Nervous. Anxious. Excited. Awed. Those were my top four feelings today as I walked into the Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library for the first day of my Short-Term Research Fellowship. Feelings not so different from my first trip to Manhattan when I was 12.
That summer, my Italian-American New Yorker dad drove me from Ohio to Brooklyn to visit family. As a special treat, he escorted me into Manhattan on the subway for my first visit to the city of my dreams.
We were strolling along glitzy Fifth Avenue when he suddenly stopped and pointed to the massive building with the elegant stairs and its pair of guardian lions.
“That’s the library,” he said. My mouth hung open. “You mean, it’s full of books?” I asked.
I think we went inside, but I can’t quite remember. It was a long time ago. But I will never forget the feeling of awe I experienced as I looked at that block-long building filled with one of my favorite things on earth — books.
I never would have imagined that I would be doing research on the Bloomsbury pacifists at the building that struck me dumb when I was a girl.
But here I am, and I just finished my first day of bending over a card catalogue drawer and filling out a multitude of tiny forms used for requesting materials from the archives of the Berg Collection.
The collection contains the world’s largest manuscript holdings of Virginia Woolf and W.H. Auden. I am there for Woolf and her friends. Another researcher is poring over Auden documents. And a third, Bill Goldstein, is working on a book, The World Broke in Two: A Literary Chronicle of 1922, which will be published by Holt. It focuses on the intertwined lives and works that year of Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence.
Of course, librarian Anne Garner introduced us, and Bill and I compared stories about former careers as journalists, recent work as adjunct faculty, and our current work on Woolf. Bill’s experiences are decidedly more impressive than mine. He is the former books editor of nytimes.com, is a contributing editor at WNBC-TV and taught at Hunter College.
And I? Well, let’s just say I have small-town credentials. Although I do admit that at heart, I am a big city girl.