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Saturday, June 22, 2024

How a Horror-Loving Librarian Spends His Sundays

LocalHow a Horror-Loving Librarian Spends His Sundays

The “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series, by Alvin Schwartz, were the first books to have a deep effect on Rafael Rodriguez.

“The books scared me to the point where I couldn’t read them at night,” he said. “That’s when I fell in love with horror and with books.”

Now Mr. Rodriguez, 43, is a librarian and the circulation supervisor at the New York Society Library, which has resided on East 79th Street since 1937. Founded almost two centuries earlier, the landmark tome haven is the oldest membership library in New York.

Now Mr. Rodriguez helps others enjoy — and locate — a good read as well.

“Members come in looking for a particular book but can only tell me part of a title or what they think the author’s name is,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who earned a master’s degree in library science at Queens College, and who counts Stephen King among his favorite authors. “Finding what they are looking for requires detective work. It’s the ultimate reward to find something a member is trying to locate.”

Mr. Rodriguez, who lives in his childhood home on the Upper West Side with his parents, Rafael Rodriguez, 84, and Pilar Rodriguez, 78, doesn’t “have an issue living with them,” he said. “We’ve learned to give each other space, and it’s the only way I could afford to live in Manhattan.”

WAKING I wake up around 7ish, on my own. I’ve lived in the same room my whole life. The personality of the room and technology have changed; I’ve stayed the same. I started with a 13-inch tube TV that didn’t have a remote. Now it’s a 4K high-definition TV. I’ve always been a homebody, so Covid was not a big adjustment. I collect books, movies, graphic novels, CDs and vinyl records, which keep me entertained.

I’ll check to see if I have work emails, then I’ll get on the computer and check sports scores on ESPN.com. I’m not a coffee drinker so I’ll have water and Multi Grain Cheerios — without milk, which feels like I’m eating a snack, and if you put something in it, you’re diluting the taste.

READING I’ll read for 30 minutes in my all-purpose chair from Walmart. I just finished Jo Nesbo’s “The Night House.” Now I’m reading “In the Woods,” by Tana French. I’ve never read detective fiction. It’s part of the Dublin Murder Squad series. Each book focuses on a different detective in the squad who is working on a different case. I always want to try something new. That’s what excites me about reading.

I’m dressed by 8:45 a.m. Sometimes I make a whole-wheat turkey sandwich or just get an apple, and take that to work. My mom will be up already, but my dad sleeps late, so before I leave, I knock on his door to say goodbye. Then I take the crosstown at 81st and Central Park West to work.

EARLY ENTRY I’m at the library by 10 a.m., an hour before it opens. Each month 200-300 books are overdue, so I send out email reminders to members. Levels one and two get an automated reminder. At level three, we send a bill for books that are three months late. Then I match names and books on our hold shelf; usually there are 10 to 30 on a Sunday. Right now, a lot of people are asking for “Table for Two,” by Amor Towles. Before that, members wanted Barbra Streisand’s memoir. We only have one copy. When we tell them there’s a wait list — currently four people are on it — they say, “Don’t add me, I’ll buy it.”

WAITING By 11 a.m., people are lining up outside. Most are hoping to get first crack at an individual study room, which have been reserved by members, and they’re hoping to be first on the waiting list if someone cancels or doesn’t show. We have six on the fifth floor, which is also where the Horn Blower Room is — the main space for members working on long-term study projects. For the next hour I’m at the circulation desk, where most of the interaction with people happens. People ask everything from directions to finding books on Nixon to returning books, or checking out others.

RANDOM QUESTIONS From noon to 1 p.m. I move to the reference desk. This is where everyone’s email questions come in, from “What times do you close?” to “I want to host an event: How do I do that?” Some ask book questions. The strangest one was, “What fiction books do you have where the protagonist is an eye doctor?” With A.I. and the internet, you can find answers to this, but people are looking for human connection and our expertise, or for us to check through our database. I’m trained to know keywords or subject terms, and that can help get a more specific answer.

A RETURN I’m back at the circulation desk by 1 p.m. Nonmembers come in to inquire about memberships and if we give tours, which we do. Members ask for help with our cloud library so they can download books, or they want recommendations. It gets busier as the day progresses, especially on Sundays. There’s been a direct shift since public libraries decided to close on the weekends because of Covid and cutbacks. These are mostly nonmembers looking for a space to work because our reference room is opened to the public. You can sense the desperation of those in need of a place to study. But it’s a small room — capacity is nine max.

FOOD, FINALLY I take a lunch hour at 3 p.m. I have my sandwich in the staff lounge and check the Yankees score, then go to my desk in case someone needs me.

LAST LEG For our last hour, I’m back at the circulation desk. This is our busiest time. It’s an influx of members, mostly families with young kids who come in to get books. They’ve been out for the day, and this is their last stop before going home. They go to the children’s room on the third floor and their parents read to them in the picture book area, or they sit at the tables. Members come in at the last minute to check out books. People tend to like mainstream fiction and mysteries. Most popular right now are “First Lie Wins,” by Ashley Elston, and “An Unfinished Love Story,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

BOOK BROWSING I take the 79th Street crosstown back to the West Side and usually stop in Barnes & Noble to see what new mystery or horror books have come in. I’ve been public-facing all day and pairing people with books — this is my chance to breathe, relax and pair something for myself.

BACK HOME I’m home by 6 p.m. My parents will be in the living room, and we’ll talk about my day. My mom will have left my dinner on a plate — steak, or rice with chicken, which I heat up and take into my room. Then I channel surf. For most of the evening I’ll listen to music — the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, while I read.

I read around 30 books a year, but only one at a time. I shower and watch TV. Right now, I’m rewatching “Mad Men.” I’ll read again until I feel sleepy. Then I’ll listen to a true crime or sports podcast to fall asleep. Most recent have been “Serial” and “Up and Vanished,” which is about a person who mysteriously disappears. By 1 a.m. I’m out.

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