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Monday, January 23, 2012

A Visit to the New York Public Library

When I travel to other cities, I always try to take a tour and visit a bookstore or library. I've been in New York City for a few years now, and finally got around to taking the New York Public Library Tour at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

The building is just gorgeous, with the two lion statues, Patience and Fortitude, standing regal guard outside. Our guide was Robin, a library docent. She took us first to the Dewitt Wallace Periodical Reading Room, which has several paintings of famous publishing houses. It is so gorgeous there, with warm wood on the walls, and the golden glow of the table lamps.

The Dewitt Wallace Periodical Reading Room
The Rose Reading Room

The ceiling is wooden in the Reading Room

We walked through the marble walled halls, and Robin told us that the main library on 5th Ave. & 42nd St. is a research library; only the children's library is a circulating library, where you can check out a book. She showed us the stacks, hidden from the public, which go vertically for seven floors up and four floors below Bryant Park.

When you need a book for research, you fill out a call slip in the Rose Reading Room, give it to the librarian. An assistant will take the slip, find the book in the stacks and return it to the desk for pickup. It generally takes 1/2 hour, unless the book has to come from another place; then it can take up to 48 hours.

We also saw the marble from the Croton Reservoir, which was originally on the library site. 

Upstairs there are several collections, featuring such items as a desk and two chairs, owned by Charles Dickens, items from Jack Kerouac, Virginia Woolf and other literary lions.

There is an exhibition of items celebrating the 100 years of the New York Public Library, founded by Samuel J. Tilden, who donated $2.4 million to build the library. The collections of of James Lennox and John Jacob Astor were donated to begin the library, and there is a display dedicated to these three men.

The exhibition is fascinating, with such items as cuneiform tablets from 2400 BC, the first Guttenberg Bible brought to America, a gorgeous huge book of bird illustrations by John Audubon,  two copies of Shakespeare's King Lear from the 1600s, an early copy of St. Augustine's City of God, Virginia Woolf's walking stick and her journal, open to the last entry she made days before she committed suicide, and too many more to name. 

I took the exhibition tour too (12:30  & 3:30 weekdays), which shares highlights of the 250 items. I want to go back to visit it more in detail on my own. The 100 year exhibition ends March 4, 2012.

On the way out, Robin directed us to look at the plaque on the floor near the entrance honoring Martin Radtke. He was an immigrant who came to this country from Germany, worked as a gardner on Long Island, and frequently took the train into the city to visit the library. He wanted to learn about stocks, and he made so much money trading stocks, he donated a large sum to the NYPL. Learning can make you rich in more ways than one, kids.

If you ever find yourself in NYC on a rainy or snowy day, consider taking the library tour; it was so interesting and informative. And the building is gorgeous to boot.


  1. Visting this library is on my list of places to go to. I think it would be amazing!

  2. Martin Radtke was from Lithuania--as it says on the stone.