Vanderbilt Hall, home of NYU Law School, has always struck us as being oddly out of place. Its quaint brick courtyard framed by wrought iron gates and redbrick archways is something out of Princeton or Harvard; there’s a definite Ivy League feel. But there’s just one problem- the school’s library is notoriously hard to get into.
We had to try. But how?
We milled outside 40 Washington Square South, trying to decide. Sharply dressed girls strode past us with authority, gigantic Starbucks Frappuccinos in hand (Leslie Knope would impressed by the amount of whipped cream on these things). We made eye contact and entered the building riding on the coattails of these students.
After we showed our IDs to the security guard, and received a nod of approval, we were in. We went into the main student lounge to collect ourselves, really impressed that we must have looked like law students. The lounge is fairly standard—desks and tables, a few computers, and an ATM machine. It’s also one of the only places in the building where students can converse freely, as well eat, drink, and use their cell phones.
When we went to enter the actual library, we realized that we weren’t as tricky as we thought; our grand scheme was halted by a swipe-in turnstile and a man at a desk. Well, like in the court of law, honesty is the best policy. Students are able to enter the Law library if they are studying legal matters (so it’s not just restricted to law students after all). However, the sign-in process is notably detailed. You need to show your NYU ID, sign your name, course title, and professor of the class that requires you to check out legal materials.
After putting our right hands on a Bible and swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth we were allowed to enter. And boy, it was beautiful. This place blew Bobst out of the water. The woodwork, the lighting, the fireplace, the huge arching windows- it was like the White House. Or something else that is really, really nice.
The staircase that leads to three massive, maze-like lower levels of stacks is so grand that it actually has a name: The Dean Norman Redlich Staircase. Once we headed down good ol’ Norm, we realized how silent it was. There wasn’t even a cough or sniffle to be heard. Apparently the law students have impeccable immune systems on top of everything else. Also, it might be because the Law Library Policy strictly forbids noise of any kind.
The rows of bookshelves seemed unending, we couldn’t believe how far they stretched. Later, when studying a map of the layout of the library, we realized that the basement extends out from the building and runs underneath Sullivan Street.
Within the many dizzying passageways, we made our way into the Golding Media Center. It contained row after row of metal file cabinets filled with microreproductions of papers and photographs. One file cabinet was labeled “Martin Luther King Jr. FBI Files” so naturally, we opened it up and grabbed that sucker. After a solid ten minutes of not being able to properly feed the film strip into the Microform viewer, we began to feel like Zoolander and suspected this was a part of the competency test in the admissions process for law schools. (Elle Woods, we feel you girl.)
After we left the library in the east wing of the building, we went upstairs to the second floor of Vanderbilt Hall to snoop around some classrooms. When we found one that was empty, we went in and realized that this was what we had always envisioned college to look like; rows of desks that look like they’re from the UN, multiple green chalk boards, a solid oak podium, and big windows that look out onto Washington Square Park. Not the leaky ceilings and wobbly plastic seats of the Silver Center, and not a view blocking pillar in sight.
The students at the Law Library looked like any other NYU student approaching midterms: slightly crazed, surrounded by empty coffee cups, and buried under mounds of thick, dusty books. Except for one kid, who was watching the trailer for that new John Carter movie.
We could feel their eyes on us, though. It was like they knew there were intruders within their ranks—lowly undergraduates who have no idea what administrator ad prosequendum means and who think that a codicil is a type of antibiotic.
But there have been other gate-crashers. Others who dared to venture into the wilds of these legal catacombs. One such student, a sophomore who wished to remain anonymous, (we assume in fear of retaliation by angry law students) told us that she managed to sneak in last year.
“It was finals week, and I was putting stuff off, and I needed a change of scenery,” she said. In order to get in, she walked up to the desk with a huge stack of books, telling the guard that her things were already in there and that she had come out to get more books. “Because my hands were full of books, they didn’t ask for my ID,” she said. She also took off her shoes in order to make it more convincing that she’d been in there previously. So was it worth looking like the shoe-bomber in order to get some studying done? Our source said yes. “I got my work done, plus it was fun,” she said.
Sometimes known for being a bunch of Columbia rejects, NYU students might find themselves craving a little bit of that classic academic prestige. And the NYU Law Library is just the place. We can’t exactly condone actually sneaking into the NYU Law Library, or really any NYU building for that matter. But hey, if you get caught and need legal advice, we know some people.
[photos by Leah Clancy]