I love walking in NYC. It’s an easy city to navigate on foot and every step provides something to see. Everyone walks with purpose (well, everybody but the tourists), which creates a busy hum of industry–so many people going so many places!–that makes me happy.  And being on the street brings back memories of past visits, including the time I ran the New York City Marathon.

There, bordered by Broadway, 7th Avenue, and 42nd and 47th Streets, was Times Square. At Bryant Park, the Winter Village rink was open for ice skaters (darn it; my visit was just a bit too soon for Frost Fest 2019). Next door, the library’s 42nd Street entrance.

42nd Street entrance to New York Public Library
No lions here; Patience and Fortitude are located at the library’s 5th Avenue entrance.

Working at the Library

Once the security guard had checked my bag, I was inside the library. But as I looked around, I became overwhelmed–the Schwarzman Building is massive. And I had no idea where to go. Another day, I’d have wandered but I couldn’t afford to waste time. After climbing the stairs to the first floor, I found an information desk and consulted the woman seated there–if I needed to work for several hours, where did she recommend?

She asked, “Can you stand a bit of noise and activity? Do you need power?” I was okay with company and some hushed talking; my battery was fully charged, though a backup plug is always nice. Without hesitation, she replied, “The Salomon Room on the third floor is a good place to work. Now, people will come and go because it’s part of the tour but there’s plenty of space. Be sure to look on the floor for plugs.” Thanking her, I took the proffered building guide and headed upstairs.

View of the Salomon Room in New York Public library by Leah Fisher Nyfeler
My work station in the Salomon Room, entrance at left.

The Salomon Room was easy to find. Though the building had only recently opened, all floor plugs had been claimed. I chose a spot with plenty of room to spread out, at the end of a long table, facing the door, near the wall. Once situated, I quickly fell into my editing trance. Every now and then, a low murmur caught my attention–a tour group. After speaking  a few minutes, the guide allowed visitors time to roam the room. Most examined art on the walls, but once, I lifted my head to find a young girl intently reading the “Keep Austin Weird” sticker on my laptop.

Time passed. Head on the table, a man behind me slept; others perused phones; many, like me, clearly worked. In that communal space, I found a comforting sense of individual togetherness. No windows, no book stacks–nothing to break my focus. From roughly 11 a.m. until the end of business, when I finally closed my file and sent the last email, I worked steadily, rising only briefly to stretch and get some blood flowing.

Reading in the Rose Room

The next morning, my husband wanted a quiet place to read Saturday’s New York Times. Normally, he likes his newspaper at breakfast but I’d found an amazing only-in-New-York place to eat: Ellen’s Stardust Diner. The waitstaff at this Broadway eatery sings! A lot! That, and everything comes with tater tots, so what’s not to love?

After he’d been serenaded and fed, I owed him newspaper time. The library was less than a mile walk from Stardust, so we strolled, picked up a Times at the Bryant Park newsstand, and made our way to the third floor’s Rose Reading Room.

Rose Reading Room at main library in New York City
View of New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room. Photo Credit: Leah Fisher Nyfeler

This is where that “Ghostbusters” librarian starts out. The football-field sized room houses long wooden tables, each dotted with reading lights. Books fill surrounding shelves. Large windows flood the space with light, illuminate dark woodwork and the ornate, painted ceiling. A hushed silence permeates–no tours breach the sacred reading area; visitors pause reverentially to soak in the view (and snap a pic at the clear line of demarcation: “No photography beyond this point”).

We settled in to read the paper. I completed the crossword puzzle and made a mental note: look at all those desktop plugs. Next time I was in New York, I’d work in the Rose Room.

Inscription above NYC Public Library Rose Reading Room doorway
Doorway to the Rose Reading Room at New York Public Library. Photo Credit: Leah Fisher Nyfeler

All of the Links!

Westin Times Square

Times Square

Bryant Park

Frost Fest 2019

New York Public Library locations and information

video about the library’s logo redesign

BookPeople merch

Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway

 

 

 

 

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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