Thursday, September 13, 2007

New York Public Library

One of the things we always do when we go into New York, from my daughter's house just outside the city, is to visit the New York Public Library. Located very close to Grand Central Station, it has a wonderful gallery which usually has a display of interest to us.

So on the Saturday we went up to the City to see the Blue Man Group, we headed to the library as soon as we arrived at Grand Central. To our delight we found that on Saturdays there is always a guided tour of the display and then later a guided tour of the library itself. All the interior photos here were hastily taken as I went on this tour while the outside ones were taken more leisurely.

Since I started this blog, I carry a notebook and in it I write details of topics which I think could make an interesting post. I don't know what people think of the "little old lady" who hastily scribbles in her notebook, but frankly I don't care. I'll post separately about the Gallery show but for now I want to talk about the Library itself.

We started the tour in the foyer of the Library, seen here, where any bag you are carrying is searched on entry but not on leaving. Apparently you can steal a book but not blow the place up with C4 carried in via your handbag. Hmm. Actually, I'm sure they have some sophisticated electronic system guarding the books.

We met Carol, our guide, near one of the four huge stone candelabra, electrified of course, where she filled us in on the history of the building and the institution itself. In 1895 it was decided to amalgamate the Lenox and the Astor libraries, two existing private libraries, along with a bequest of money from Sam Tilden to form a public library, into the New York Public Library. Dr John Billings was its first director and he hired the architects Carrère and Hastings to design the Beaux-Arts style marble building. Construction took place between 1901 and 1911 when it was officially opened by President Taft.

The New York Public Library consists of four non-lending research libraries, with the building at 42nd Street being the Humanities and Social Sciences Library. The three others are the Library for the Performing Arts, the Science, Industry and Business Library and the Center for Research in Black Culture which are housed at other locations.

These four libraries were and have always been funded privately, with no government support whatsoever. However the Foundation which runs these libraries also run the 87 circulating libraries in New York which are city and state funded.

Carol consistently used the term Library of Record, for this indeed is its function. To gather all the records of any description, be they manuscripts, books, maps, letters, etc. The building houses various reading rooms and special collections. For example there is the Map Division, the Jewish Division, the Tobacco Collection, the Shelley and his circle Collection, the Music Division, the Periodical Room. These are just a few of the collections which are available to anyone who asks, although some divisions require a card.

The Public Catalogue Room which you can see is now computerized

After you find your desired book or article in the catalogue room, shown above, you submit your request and the material should arrive in the reading room within half an hour. A pneumatic tube system for this process was installed in 1911 and is still used today since it functions so well.

A quick shot of the Main Reading Room, as we passed through

The magnificent Rose Main Reading Room, 78 feet wide by 297 feet long, with 52 feet high ceiling which I wrote about in my post on general thoughts about the Library is on the third floor, with seven floors of stacks underneath, extending below street level. However there is more material stored in warehouses offsite so you may have to wait a week if your material is stored elsewhere.

Of course one of the main treasures of the New York Library is its Gutenberg bible, the first to be brought to North America, although not the last. It is displayed in a glass case in the centre of a gallery which is lined with paintings.

Gutenberg printed 180 Bibles in the early 1450s, with around 48 remaining today. They have usually been rebound because the binding was the first part to deteriorate. They were printed in Latin on vellum or paper and this one is on vellum. The type for all was in black, in two columns, and space was left for hand painted decoration and illustrations to be added later, although this copy is not heavily illuminated. It also has handwritten notes in Latin, in the margins. It is stored closed and when on display the opened pages are changed constantly to ensure even exposure to the light.

An interesting feature of the Library is the special users' area on the second floor. It is reserved for authors with signed publishers' contracts who may apply and use the premises for 6 months. There are also 15 Fellowships granted by the Library each year which give space and a stipend to the recipients for a nine month period to work on their special projects and interact with each other and take part in some public forums.

Although I have been to the New York Library many times, I had never taken a tour before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Libraries have always been special places to me and as a schoolgirl I used to go to the Mitchell Library in Sydney to do research for various essays. It's a wonder I didn't become a librarian!

