Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The New York State Library

Searching Books for a Hidden Past

Among the many great and grand libraries of this nation are the state libraries and state library systems. Continuing on my summer journey out east (as they say) to the lovely and historic state of New York, I spent a short afternoon at the New York State Library. The last time I found myself in these here parts was a good twenty years ago. In fact, it may have been longer ago than that. The New York State Museum is a favorite for the state's 5th grade curriculum, and presumably has been for decades. So the truth is that I may have been here last some twenty-seven or so years ago. Neither here nor there now, but returning to this formidable building and getting a new take on it was a pleasant event. As I'm often in the mood of searching the back countryside of rural New York State for local history, specifically in the form of rural historical societies often housed in garages, run down bungalows, or ever-more exciting, the find of a partially renovated Victorian era rural mansion, the visit to the state library seemed to promise a different sort of pleasure in its consolidation of disparate materials, a plush cornucopia of New York State "ruraliana" from the past three hundred years.

As I pushed my way up through elevators, stairs, and security turnstiles, I found the increasing spaces of the bibliosphere to be refreshing and exciting. Books, books, and more books, of all styles and backgrounds! But also the artifacts of bookish history, journals, maps, consulting tables, and more. I walked past the battery of reference librarians, who had formed a flank to my side, serving as a barrier to the inner world of librarian-arts. Well, so goes the legend. I did notice that the reference desks did not necessarily feel all that user-friendly, being usable by those who are more than 5-feet tall only. There've been many conversations about this sort of thing in library journals. But let's not dwell on such issues. The library itself was an amazing physical space, if not dazzling at times.

One of the most stunning views was to the east, partially overlooking the Hudson (which you really can't see in this photo), but also the double spires of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. The entire floor which houses this portion of the library, dedicated to legal research and history, has a panoramic view of the entire city of Albany.

Having lived the first part of my life along the Hudson, but farther south, and only visiting Albany on occasion, I didn't realize till this visit how hilly Albany was. In fact, I only recall something vaguely about the hilliness of Albany in a book I read last year on the French and Indian War, when the writer described men coming out of the woods and "down the hills" of Albany to the Hudson. So much for my memory! Anyhow, I spent a good part of the afternoon wandering around the stacks, perusing old legal tomes and legislative tracts to better understand New York State history and its coming of age in the early 19th century.

The image to the left is a better view of some of the stacks, though many of these tomes are reference works. Volume after volume of legal text, bound and erect upon the metal shelves, sitting one-beside-the-other, like military sentinels. You also have a good view of the ceiling and lighting that is available, mostly providing decent viewing of texts. Though, I must say, when I was using the microfilm machines, I was sorely disappointed by the massive lack of lighting: that portion of the library (on the same floor) was completely without light. I do understand that individuals seeking to use microfilm and microform readers often desire darker surroundings to get the fullest affect for viewing the illumined screens, but it is nigh impossible to actually get the necessary film or form into the viewing with no lights around or above you. Okay, I'll stop complaining.

Of course, I had to rummage around the various parts of the library, exploring at will and at whim (if that's even a proper English expression!). I will mention that I was only on one floor of the multi-level library--I think it was the 7th floor. I did not get a chance to visit or view some of the remarkable collections housed elsewhere, though nearby, such as the archival unit or rare books, which would have been a marvelous thing. So I will have to wait, and by this account and statement, so too will you kind readers! I promise you, I will return one day to this place. For I've heard such great things about its other biblio-components. And I'm sure you would agree. For the present moment, let us turn our eyes and attention to this fine image: "Librarians Room." I'm not sure what lies behind these oaken doors, though clearly it is a room that has something to do with...ready, okay, here goes: "librarians." Though, I cannot help but notice the slight error, if I am reading this correctly, in the lack of possession in its grammatical status: shouldn't it not be something more of what other languages like German rightly call the genitive? Hmmmm...should it be "Librarian's?" Not unless it's the room of one librarian. Then what about "Librarians'...?" More likely. Then why simply "Librarians" without any possessive indication? It is a mystery.

