Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It is a Library, With Two marble lions mark the entrance to this Beaux Arts masterpiece
National Historic Landmark, containing more than six million books.

The New York Public Library is a public library system with nearly 53 million items, the NYPL is the second largest public library in the United States (and third largest in the world), behind only the Library of Congress. It is an independently managed, nonprofit corporation operating with both private and public financing. The library has branches in the boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island and it has affiliations with academic and professional libraries in the metropolitan area of New York State. The City of New York's other two boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, are served by the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Borough Public Library, respectively. The branch libraries are open to the general public and consist of research libraries and circulating libraries. The library originated in the 19th century, and its founding and roots are the amalgamation of grass-roots libraries, social libraries of bibliophiles and the wealthy, and from philanthropy of the wealthiest Americans of their age.

Rev: "Awesome place. The printed word deserves a home like this. Magnificent architecture and art pay tribute to man's greatest invention. Wonderful bookstore/gift shop, too."
At the behest of Joseph Cogswell, John Jacob Astor placed a codicil in his will to bequeath $400,000 ($10.8 M in 2012) for the creation of a public library. After Astor's death in 1848, the resulting board of trustees executed the will's conditions and constructed the Astor Library in 1854 in the East Village. The library created was a free, reference library, as its books were not permitted to circulate. By 1872, the Astor Library was a "major reference and research resource", but, "Popular it certainly is not, and, so greatly is it lacking in the essentials of a public library, that its stores might almost as well be under lock and key, for any access the masses of the people can get thereto". An act of the New York State Legislature incorporated the Lenox Library in 1870.

Rev: "I love to take visitors to the main library at 42nd & Fifth because the exhibits are always interesting -- and free! The building itself is a marvel of old classic concepts of libraries, education, and learning. The Children's Book exhibit was beautifully done."
The library was built on Fifth Avenue, between 70th and 71st street, in 1877 and to it, bibliophile and philanthropist James Lenox donated a vast collection of his Americana, art works, manuscripts, and rare books, including the first Gutenberg Bible in the New World. At its inception, the library charged admission and did not permit physical access to any literary items. The famous New York author Washington Irving was a close friend of Astor for decades and helped the philanthropist design the Astor Library. Irving served as President of the library's Board of Trustees from 1848 until his death in 1859, shaping the libraries collecting policies with his strong sensibility regarding European intellectual life.

 Rev: "The New York Public Library is the place to discover everything! Want to find Pooh Bear ... go inside! Want to see one of the most extensive collections of Dickens? Enter the front doors! The NY Public Library is guarded by wonderful lions that our children have loved forever. Go in and find your own set of lions in the gift shop. Stay in and look through the permanent collections ... see what is new too! Fabulous-one-of-a-kind adventure awaits you! Don't miss it on your next trip to Manhattan!"
Subsequently the Library hired nationally prominent experts to guide its collections policies; they reported directly to directors John Shaw Billings (who also developed the National Library of Medicine), Edwin H. Anderson, Harry Miller Lydenberg, Franklin F. Hopper, Ralph A. Beals, and Edward Freehafer (1954–70).

They emphasized expertise, objectivity and a very broad world-wide range of knowledge in acquiring, preserving, organizing, and making available to the general population nearly 12 million books and 26.5 million additional items. The directors in turn reported to an elite board of trustees, chiefly elderly, well-educated, philanthropic, predominantly Protestant, upper-class white men with commanding positions in American society. They saw their role as protecting the library's autonomy from politicians as well as bestowing upon it status, resources, and prudent care.

Rev: "This building looks like a museum from the outside and certainly has some amazing architecture inside too. Staff are helpful and there are good directions inside to the areas you may need. We didn't spend long inside because you could easily lose a whole day in here and we didn't have the time. Worth a visit, however brief, just for the vastness of books and space."
Representative of many major decisions was the purchase in 1931 of the private library of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847–1909), uncle of the last tsar. This was one of the largest acquisition of Russian books and photographic materials, and was made possible by the Soviet government's policy of selling its cultural collections abroad for gold. The military made heavy use of the Library's map and book collections in the world wars.

For example, the Map Division's chief Walter Ristow became head of the geography section of the War Department's New York Office of Military Intelligence from 1942 to 1945. Ristow and his staff discovered copied and loaned thousands of strategic, rare or unique maps to war agencies in need of information not available through other sources.

Rev: "one of my favorite quiet spots indoors. It is not just the volumes there. One can spend hours just staring at the architecture. If you have children, the Children's library is a must, we well."
The organizers of the New York Public Library, wanting an imposing main branch, chose a central site available at the two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets, then occupied by the no-longer-needed Croton Reservoir. Dr. John Shaw Billings, the first director of the library, created an initial design which became the basis of the new building (now known as the Schwarzman Building) on Fifth Avenue. Billings's plan called for a huge reading room on top of seven floors of bookstacks combined with a system that was designed to get books into the hands of library users as fast as possible.

