Library research in New York City

By Greg Pak
A few practical pointers for library research in New York City, developed after spending many hours trying to track down an obscure book I needed as background research for a screenplay I’m writing:

  1. To buy an obscure, out of print book, try
  2. To find the book at the New York Public Library, first search the catalog online.
  3. If you can’t buy the book or find it at the New York Public Library, check the Online Computer Library Center to figure out if it’s in a university library near you. To get access to their search engine (which apparently can only be reached through partner websites), do a search at for something that doesn’t exist — i.e., type “give me the OCLC” in the Author field. The “Matches found: 0” search results page will include a link which reads “Find it at a local library” which will take you to the OCLC page. A search there may reveal your book’s residence at a number of local colleges.
  4. Read your book at a local college.
    This can be tricky. I found that my book lived at Pace University, NYU, CUNY, and Columbia. When I called these various libraries, only Pace would let me, a non-student, walk in as a visitor to read the book. Alas, the Pace library only had volume 2 of the publication I needed… So I called NYU and discovered that I would need to get a “Metro Referral Card” from the New York Public Library (which would vouch that the book was not in the NYPL system) in order to gain entrance to the NYU library.
    Metro Referral Cards are only given at the Midtown Branch of the NYPL. As I discovered, the Midtown Library at the southeast corner of 40th and 5th is NOT the right branch — instead, you have to go to room 315 of the big research library (the one with the lions in front of it) on the northwest corner of 40th and 5th.
    When I said I needed a Metro Referral Card, the librarian nodded, asked me for the name of the author, the first word in the book’s title, and the library which had it. He filled in a yellow card, which I took down to the NYU Bobst Library, where I was given a day pass.
    Triumph! With one last irony — it turns out the book I needed was in the Tamiment Library (a specialized collection of labor history) on the 10th floor of the Bobst Library at NYU — and since the Tamiment Library is open to the general public, I didn’t need the Metro Referral Card after all.