Now this is a fine example of the specificity of collections at the NYS Library. Here is the "NYS Talking Book and Braille Library." I am fascinated by the idea of a "talking book," as it doesn't readily bring to mind the actuality of a recorded text. Rather I imagine a book with lips, teeth, tongue, nose, eyes, and all around face, eloquently vociferating. Or is it pontificating? Well, it doesn't matter really. This is an interesting unit among the various bibliographic and biblio-vocal departments of the state library.

Looking somewhat toward the north, again from the same floor of the library, you will see this fine view: the NYS capital building. Though, I don't believe you refer to other capital spaces as "capitol," such as you do with the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, because it is located on the great hill beckoning back to the Roman Capitoline hill, near Circus Maximus. Again, I have to wonder if this is mere style and not something else. Nonetheless, here is the building, which houses the governor in his day-to-day activities. This is the house where Gov. Spitzer played his frivolous games and sailed into a political typhoon, and now where Gov. Paterson sits and mulls over the tribulations of a divided Albany Assembly. If only they had a view like this, and troubled themselves with historical problems, rather than daily civic problems, then maybe they'd have better digestion, and feel better about themselves.

After leaving this delightful place, I found myself on the first floor of the NYS Library building, which is more than just a library. It is a museum of some repute. The New York State Museum is a mixture of all interesting and good things, from natural history and science to the good old fashioned history of yesteryear itself. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn't been to this place in several decades, and it was in 5th grade or so that I took my last trip to this museum. At least that is what seemed to hold the attention of most pre-pubescent kids in those days. What ten-year-old wants to go to a library? Okay, maybe there's some ten-year-old, somewhere who wants to. But let's go on.

This interesting, and perhaps out-of-the-way exhibit, which is incidentally in the main entryway, is a geological gem. It was, if my memory serves me right, a fossilized ocean bed displaying the marine antiquity of New York State, specifically showing starfish and other curiosities of the deep. The specimen came from the collection of Thomas Cole's son, who was an avid amateur geologist and resident of my hometown of Saugerties.

Of course, I could not give up the opportunity to snap a photo of the signs that hung from the outside of the building, declaring to those passing by that this building was in fact "a library." But also "archives" and "museum." A novel approach, don't you think?

This was a pleasant surprise. Some of you might be thinking: "what the heck is this and what does it have to do with books?" Well, everything pretty much has to do with books in my bibliotopic mind. Anyhow, just outside of the NYS library and not far from the signs above was a World War II memorial. At the entrance to this fine marbled memorial was this plaque dedicated to the memory of the "Four Immortal Chaplains." The only reason I knew about these legendary chaplains is that I recall as a child the story of Clark Poling, the chaplain from the Reformed Church, who was among this group. And the reason I heard this story was that my great-grandfather, Herman Knaust, was good friends with Rev. Clark Poling's father, the Rev. Daniel Poling, who was a famed evangelical preacher, who wandered the globe and enchanted the highest men and women of society, such as Chang Kai-Shek and other luminaries, with his gospel rich lexicon. He was a frequent guest of the family and lived in a cabin on our family's lake near Coxsakie, NY. If you click on the image, you can read the sad story of the four chaplains, and their fate at sea during the war.

Well, just as I was leaving, I noticed that right near the parking lot of the library there were piles of construction materials. This was the church that I had mentioned earlier, which was actually going through a face lift. Here you will see that the Immaculate Conception grounds are "littered" with materials to fix up the facade.

Both photos show the same side of the church.

Of course, how could I pass up this opportunity? I had left the library and was driving home, when I saw a truck with the name "Hudson Valley Paper Company." I imagined the great pulp'd paper reams inside, being ready to be made into some sort of textual object. Of course, with the way the winds are blowing and my luck, the paper made by this company was likely to be heading to some other location and for use in some non-textual object, like toilet paper. But who said I couldn't dream? We need a few dreams now and then.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't find a good way to browse through the archives, but I would strongly recommend a visit to the Detroit Public Library. It's a remarkable piece of 60s design that has been untouched. Oh, and there are books.