David Smith has worked at the 42nd and 5th branch of the New York Public Library for 30 years, starting as a clerk and eventually landing at the General Research Division. Before becoming a librarian he was a bookstore clerk, Queens College student, cab driver and under the employ of Sufi Bakery and a butcher shop on Queens Blvd called Joe Salta's Meats.

Currently he's a supervising librarian (and a librarian to the stars), but on top of directing New Yorkers to the information they seek, he's also a member of PEN American Center, on the Board of the Accompanied Literary Society, and an advisor to many. He's also a vault of information, and a teller of some fascinating stories. Recently he told us about giving Werner Herzog an insider's tour of the NYPL, about how stacks run all under Bryant Park and about his dear friend Joey Goldstein.

When was your first visit to the NYPL? My first visit to the Library at 42nd Street & Fifth Avenue was in 1975. I was living on Third Street between First and Second Avenue and working part time as a clerk for a Doubleday Bookstore, (which enabled me to pay my rent of $135.00). I used to enjoy reading in the Main Reading Room for a couple of hours before going to work.

What is your day-to-day like there now? I administer two rooms for writers, the Wertheim Study and the Frederick Lewis Allen Room. About 230 people are signed up all told; many authors with book contracts, many graduate students and PhD candidates from CUNY and other colleges in the NY area, and several people working on book proposals. I also work the reference desk in the Public Catalog Room 2-3 hours a day where my colleagues and I assist patrons using the Library's catalog, databases and reference works.

Prior to working at the library, you drove a cab (amongst other things), can you tell us when that was, and a particularly interesting anecdote from your time behind the wheel? I drove for one month, August 1977; was mugged twice and quit. Between the hack license fees and the robberies, I lost about a hundred dollars. After that I got a job at the Doubleday Bookstore on Wall Street. Much safer. Louis Auchincloss used to come in the store from time to time.

You've helped a lot of authors out, is there one whose project you had the most fun with? Gregory Gibson's book Hubert's Freaks; The Rare Book Dealer. The Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus. A true story and an excellent read. The NYPL has a short film of Hubert's Dime Museum which I made arrangements for Greg to see. I invited Greg down to NY from Gloucester, Mass. to attend a preview of the Diane Arbus exhibition "Revelations" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005. Greg's a rare book dealer, a great writer and a good friend. (Buy his book!)

What's been the oddest request you've dealt with? Did WWI fighter pilots use horseflies in their cockpits before pressure gauges were fully functional? (Note: After several inquiries. Answer: It was not an actual process.)

What book would you recommend to someone just looking for a good read? The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Double Down by Frederick and Donald Barthelme.

What is your favorite novel? The Human Stain by Philip Roth. (I'm a fan of Roth, Saul Bellow, Nicole Krauss, Nick Tosches, Jonathan Safron Foer, Peter Matthiessen, Richard Ford, Calvin Trillin, Kiran Desai, Charles Willeford, Charles Portis, Donna Tartt, Hari Kunzru, Andrew Sean Greer, Beryl Bainbridge, Nick Antosca, Joseph O'Connor, Colum McCann, Ellen Feldman, Heywood Gould, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vincent Patrick, Jane Schwartz, and more.)

Can you tell us any secrets about the NYPL? Are there any interesting hidden rooms not open to the public? There are catwalks above the ceiling in the Main Reading Room that run the full length of the building. Stacks run underneath Bryant Park all the way to Sixth Avenue.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. Leslie Silbert, author of The Intelligencer, a New York City writer and private investigator, asked if I could find a copy of an article in Burlington Magazine about Caravaggio. Her first book, a mystery, was about Christopher Marlowe, the second in the series is to be about Caravaggio. I found the article for her.

