New York City: A Literary Hit

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Loving the New York City Public Library

Officially known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, the main branch of the New York City Public Library is a Beaux-Arts beauty. In 1897, the city provided the site – an old reservoir – and agreed to finance construction. Dr. John Shaw Billings – the library’s first director – sketched out a plan for the new building on a postcard.

It took 500 workers two years to demolish the Croton Reservoir and nine years to build the library.

Open in 1911, it quickly became known as the People’s Place.

I call it my kind of place.

Grandeur from the first step!
Grandeur from the first step! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Inner Charms

Stepping away from the hustle of Fifth Avenue, the main entrance leads into Astor Hall with a jaw- dropping, 37-foot (11.3-metre) vaulted ceiling and white Vermont marble covering every available surface.

I gawk as only a literary tourist can.

The Map Division, on a wing of the first floor, contains more than 500,000 maps, atlases and cartography books – some dating back as far as the late 16th century.

I could stop right here and spent the rest of my time in the city, but the Rose Reading Room is calling.

Rose Reading Room - then...
Rose Reading Room – then…
IMG_4974
… and now. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The Rose Room

If I lived in the city, the Rose Reading Room would be my office and Norman Mailer – a regular patron – would be my muse.

The Rose Reading Room is two city blocks long, providing seating for over 600 patrons at custom carved tables.

The room sits on top of seven stories of book stacks.

The collection includes such curiousities as a lock of Wild Bill Hickok’s hair, Charles Dicken’s letter-opener made out of his beloved cat Bob’s paw and poet E.E. Cummings death mask.

Cool marble walls speak volumes in New York City's Central Library (Photo Credit: M.Kopp)
Cool marble walls speak volumes in New York City’s Central Library (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Visit the People’s Place

Founded in 1895, NYPL is the nation’s largest public library system. The People’s Place is its crown jewel. If you’d like to visit this gem, it is located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; more information is available online.

Did You Know? 

  • There are 88 miles (over 141 kilometres) of bookshelves beneath the Rose Main Reading Room alone.
  • The library collection includes more than 15 million items – from the first Gutenburg Bible to cross the Atlantic to the original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals to Columbus’s letter announcing the discovery of the New World and oh, so much more!
  • Literary lions Patience and Fortitude – named by NYC Mayor Fiorello La Guardia – flank the Fifth Avenue entrance.
  • During WWII, military intelligence used the Map Division to research battle plans.

“The world is a book,
and those who do not travel
read only a page.”
– St. Augustine

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