For a Behind the Scenes Tour of One of New York City’s Most Iconic Buildings: “New York City Public Library”
Did you know there is a Library Walk of Fame, near the New York Public Library on Forty-Second Street, in New York City?
Well, there is.
I have walked the streets surrounding this massive, iconic building for countless years yet it was only upon my first attempt at taking the tour there when I found this out.
That find alone was worth the seemingly wasted trip I made to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building that day. After having spent over a year waiting to visit and take a tour, I happened to pick the day they decided last minute to open late, canceling the tour I had intended to take without warning.
Naturally I was not too pleased when that happened and it stuck in my craw for quite a while afterward. But I knew I had to try again. This tour was on my 2017 to do list (http://bit.ly/2s4Ydji) after all.
However, before my second (and successful trip) I called, emailed, and contacted anyone who had a number listed on their website to ensure they would be open when I arrived. Thankfully, for their sake, the library was open and dressed up for the holidays when I got there.
I had been delighted by the idea of visiting the library after my Find Out Friday post in November 2016, that explored the founding of New York City’s Public Library (NYPL) system (http://bit.ly/2hygxuS). The Schwarzman Building had been declared by Thrillist as one of the landmarks in New York to see before you die. Timeout NYC lists this library as one of the most beautiful in the world.
Aside from the Library Walk of Fame, the next most notable, recognizable exterior elements of the NYPL are their infamous lions; Astor and Lennox. These names represented two family collections that established the resource center we now know. They always remind me of the lions that mark the entrance of the Chicago Art Institute (http://bit.ly/2zXG0IZ).
The free, guided tours at the NYPL run little over an hour. You will have access to several rooms that you are not permitted to go anywhere near otherwise. Although it was not nearly as informative as I would have hoped. I know that a majority of the library’s purpose has to do with preservation, therefore items like a copy of a draft of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand, as well as other documents from the founding fathers, are under strict lock and key, in air and light controlled rooms. But standing in front of a locked door hearing about what is treasures are inside that you will never get to see isn’t my idea of a good time. Though learning how extensive the collection is, in itself is remarkable. Word is they even have materials so old they are essentially carvings on stone tablets.
The library building is a building within a building. As time progressed space was a real problem. Originally there were several levels of stacks where the books were stored and delivered via an electrical pulley system. But that system is long outdated. Books are now stored in underground chambers and there floors have formerly housed them are dedicated for special purposes like the history of the world in maps. There are also special rooms named for donors that are set up as their collections would have appeared in their own homes, furniture included, but those too are locked.
If you enter the library on the first floor and head towards the annex you will see the building’s original exterior. It is like seeing the outside of a house while inside another house. The building has been expanded on so many times I am not positive I could explore it on my own without getting lost.
The Wallace Periodic Room has ever newspaper that has ever been printed in the U.S. as well as many dailies from around the world. You can come here any time to read, browse, and catch up. The research rooms are open to the public and are so gorgeous they do not seem real. Even the walls are painted with magnificent images of N.Y.C. during various periods of history.
The Solomon Room has many tables set up for reading or writing. In it you are surrounded by many beautiful paintings of famous folks including some who at one time owned part of the library’s collections. Sadly I learned that several of the most valuable works had been sold over time to raise the funds needed to maintain services. Aside from the budget the NYPL receives from the City of New York, they rely largely on private donations to function, restore exhibits, and pay their employees.
Lastly on our tour we made our way to the pièce de résistance; the Rose Reading Room, which had reopened in October 2016 after a two year renovation. This renovation was sparked by a sudden falling piece of plaster that came off the fifty-two foot ceiling. Thankfully no one was hurt at that time but it was a sign that the elaborate plaster decor in the entire room needed to be restored. During this time the room’s chandelier’s also got an upgrade to LED lights.
The final room I visited on my own. It was a must for me, especially when I learned it was only located a short distance and a floor below me. It was the original stuffed animals from the stories of Winnie the Pooh. Back in 1921 A. A. Mine purchased a teddy bear for his son on his first birthday, which would become the inspiration for the much beloved series.
Winnie was named for an actual bear that was living in the London Zoo at that time. That Winnie was the mascot of the Canadian Army and held a special place in people’s hearts. I would like to personally thank Don Wildman and Mysteries of the Museum for teaching me that!
Winnie and his friends now permanently reside in the children’s section of the library, quietly and unassumingly, just waiting to be noticed. I would have thought the display would have been much grander considering their value. But in a way the low key charm made them appear as they might have if they still resided in Christopher Robin’s bedroom.
For those interested in taking a tour of another NYPL treasure, you should visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I visited long ago (http://bit.ly/2hrusCe), in October 2012, to see a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation they had on display.
I will leave you now with a fun fact I read about prior to my visit. I read that many libraries had private apartments where workers once lived. Legend says there is still one secret apartment remaining in this central library location. I would love to see where it is. Officially no one has lived there since 1941. But I wonder if the renter is still home, unable to find their way out of the maze that exists within the library itself? Either way I think I have the beginning of a great novel that just might make its way on the library’s shelf someday!!
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