The Keys to Manhattan

When I first started Junior High School, my mother would not let me go to Manhattan. If I asked my mom – “the guys want to go to the City, can I go?” – the answer was always no. Growing up in Queens, there was nothing like the excitement of going to Manhattan. Even though I loved the bustle of “The City,” seeing the sites, the amazing buildings, people watching, going to Central Park, buying slices of pizza (then 25 cents!) or a hot dog, there was no way I could get around the edict of my Mom.

View of Manhattan Skyline from Queens

One day, while working on a research assignment, the librarian at the Queens Village branch advised me I could find more complete materials on my project if I went to the Queens Borough Central Library, then located on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica.

When I told my Mom the librarian recommended I complete my work at the Central Library due to the availability of more materials on my topic, she was more than happy to give me bus fare and lunch money for the trip to Jamaica. The Central Library was a bus ride from Queens Village. I could take the Q1 or Q43 bus to get there.

After many productive trips to the Central Library, again one of the reference librarians at Central told me the 42nd Street main Library of New York Public in Manhattan had a wealth of materials on my subject. Aha!

Manhattan Icons.
Photo by Alan Wiesenfeld

So, when I spoke to my mom, I used the same line – “the librarian said I should go to the 42nd Street Library for more extensive materials to complete my assignment.” Same response – “let me get my purse” – and soon I was on my way to the subway to get to the 42nd street Library!

I then knew if I prompted the librarian by asking, “can I find more materials on this subject if I go to 42nd Street,” the answer was always yes. Of course, as excellent and complete as the Queens Central Library was compared to the branches, 42nd Street had the largest and most wide-ranging research collection. In fact, NYPL is the third largest library in the world, right behind the British Library and the Library of Congress.

Using NYPL

I would take the F train to the 5th Avenue/53rd Street station and walk the eleven blocks to the library. Just coming out of the subway and walking the streets of Manhattan was really exciting for me. The sights and sounds, the stores, the whole difference in energy between Queens and “the city” was wonderful. Even to a young person, 5th Avenue was special.

Tour Group at NYPL 5th Avenue Entrance

When I first entered the daunting library, after bounding up the steps between the two lion statues, I made passing notice of how magnificent the building and the interior were. I knew I was looking for the Reference Desk, as consulting with the librarians would facilitate my main goal – to finish my work quickly and get out to the streets of the city.

I have thought about how the library reference staff reacted to this 13-year-old, eagerly approaching the desk for help, with a well framed question or focused research goal. I’d like to think they got a kick out of it, but being New Yorker’s with tons of public experience, they probably didn’t even notice.

What I did not recognize at the time was how important the referral from the reference librarians at Queens Central Library was. This referral changed the dynamic, as the NYPL librarians had a reason to take me more seriously. It was even possible, without this referral, they may have sent me back to Queens Central.

Reference Desk at the New York Public Library

Turns out in the world of library reference, a referral is one of the primary methods librarians use to get the best possible information for a patron. This might mean sending the requestor to a different library that had a more comprehensive or relevant collection, as happened here. Or, the librarian might refer you to another resource, such as a professional association, or subject matter specialist, to get the needed information. The primary goal was to provide materials that led to a complete and authoritative answer to a question or sources directly related to the research task at hand.  

I became very familiar with using the NYPL collection and helpful reference staff. I found myself going there many times, always using the same trick to obtain permission (and budget) for the day in Manhattan. Next time we will take a deeper look at how I accomplished my research.

Young George and Dad at Trade Show in Manhattan – 1959.
Big Cities, libraries, trade shows, and conferences were a big part of George’s career.

8 thoughts on “The Keys to Manhattan

  1. You struck a major nerve, George. Riding the subway sans adult supervision was definitely a right of passage for so many NYC kids. From Bell Park, just to get to the subway required the bus trip to the station. The bus and subway required separate fares, but since both were all of 15 cents…it was not a major investment. Once aboard the E or F trains…it was our version of “to infinity and beyond!”

    My entre into the brave new world of underground travel was accelerated in 1962 with the creation of the New York Metropolitans. The Mets played their first two years in the Polo Grounds, former home of the erstwhile NY Giants. From eastern Queens to northern Manhattan was a schlep and a half. Perhaps two hours…or longer…not to mention the return trip…buoyed by the excitement of witnessing MLB history as the Mets lost more games than any any other team in history…a record that remains intact today.

    Thanks for posting, George. Shared memories are powerful reminders of where we came from…and explain, in many ways, how we view the world today.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What a GREAT experience you shared with us! BTW … except for the mustache … YOU HAVEN’T changed! The subway fare was the 15 cent token. If you don’t already have them ,,, you MUST get a pair of (15 cent) token cufflinks from the NYC Transit store at Grand Central. CHEERS!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your blog. It’s quite enjoyable

    Riding the Q1’s & 43’s meant your address was further down Hillside Ave., toward/Van Buren HS. Add the Q36 to the mix and our destinations were endless.

    My uncle was the Executive Producer of TV’s The Big Payoff & friends frequently accompanied me to see Bess Myerson award a mink coat to the wife whose husband correctly answered all questions. We weren’t JHS 109 age appropriate yet, and Manhattan was a frequent destination for us during July/August.

    Keep on blogging … memories are endless. Might you know of the two famous guitarists who attended 109 in the late 50’s? They were sumthin’ else! Al Cooper & Harvey Brooks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thx for your kind note. Yes, I was just past Springfield Blvd in Bell Park Manor Terrace. Harvey Brooks also lived in BPMT, although I didn’t know him personally. He was a year to two older than me and that made a big difference in your social group back then. I didn’t know Al Cooper (Kooper?) either, but was well aware of him as a “local” and his music. Really appreciate your encouragement!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kooper is correct. I just lost my response to your note, argh. That said, I’m looking forward to your next blog.

        PS: Algebra via Mr. Kelly?

        Like

  4. This got me thinking about all my experiences going into the city to the library – although it wasn’t in Manhattan. It was in one of the “fly over” states. Book and record album titles flashed before my mind’s eye! A universal experience, for sure. I always feel such strong gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

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