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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

My Local Library

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

It is with great embarrassment and shame that I admit the last time I was in a library, there were card catalogues. It must have been twenty years ago or more!

Back in the 1970’s, toward the second half of high school, I worked in the township library shelving books. At that time, I was intimately familiar with the Dewey Decimal System and how to get to the front of the line for new book releases. It was a nice job for a high school kid and I often stayed on after my shift to get my homework done. And of course, the stacks afforded the wonderful privacy for flirting with high school boys...

In high school, study hall was held in the library so we had real time access to any reference material we might need. 'Real time’ then and now are completely different. It once required getting out of your chair, looking up the subject in the card catalog and finding the book on the shelf. Now it only requires typing into the computer’s browser a remotely connected word, viewing Google choices, selecting and then honing in. Shamefully, when I am alone, I often just ask Siri. How lazy can one get?!

I write about this now because I have taken a gargantuan step with my writing. About a month ago, I decided to take a crack at writing a historical novel. When complete, it will be a fictionalized version of my great grandmother’s life in the late 1800’s into the roaring 20’s. Having watched all episodes of Downton Abby twice plus the movie, I thought I had this period of history down cold. No way! In the last month, I have spent more time researching all aspects of life in New York City during that time than writing. Right now, the background research is consuming me. Our ancestors lived in a fascinating time.

The research has taken me into my local libraries and next month to NYC for a field trip to the New York Public Library. I must see the land maps of Manhattan and find my great, great grandfather’s farm - it’s somewhere in Harlem as family folklore goes and a key part of the story.

Even though there are lots of incredible photographs from that time, I cannot find my great grandmother’s last name. Even on, women’s ancestral history is buried under the men’s. It’s so sad.

Stayed tuned for lots of historical trivia like the fact that indoor plumbing was not mandated in the tenements until after 1910! Can you only imagine the stench?!

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