For over 100 years, the New York Public Library has been serving its patrons as both a center for scholarly research and a lending library that is free and open to the public. The entire system is comprised of four major research libraries and over 85 branch libraries located in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
The New York Public Library is considered one of the greatest libraries in the country, and it is the world’s only research library that also has a circulating branch system.
Aside from the amazing resources available, the New York Public Library is a fantastic example of turn of the century Beaux Arts architecture. Its Main Reading Room looks like the kind of library you see in the movies. Long tables topped with reading lamps sit in rows beneath elaborate chandeliers, suspended from high ceilings. Massive arched windows let in the New York City sunshine.
It took two years for 500 workers to dismantle the reservoir that was previously located on the site on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets.
Designed by the firm Carrere and Hastings, the cornerstone was laid in May 1902. Construction continued for 9 years, at a cost of $9 million. The building boasted over 75 miles of shelves!
No detail was overlooked. The architects even designed the base of the flagpoles on Fifth Avenue, which are decorated with “allegorical winged figures,” swags, and medallions. The Library is well-known for the massive lions that stand guard at the steps to the main entrance.
More than 13 million people use the library every year. The astounding number of collections continues to grow by an unfathomable 10,000 items per week. Envisioned by the first director, Dr. John Shaw Billings, the Library is equipped with the fastest and most efficient retrieval system in the world.
The collections contain many rare and important archival materials, including original manuscripts, photographs, comic books, dime novels, and baseball cards.
But the New York Public Library is much more than a library. It is also a museum.
Beautiful murals by artist Edward Lanning adorn the third floor in the McGraw Rotunda. He painted them between 1938 and 1942 as part of a WPA program called the Federal Art Project. He was one of thousands of unemployed artists who were paid to paint murals in schools, hospitals, post offices, and other public buildings. Lanning’s murals depict the “The Story of the Recorded World.”
The library also contains several exhibition galleries, featuring a variety of rotating exhibits for visitors to view.
Even if you are not in town to conduct any research, the New York Public Library is worth a visit. Like many spectacular New York City landmarks, there is no admission charge to enter the library. It is a public treasure that can be enjoyed by us all.