Sitting, stretching, and shelf number five

Before my sabbatical began I didn’t really spend much time thinking about where I’d be doing my work, especially writing or other computer-enabled work. While I live in an apartment and my spouse works from home, our kid is in school so there’s relative space and quiet for most of the day (plus cats!). I also knew I’d be spending some of my sabbatical time at my research sites — three colleges in my university — doing things like hanging up recruitment flyers and interviewing students.

It’s kind of a basic concern, but figuring out where best to work was a super important part of the early weeks of my sabbatical. In my office in the library I have a desktop computer with an adjustable desk so I can sit or stand, plus an antifatigue mat for when I’m standing. Typically I sit more on the days when I’m running around to meetings or other commitments, and I alternate standing and sitting every hour or so when I’ve got longer stretches of time in the office. I’ve tweaked my computer setup to allow me to work pretty comfortably throughout the day, avoiding carpal tunnel and other assorted body aches (sigh, aging).

Getting together a comfortable setup at home took some time. My home computer is a lightweight laptop: portable but not exactly body-friendly. My apartment has windows on the north and the south, and the light varies throughout the day. What’s ended up working best for me is to use four big books to raise the height of my laptop, and plug in an external keyboard and mouse. I usually work at the dining room table in the mornings, when the light is best there, and move to my desk in the bedroom in the later afternoons, which also happens to be when the kid gets home from school. And on the plus side, being at home has actually made it easier to remind myself to get up from the computer and stretch every hour or so.

While I do work at home many days, as I was starting my sabbatical I also realized that I’d occasionally need to find other locations for work, for example, when my kid has the day off from school. I’ve sometimes needed to go to one of the colleges at CUNY for a meeting, and on those days I’ve brought my laptop and settled in for some work in that library before or after. But most often when I’m not working at home I’ve been at the Allen Study Room in the New York Public Library on 42nd St. in Manhattan.

A colleague of mine at City Tech turned me on to this spot, and I am so glad she did. The NYPL has three study rooms that scholars can apply to use. Each room has cubicle desks (the Allen Room has 10), and each person assigned to that room gets a keycard for entrance and a shelf for materials. Books from the research collection can be paged and are delivered right to the room, and the materials can stay on your shelf for as long as your study room contract lasts. It feels super fancy using the keycard to open the carved wood Allen Room door, at the end of a long marble hallway. I am shelf #5.

Through most of the late winter and spring the study room wasn’t crowded with other researchers, though on a warm Thursday afternoon in June I got the last cube, with the somewhat crappy chair (padded, not adjustable, no wheels, as opposed to the fancier rolling ergonomic chairs). The space feels very private even though it isn’t, which I always remember when I stand up to stretch a bit. I’ve been using the room about once a week so far, but once my kid gets out of school at the end of June I expect to be there more often.

I can’t stay at the NYPL (or other non-home location) for more than a few hours, since using my laptop without an external keyboard and mouse and raised height doesn’t work for my body for very long stretches. But I’m grateful for to have access to this as a workspace, even with the 45-minute commute each way to get there. There’s lots of history for me at the NYPL generally. As a grad student in archaeology I used the print collections heavily to supplement my university’s holdings, and the final course in my MLIS was a map librarianship class taught on Saturdays in the incredible map division of the NYPL. All of this history plus the special workspace feeling help me focus in the study room, too.