Work Around

N ew Haven’s cafes are full of students and professionals with heads bowed into laptops. But while it’s nice to labor with a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup at your elbow, sometimes you just want to work in an inviting space, no purchase required. The good news is there are plenty of options out there.

It’s no surprise that Yale’s neighborhood offers the best concentration of nooks and crannies where you can hunker down with a good book or that battery-warmed laptop. What may come as a surprise, however, is how accessible they are not only to card-carrying Elis but to everyone else as well. That begins with the most obvious place of all: Sterling Memorial Library.

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While the imposing neo-Gothic centerpiece of Yale’s campus may put on an exclusive face, it is, in fact, open to those without Yale IDs until 6 p.m. every day—even later if you get a special pass. (It opens at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday.) So don’t be intimidated. Step right up to those castle-like doors—which, at a mere 90 years, are much younger than they look—and grasp one of the big rings that stands in for a doorknob. Give it a confident pull, walk through a turnstile, and you’re in.

You can’t enter the stacks themselves without a Yale ID, but you can access a number of areas perfect for studying and working. Hang a left just past the security desk (no need to check in) and head down the stairs to the Wright Reading Room, a cozy space furnished with armchairs, study tables and carrels with easy access to bathrooms and a drinking fountain. If you prefer to work where there’s natural light, turn right and walk down the long, ramped hallway to the Bass Library, a roomier space with similar amenities plus large windows looking out on patio seating.

Back on the main level, Sterling offers pretty, cream-colored armchairs in the bays to either side of the nave and a handful of other well-appointed offshoots. But the pièce de résistance is the Starr Main Reference Room, which looks exactly as you’d imagine an Ivy League reading room should. Walk straight ahead from the front entrance to the end of the nave, then turn left and walk through another set of heavy doors. If you’ve never been in the reference room before, you might have to gawk at its soaring ceiling with carved wood paneling before settling down in this book-lined room, where tall, bright windows throw rectangles of light across long wooden tables scratched with years of use. Another plus for some distractible workers: it’s quiet as a catacomb in here. The sound of a backpack zipping can be heard from one end of the room to the other.

Off-campus but nearby, two other public study spaces reside in the unlikely setting of retail shops. GANT, an international clothing merchant with New Haven roots, has converted its second floor at the corner of York and Elm Streets into a bright, open study (accessible Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) that offers not only couches, tables and chairs but also free wifi and a few supplies like a stapler, markers, pencils and a pencil sharpener. In a nod to GANT’s long history as a shirt manufacturer, an antique sewing machine is parked beneath one window. “This is a quiet community space,” states the list of house rules, at the end of which GANT exhorts, “Never Stop Learning.”

Around the corner, across from the Broadway Triangle, Lululemon has given over a portion of its retail space—open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. except for Sunday, when you can settle in from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.—to a study area with shared tables, beanbag chairs, lockers and a mini fridge for the convenience of those who want to hang out and get some work done. Neither GANT nor Lululemon reports a significant uptick in sales as a result of offering the study spaces. If anything, it’s shoppers who are discovering the study space, not the other way around, according to Lululemon assistant manager Lauren Fiala. The idea, it seems, is to do something nice for the neighborhood and bring people together.

Meanwhile, the other university downtown, Gateway Community College, offers some beautiful public study spaces of its own. Entry into the Gateway building (the most convenient entrance is at Church and George Streets) requires signing in with a security officer and handing over your photo ID, but again, don’t be shy. This building was constructed with your tax dollars. The security guard who signed me in was happy to direct me to Gateway’s library—open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday during the spring semester—and noted that he also validates Temple Street Garage parking. The library’s lower level, set back from the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Church Street, is reserved for quiet study. There you’ll find the requisite study carrels as well as functional armchairs and hassocks for resting your feet—a nice touch. Also thoughtful is the “Kids’ Cove,” a small area set off by low bookshelves in one corner that’s intended just for little ones, with two round tables and a fun bench shaped like a sailboat. But the nicest spaces for work and study at Gateway may actually be outside the library, where the atrium stairs climb up several airy, open levels to a rooftop terrace. Interlocking armchairs and end tables sit on every landing, and broad, carpeted steps meant for seating rise beside each flight of stairs.

New Haven’s public work spaces also include its libraries, of course. At Ives Main Library, open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, the newish Ives Squared space, with its work stations, maker space and cafe, is specifically designed to give New Haveners a pleasant place to work and study. There are other nooks and crannies throughout the building—when it’s open, the Local History Room behind the checkout desk is a peaceful, off-the-beaten-path place to work—and all of the branches throughout the city offer tables where you can settle in with your reading material, whether it came off the library’s shelves or not. An online system allows you to reserve smaller, private spaces like the two tutoring rooms in the lower level of the Fair Haven branch. With no frills, no windows and a door that closes, you’ll be able to work entirely undisturbed.

Finally, on the odd warm winter day, brave workhorses can take advantage of the outdoor spaces at Sterling, Gateway or Ives, or hang out in Temple Plaza, where colorful tables and chairs are still set up, and the artificial grass is cheerfully, eternally green. Technically, there’s no end to outdoor places to sit down with your work. But as we pass through the coldest days of the year, it’s those comfortable indoor spaces we crave the most. With a cozy seat and a stripe of sunlight to keep you company, winter’s work will pass the time with pleasure.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1 (of a bay along the nave of Sterling Memorial Library), 4 (of Sterling’s Starr Reading Room) and 5 (of Ives Squared) photographed by Dan Mims. Images 2 (of GANT’s study space) and 3 (of Temple Plaza) photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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