While I was in the middle of writing this post, I noticed Richard Havers, over at Havering On was writing about his candidate for the most beautiful library in the world, Dublin's Trinity College Library. I can attest to that since I visited it in 1960. He linked to Richard Charkin's post about libraries, which recommends a few more wonderful libraries that you might find of interest. While even more are suggested by Charkin's commenters.

Since I've bored you to death on this topic, I'll revive you with a photo of one of the New York Library Lions, which grace the approach to the building and make the building unmistakable in any photo.

Fortitude, guarding the steps of the Library

Just one thing more, I promise. The Lions were nicknamed "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor La Guardia in the 1930s. He chose these names because he felt that the citizens of New York would need to possess these qualities to see themselves through the Great Depression. Patience is on the south side (the left as one faces the main entrance) and Fortitude on the north.


Richard Havers said...

What a great post.

I'm not a big traveller having spent too much time on airplanes in a former life, but next time I'm in NYC I'm going to visit the library. Thanks for all the lovely photographs and information.

Liz said...

We weren't in New York very long but we had to visit the Library. One of my favourite places in the city.

Very interesting post, jmb, and lovely photos.

Carver said...

Your posts are never boring. Very well written and interesting. I haven't been to the New York Public Library for a long time and they didn't do any searches entering or exiting. Sad how things do change but then again quite lovely how beautiful old libraries carry on and are discovered again and again.

My daughter was around 5 when we took her to the New York Public Library in 1990, and she loved it. Very different from the suburban neighborhood library she was used to. I love the way you photograph places you visit. I also think it's great that you take notes. I'm sure that's part of why your posts have such interesting details. I keep meaning to tell you that the note on your sidebar about reading something out loud before posting or printing is great advise which I would do well to follow.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Fabulous post,jmb. I love ALL libraries! I have read about this one before, but never such a detailed description. I would love to visit it one day. Love the bit about the pneumatic tube!

leslie said...

Wow! definitely on my list of places to see when I (ever!) get to New York. Thanks for sharing it.

ipanema said...

great post, jmb! when i was young, i used to hang out in the library. i could get immersed that i forget to eat lunch. only the clamour of my tummy signals that i need to feed myself. i can literally get lost with books.

jmb said...

Hi Richard,
I'm glad that I noticed you had posted about Trinity so that I could link to it.

Hi Liz,
Another library lover! I find it a very special place

Hi Carver,
Thank you. Maybe you will go there again when you visit for your birthday. However there is so much choice in NYC, difficult to decide what to do next.

I'm glad you made it through the very long post. Too long but I didn't want to divide it.

Hi Leslie,
Do go if you ever get to NYC. I'm sure you would enjoy visiting. Once I was there when it opened up and there was this big line-up of people waiting on the steps to go in.

Hi Ipanema,
Books are one of my greatest joys as I can see they are for you.

Thanks to you all for visiting and commenting.

Vijay said...

Superb post JMB.
You could have made a career out of travel-writing!

Janice Thomson said...

Great info and photos Jmb. Libraries hold a fascination for me and this would be one to definitely visit.

Ellee Seymour said...

I'm sure Dublin's library is great, but can I also recommend Trinity Library in Cambridge, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and home to a valuable collection of archives.

cathy said...

I also love visiting Libraries. I will have to visit this one the next time I visit my brother in Trenton. We always make several trips to NY while there.

The inside entrance picture of this library looks almost identical to the inside of our post office... I called my husband over to look at the picture and he thought it was our PO.

jmb said...

Hi Vijay,
I think I might have made a very boring one. Too much detail, but I am a curious person.

Hi Janice,
Libraries have all those books. What more could one ask?

Hi Ellee,
I don't remember visiting Trinity Library Cambridge, I'll have to see if I can find an image on line.

Hi Cathy,

Trenton is close by. Which station does the train come into from NJ?
You must have a very flash post office. LOL

Thanks to you all for commenting and visiting.

MedStudentWife said...

WOW JMB !! Great picts.

I just love old buildings - the ones full of marble, terrazzo, wood and brass :D

Oh yes - books as well.

jmb said...

It is a great building. I just love it. And as you say, with books. What more could one ask.