One of my favorite books of all-time is E.L. Konigsburg’s “From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” I was riveted by the story of a sister and brother who run away from home and life in the Metropolitan Museum of Art AND solve a famous art mystery. I gift this book to little aspiring word/art nerds all the time. I recommend it to adults. I still occasionally dream I’m living in the book.
A month or so ago, I came across a tweet about spending the night at the New York Public Library, writing a book about 100 items in their permanent collection. I realized if I was ever going to make my childhood dream of living in the “Mixed-Up Files” book happen, it was going to be with this. I watched the video. I applied. They were only taking 500 people, so I promptly forgot about it. Three weeks later, I received an email letting me know I was one of the “chosen ones.”
I showed up at the library last Friday at the appointed time with a backpack full of pens, notepads of all sizes, a sweater, a bottle of water, some snacks, an iPhone charger, and various other items. Even after consulting the private Facebook group for the event, it was clear no one knew what to expect…
We were 500 word nerds locked overnight in one of the most famous libraries in the U.S., running around locating rare objects, touring the infamous library stacks, and causing a sweet ruckus in the main reading room. I realized the only way to describe this event properly was by creating a photo diary of the images I took that night. If you read the lengthy captions, I promise it will feel just like a blog post.
Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can say nothing about that night was ordinary. We came. We saw. We wrote the book. It is now in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library and all of our names are listed as authors in the library’s catalog. The night was a reminder of how awesome and awe-inspiring working with a group of strangers can be. It was also bittersweet, in that we all recognized how special a library truly is; what it has given and continues to give us as a public institution. It was very likely each one of us in that room had been touched and inspired by books in our local libraries. They were our dealer to the gateway drug of words. It’s only right that we all take a moment and a dollar (or more) to give back, so that other little nerds have a home to feel the same way about books as all of us did and do.
If you’re in New York, you can still play a version of the game we played in the library (which acted as a prompt to write the book), by clicking here.
P.S. If this had existed as a “thing” before the 500 of us inaugurated it, you can guarantee it would have been on my life list.