I want my Recherche!
January 27, 2007 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Cool NYC libraries, foreign language books in NYC & availability of book borrowing to foreign people in NYC libraries. (mi)

I'm gonna embark in a strange, solo, hermit-like (that's the starting intention anyway) three-month vacation to the very Babylon, New York city (I'm from Italy). I want to do many things, one of which is to read a lot. What are your favourite NYC libraries? Why?

I'll mainly read american literature in english language. But I could, say, feel the sudden impulse to read Proust's "In search of lost time". And I'd want to read that in italian, as I don't speak french. Where could I find a library with books in foreign languages?

Also, will I be able to borrow books, or I'll have to read them inside the building due to the fact that I'm not american?
posted by Baldons to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Most of NYC is part of the NYPL, although Queens and Brooklyn have their own library systems. The NYPL is lovely. Some branches are glorious, some are... not so glorious. You'll be able to borrow books so long as you have evidence of your address. There are private libraries, as well, but the NYPL should have everything you need. Don't worry, there will be plenty of books in those furrin languages. If your local branch doesn't have it, they'll get it for you from another branch. It won't be held against you that you're not an American.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:15 PM on January 27, 2007

Baldonds, I've noticed that most foreign language collections tend to focus on books that were originally native in that language. Translations are very hard to come by and I would expect you to have trouble finding Italian translations of French classics. I would advise you to stock-up on Italian language translations of foreign lit in your own country and not count on finding much of that in even the best of US libraries.
posted by gregb1007 at 4:51 PM on January 27, 2007

Best answer: You're in luck. The third floor of the Donnell branch has one of the best foreign-language sections in the country, certainly among non-reference libraries. (There are, of course, reference books, but most can be checked out.) I spent a significant portion of my life there during the years I worked in Midtown Manhattan. Furthermore, there's always a cart or two of sale books outside the elevator on the third floor (before you go into the rooms with the books), where you can pick up great stuff (as well as lots of crap, of course) for a quarter (for most paperbacks) or a dollar. And while gregb1007 is correct about libraries in general, I'm happy to report that the Donnell has lots and lots of translated stuff (you can read the collected oeuvre of, say, Jackie Collins in a dozen languages if you want), because it's there not to serve students of the language but native speakers who want to read the same stuff everybody wants to read, but in their native languages. There's a whole bookcase (maybe two) of Russian translations of foreign material. I didn't spend much time in the Italian section, so I can't tell you specifically, but they have a lot of books and I wouldn't be surprised if they had Proust. Enjoy!
posted by languagehat at 5:33 PM on January 27, 2007

While the NYPL does seem to have an extensive collection in Italian, a quick search revealed that they do not have Proust in Italian.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:57 PM on January 27, 2007

You might try contacting the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, who maintain a library.
posted by miniape at 8:50 PM on January 27, 2007

Best answer: Here is a list of private libraries in New York City but it seems to include public as well as private libraries. I am partial to the public libraries, both the main branch of NYPL and the main branch fo the Brooklyn Public library are beautiful edifices. The Science Industry and Business Library in downtown Manhattan is a great place to hang out, probably not super great for materials in other languages. The Bobst Library at NYU is sort of big and interesting. It's technically closed to the public but the Tamiment Labor Library is inside the Bobst and *is* open to the public, so all you have to do is say you're going there and you're in!

If you want to read Proust in Italian you have one option

D-16 1918
Author Proust, Marcel, 1871-1922.
Title Alla ricerca del tempo perduto. Nuova edizione italiana condatta sul testo critico francese a cura di Paolo Serini; trad. di Natalia Ginzburg

Humanities and Social Sciences Library
New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street

I'm not sure if that circulates or not, but you'll likely have a bit of trouble getting a library card if you're just a visitor but at least at the Brooklyn Public Library, I did not have much of a problem with this as long as I had an address where I could receive mail.
posted by jessamyn at 10:05 PM on January 27, 2007

Best answer: If you find yourself craving something you can't get at a library, try the bookstore of S F Vanni (30 W 12th btwn 5th & 6th Aves, 212-675-6336). You have to ring the doorbell and Sig. Vanni will come and let you in. It's a crowded little shop, but he's a lovely man (from Sicily originally) and there's a very wide range of Italian-language literature available there. I got a Steinbeck novel in Italian translation there, so he'd probably have Proust or know where to get it for you.

I'm now extremely jealous of people with regular access to the Donnell library. Last time I came back from Italy my suitcase was stuffed with books because they're so expensive to buy here.
posted by katemonster at 10:13 PM on January 27, 2007

Margalo, jessamyn, and languagehat, thanks for pointing out that I was indeed wrong about the lack of translated works in foreign languages in the New York City's public libraries.

Unfortunately, I am still right about Boston. So if anyone wants to have their choice of foreign language translations in Boston, don't count on it :-(
posted by gregb1007 at 10:18 PM on January 27, 2007

If you wind up doing the Tamiment trick at Bobst, be aware of their hours, which are not the same as the rest of Bobst's.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:54 PM on January 27, 2007

Best answer: "If you want to read Proust in Italian you have one option

"D-16 1918
Author Proust, Marcel, 1871-1922.
Title Alla ricerca del tempo perduto. Nuova edizione italiana condatta sul testo critico francese a cura di Paolo Serini; trad. di Natalia Ginzburg

"Humanities and Social Sciences Library
New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street"

You can't check that out, but you can sit in the public library research library reading room and read it, and you don't even have to have a local address to get a card.

the card is neccesarry to request the book be brought to you, but you can't take the book with you.
posted by Jahaza at 2:37 AM on January 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you, grazie, and merci!
posted by Baldons at 5:50 AM on January 28, 2007

If you know where you're going to be living, you can request an NYPL card online before you come and have it sent to your address -- and that, for me at least, seemed to qualify as 'proof of address'.
posted by xueexueg at 5:56 AM on January 28, 2007

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