With the Internet, the History Channel, and Amazon.com materializing in your apartment, you need libraries not so much as a source of information but as a refuge from your undersize, or overcrowded, living space. To this end, the New York Society Library (53 East 79th Street; 288-6900), with its marble staircase and private writers' rooms, is the most elegant of sanctuaries. A membership fee ($135 for a yearly family membership; $90 for teachers and students) puts you in the distinguished company of Herman Melville, Willa Cather, and John Jay, who used to spend afternoons in the neoclassical townhouse, as well Wendy Wasserstein, who wrote most of The Heidi Chronicles and The Sisters Rosenzweig in these rooms.
For those whose idea of a hermitage includes a place to plug in the PowerBook, the New York Public Library's Main Reading Room (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street; 930-0830) offers a mix of Beaux-Arts grandeur and -- thanks to the $15 million face-lift completed last November -- modern amenities. Thirty tables are now wired for portable computers, and 48 computer workstations stand at attention under cloud-filled murals trimmed with gold leaf. Martha Cooley, author of The Archivist, a novel about a librarian in charge of T. S. Eliot's letters, notes that while the reading room is a combination of "august and inviting" there is another reason she's drawn to the premises: "It is endlessly amusing and compelling to me that there are two lions sitting out front."
Farther downtown, the Science Industry And Business Library (188 Madison Avenue, at 34th Street; 592-7000) provides free Web access to those who make a reservation in person the same day. Complimentary classes are offered on navigating the library's own high-tech resources and surfing the Net for novices. Most of all, patrons note the extra-comfortable Herman Miller Aeron chairs.