A week later, I met a man at the reference desk in Room 315 who notified me that he would only be in New York City for a month, from Malta, on a fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he was looking for materials at the Library. I took his information, we traded business cards, and I told him I'd work on having the books he needed ready for him on his next visit to the Library. I discovered he was Dr. Keith Sciberras, a pre-eminent Caravaggio scholar at the University of Malta It turned out that Dr. Sciberras had written the article about Caravaggio that Leslie was looking for. Later, I was able to connect the two and Keith eventually invited her to Malta to further her research. (I call this 'reference work through networking' and it's been very effective over the years for many authors.)

Which New Yorker do you most admire? The Late, great, Joey Goldstein, a dear friend who just passed away February 12. Eighty-one years young, Joe was a sports publicist, former journalist, who knew everyone, (journalists, publicists, athletes, historians, scholars), and referred to himself, correctly, as a practitioner who enlightens the American populace and brings joy to the world. Joe was kind enough to invite me to lunch at the Carnegie Deli on several occasions where I had the honor of meeting Ira Berkow, Dave Anderson, Al Silverman, Marty Appel, Rob Fleder (and Marilyn Johnson, through Rob), and Jeremy Schaap, among many others.

The first time I met Joe was in 2004 at the Library's reference desk when he was doing some research about the boxer James Braddock for Jeremy Schaap's book Cinderella Man. I mentioned that I knew someone writing a book about Joe Louis and Max Schmeling and Joe immediately said "David Margolick! When is he going to finish writing that book!"

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? I'd bring back rent control so people who work in the city could afford to live here. (I know it's a lost cause.)

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? No circumstance whatsoever. New York's my home and I love it here.

As a "Librarian to the Stars,” do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? The handle is only a novelty. (My author friend Christine Whelan gave me some business cards with that printed them.) The majority of people I assist are people who come in off the street who I help at the reference desk. High school students doing term papers, homeless people looking for city shelters, college undergraduates working on research projects, people looking for general information. Many of the authors I help are 'everyday people' with families and day jobs as well. I consider all the authors and scholars I help as 'Stars'. I'm proud and honored to be able to help them use this wonderful library. They work hard over years to research, write, publish, and promote their books and I admire them all very much.

Here are some celebrities I've helped briefly over the years:

  • George Carlin came up to the reference desk one day when he was researching "Carlin, Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help". I helped him find a 1946 edition of Ripley's Believe it Or Not.
  • Tony Randall strolled in, Felix Unger in person, in 1995 and asked me for information about Tomasso Salvini's friendship and correspondence with Emma Goldman. (The most difficult question I've ever had. I lucked out and found an online reference to Salvini's friendship with Emma Lazarus, which was what he was looking for.) Mr. Randall comped me to a pair of tickets to the Sunshine Boys, which my wife Debbi and I enjoyed. I later learned in Mr. Randall's obit that he named his son Jefferson Salvini Randall.
  • I had the pleasure of giving a library 'insider's' tour to Werner Herzog and his wife Lena and son Simon.
  • Sandra Bullock and Douglas McGrath were in the library researching Truman Capote's papers for the movie Infamous. I gave them both my card in case they needed further library assistance but didn't hear back.

Prominent authors I've helped include Robert Hughes, Edna O'Brien, Nuala O'Faolain, Colum McCann, Sean Wilentz, Roy Blount, Jr., Peter Carey. I had the honor of helping David Halberstam several months before he passed away. He gave me an acknowledgment in his last book, The Coldest War. A very gracious man.

What's your current soundtrack? Tom Waits "Step Right Up"

Best book store (past/present) in the city. Present: Strand & Skyline Books. Past: Coliseum. My son Aaron worked at Coliseum books. He's in living in Rochester now. Both Coliseum locations are now ATM machines. A shame.

Best cheap eat in the city. Mike Edison, author of I Have Fun Everywhere I Go turned me on to Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. I discovered B&H Dairy back in 1973 when I lived on east Third Street. (Yes, I remember Dave, the counterman, who pulled a fast one on me.) Dave: "My mother in law's in the hospital." Me: "Sorry to hear it." Dave: "Yeah, she sat on a jelly donut and got her ass in the jam."