Following a competition among the city's most prominent architects, Carrère and Hastings was selected to design and construct the building. The cornerstone was laid in May 1902, and the building's completion was expected to be in three years. In 1910, 75 miles of shelves were installed, and it took a year to move and install the books that were in the Astor and Lenox libraries.

Rev: "One of the places to visit that is a must. Check out the ceilings and lighting they take your breath away. Strangely enough although probably the most famous library on the planet you can't check a book out but you can sit and read in such beautiful surroundings."
On May 23, 1911, the main branch of the New York Public Library was officially opened in a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft. After a dedication ceremony, the library was open to the general public that day. The library had cost $9 million to build and its collection consisted of more than 1,000,000 volumes. The library structure was a Beaux-Arts design and was the largest marble structure up to that time in the United States. It included two stone lions guarding the entrance were sculpted by E. C. Potter. Its main reading room was contemporaneously the largest of its kind in the world at 77 feet wide by 295 feet long, with 50 feet high ceilings. It is lined with thousands of reference books on open shelves along the floor level and along the balcony. The New York Public Library instantly became one of the nation's largest libraries and a vital part of the intellectual life of America. Dr. Harry Miller Lydenberg served as director between 1934–1941.

Rev: "I couldn't go to New York without seeing the library. Amazing. You need to see it, the building is a beauty. I could have sat in there all day but it was our last day so it was a quick visit.....well worth a look."
Christmas tree in the main entrance to the NYPL at Astor Hall.

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Over the decades, the library system added branch libraries, and the research collection expanded until, by the 1970s, it was clear the collection eventually would outgrow the existing structure. In the 1980s the central research library added more than 125,000 square feet of space and literally miles of bookshelf space to its already vast storage capacity to make room for future acquisitions. This expansion required a major construction project in which Bryant Park, directly west of the library, was closed to the public and excavated. The new library facilities were built below ground level and the park was restored above it.

Rev: "Definitely a place to see in New York. Such a beautiful library, but you must remember, it's still a library and you shouldn't walk around speaking so loudly. People still go there to do there work. A gorgeous place to see."
In the three decades before 2007, the building's interior was gradually renovated. On December 20, 2007, the library announced it would undertake a three-year, $50 million renovation of the building exterior, which has suffered damage from weathering and pollution. The renovation was completed on time, and on February 2, 2011 the refurbished facade was unveiled. The restoration design was overseen by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., whose previous projects include the Metropolitan Museum of Art's limestone facades and the American Museum of Natural History, made of granite. These renovations were underwritten by a $100-million gift from philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, whose name will be inscribed at the bottom of the columns which frame the building's entrances.

Rev: "The building is facinating inside-out. The furniture and old lightings are amazing. For tourists, it's a nice place to take a break, sitting down at one of the desks staring at the beautiful ceiling after hours of shopping on the 5th! And it's got the best free wifi in NYC!"
Today the main reading room is equipped with computers with access to library collections and the Internet and docking facilities for laptops. There are special rooms for notable authors and scholars, many of whom have done important research and writing at the Library. Even though the central research library on 42nd Street had expanded its capacity, in the 1990s the decision was made to remove that portion of the research collection devoted to science, technology, and business to a new location. The new location was the abandoned B. Altman department store on 34th Street.

Rev: "Book lovers will be delighted with the Library. The building is beside the lovely Bryant Park and both the exterior and interior are worth a closer look. But it is the shelves and shelves of books in a historic setting that are the highlight. When I was there, it was thanksgiving and a first edition of a Christmas Carol was on display, with handwritten notes by Charles Dickens in the margins. Brilliant."
In 1995, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the library, the $100 million Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of Manhattan, finally opened to the public. Upon the creation of the SIBL, the central research library on 42nd Street was renamed the Humanities and Social Sciences Library. Today there are four research libraries that comprise the NYPL's research library system which hold approximately 44,000,000 items.

Rev: "The NY Public Library is one of the gems of NYC. Of course you want to see the famous stone lions outside, and visit Bryant Park next door. In summer, it's a great place to sit and picnic. In winter, you can skate there, visit the holiday market stalls and people watch. Inside the library they always have wonderful exhibits-- and they're always free. We loved the exhibit on the History of Lunch, complete with old automat equipment. I've seen great exhibits on Blake, on Charles Dickens...Now there's a special show on children's books, also worth a visit. They even have a sweet little gift shop."

Total item holdings, including the collections of the Branch Libraries, are 50.6 million. The Humanities and Social Sciences Library on 42nd Street is still the heart of the NYPL's research library system, but the SIBL, with approximately 2 million volumes and 60,000 periodicals, is the nation's largest public library devoted solely to science and business. The NYPL's two other research libraries are the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, located at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located at Lincoln Center. In addition to their reference collections, the Library for the Performing Arts and the SIBL also have circulating components that are administered as ordinary branch libraries.

Unlike most other libraries, such as the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library was not created by government statute. From the earliest days of the New York Public Library, a tradition of partnership of city government with private philanthropy began, which continues to this day. As of 2010, the research libraries in the system are largely funded with private money, and the branch or circulating libraries are financed primarily with city government funds.


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