This post is by Jessica Tiare Bowen, one of our contributors.
Flanked on both sides by New York’s iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, sits my very favorite New York City institution: The New York Public Library (NYPL). Having been an avid lover of all things books from a very young age, I decided to delve deeper in my knowledge of the NYPL by taking a docent-led tour of the building.
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, otherwise known as the Main Branch, was completed in 1911, and just celebrated its 100th birthday. Our docent, a brilliant woman by the name of Karen, was able to give our group a tour filled with truly interesting stories, history, and fun facts that I never learned in my high-school history class. Even if you’re not a literary or history junkie, you would absolutely be able to appreciate the sheer beauty and uniqueness of the building’s different rooms.
Karen began the tour with the most asked question of visitors to the library, (well, besides “Where’s the bathroom?”). “Where are all the books?” Interestingly enough, the books that are on display throughout the reading room are for aesthetic purposes only. The real books are held on seven floors of stacks, four in the building and three below, and are only accessible by the library’s staff.
In 1987, the library actually ran out of space for the books, so now books are also held behind the library, underneath Bryant Park. Each visitor is allowed to request up to nine books every hour and a half, and can expect a 25 minute wait time for the books to be delivered. If you are interested in a much speedier book turnover process, you can check out one of the 87 lending libraries throughout New York City. This branch is for research only.
Besides just books, the library is home to many interesting historical gems, such as: Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Charles Dickens’s letter opener, and Jack Kerouac’s harmonica. You can also find the largest collection of postcards as well as the largest collection of Beat Generation literature in the United States.
The Building Tours are free to the public, and are held at 11am and 2 pm Monday through Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays. Tours meet at the front reception desk in Astor Hall. For more information about the tour, please visit the NYPL’s website. Happy reading!
WHERE: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018-2788
Photo Courtesy of Thomas Hawk‘s flickr stream