LibraryHop: The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library
Written by Bwog Staff
At this time of year, Bwog, like just about everyone, is sick of Butler. But there are like twenty other libraries on campus, right? Yes, there are. And yes, Columbia students are probably too fortunate for our own good too. But sometimes, what we have just doesn’t suffice…
So on this brisk Saturday, Bwog has a suggestion for you dear finals-frazzled reader – take a weekend vacation away from your cubicle in 209 and head downtown on the 1 train to the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library on 20th St.
Before arriving at the Heiskell Library, Bwog had exorbitant expectations. All bright-eyed and agog, Bwog envisioned a hushed hall filled with blind and seeing bibliophiles reading by touch and sight alike. In other private spaces, we pictured the transcendent power of literature manifested as volunteers read aloud to and communed with unseeing, but eager listeners. On arriving, however, Bwog experienced no such rapture. Although Bwog did feel a little silly about our overzealous romanticization, we still found the library a fine, exceptionally well-lit place to study.
Although the exterior of the library presents the recently renovated façade of a neo-renaissance loft building, its interior opts for function over form. Occupying the bottom two floors of an airy 1910 Flatiron-district building, The Andrew Heiskell Library is equally amenable to able and disabled patrons alike. Featuring barrier-free architecture, reading rooms which house browsing collections of braille, recorded, and large-print books and a shady outdoor reading terrace, the library offers both an interesting metropolitan retreat and a stimulating study spot.
The bottom floor of the library houses the talking book collection and several, spacious study tables, equipped with plenty of USB plugs and electric sockets. To aid readers and save eyes, an overhead lamp accompanies every seat at the tables. Bwog headed upstairs in hopes of finding a quiet and more remote study spot, but the Heiskell library, like 209 in Butler, embraces a clean, well-lit aesthetic and forgoes the cushy, soporific decor of the oaken halls of Avery.
The upright chairs might come off as unwelcoming at first, but Bwog soon found that their erect hardwood prevented the usual study slouch. Floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows flank each end of the upstairs reading room and provide plenty of sunlight through both the AM and the PM hours. Unfortunately November afternoons do not lend themselves to outdoor reading on the terrace, but Bwog still appreciated the shrubbery and the seemingly thriving holly bushes we could see from our south face desk.
On Bwog’s visit, our fellow patrons at the Heiskell Library were a relatively quiet and respectful bunch. To Bwog’s mild dismay, the library’s no eating or drinking mandate was upheld courteously. On a warmer afternoon, however, the reading terrace would be a lovely spot for a study session cum scone. Despite Bwog’s initial distress at the said sanction, we found that the lack of snackers made for a peaceful and more studious environment. Furthermore, the library is relatively desolate during the early afternoon hours which makes for an almost entirely private study space on the upper floor. An hour or so before closing – five o’clock on both weekdays and weekends – the library gets busier, but never as much as Butler does at this time of year.
With the imminence of finals looming – good god! – this time of year doesn’t lend itself to the typical overpopulation and procrastination of your usually unsuccessful study sessions at Butler and in the Brownie café. If you’re like Bwog and suffer diminished efficiency rates even in the silent stacks of Mudd, we recommend testing out the concentration enhancing environs of the Heiskell Library. Well, Bwog’s actually never been to Mudd, but we bet engineers know a thing or two about inertia, no?
The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library
40 West 20th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues)