By Emily Baer
The New York Historical Society recently spent $70 million trying to make the space more inviting — but one woman who recently went there to do research is feeling snubbed.
When writer and tour guide Maria Dering arrived at the coat check for the library in the Historical Society, she was told that she was not permitted to bring books or paper notes into the library. She was only allowed to bring a laptop, camera, or cell phone (a cellphone in the library? I remember the days when these weren’t allowed in libraries!) She was told paper would be provided if she needed it, as well as a writing instrument.
Once in the library, she had to hand over any hand written notes that she still had and they would be returned once she finished her research. (We’ve posted the library’s notice on what you can and can’t bring in below). When Dering asked “Why?” she was told that this was now the policy of the research library.
This new policy poses an important question for people who use the library often and do not have portable electronic devices at their disposal (she does not). What are they supposed to do if they need to bring notes in for reference?
Or as Dering put it on her blog:
“I cannot imagine why a library would not welcome people who use their notes for research. Not everyone owns a laptop (me!), can afford to buy one, or cares to work on one in a library. Nor can anyone remember every detail they want to research: names, dates, places. Obviously, I am not a technological Luddite (here I am blogging), but I am amazed. When I asked why I couldn’t bring a single sheet of paper into the Library, I was told that it was a new policy. But why? No one could tell me.”
The historical society hasn’t gotten back to us about the reasons behind the policy. The library has its policies posted on its website here, and in more detailed form in this document, but there is no explanation that I can find of the reason behind the “no outside paper” policy.
After some investigation at other museum libraries around New York City and the world I have discovered that this seems to be a new policy that is being adopted. Most of these institutions are changing over to being digitally based, allowing greater accessibility and interaction for people who do come in with laptops and other electronic devices. Much of the world has become so dependent upon the convenience of these devices. But for those who still are “old school” and use paper and handwritten notes, this is a major hindrance when doing research.