Thursday, February 17, 2022

Main Branch of the New York Public Library


Winnie the Pooh and Friends

A city’s main library says a lot about it. Young cities have new buildings with slick architecture and all the technological bells and whistles. Older cities have buildings built when the theme of “palaces of learning” was the norm. But few cities have a library as much of a palace as the Main Branch of the New York Public Library.

Detroit Publishing Company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons - 1908

Now known as the Stephan A. Schwarzman Building, the library’s main branch is located on the eastern edge of Bryant Park, along Fifth Ave. It stretches from 40th to 42nd street, in the space that was once occupied by the original Croton Reservoir.

The Beaux-Arts building was designed by the firm of Carrère and Hastings, and opened in 1911. At the time, it was the largest marble structure in the United States. It housed both a circulating and reference library, with 75 miles of shelves and lots of room to expand. Today, it is only a reference library, Of course, its main entrance is flanked by Patience and Fortitude, the library lions.

Elisa.rolle, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You enter the library through the Astor Hall. It is the kind of awe-inspiring entrance that was designed to say “This is an important place.” Its 34-foot vaulted ceiling creates an impressive space, and it is lined by large marble staircases.

On the first floor you will find several sub-collections of the library, including its photography collection, the Map Room, and the DeWitt Wallace Periodical Room, where almost any magazine or journal can be found.

DeWitt Wallace Reading Room

The second floor is home to the Humanities Research division. It also has a large balcony that offers great views of Astor Hall.

The jewels of building are on the third floor. You start at the McGraw Rotunda. Its walls are decorated with murals created by Edward Laning, as a WPA project during the 1940’s. 

The Rotunda serves as the entrance to the heart of the library, The Rose Reading Room. Here, you can request any reference book from the library’s 160 miles of shelves, and it will be delivered to your seat in a matter of minutes. There you can sit and read the book, to do research, or just enjoy the story.

Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Public Library is a collection of much more than books. It holds paintings, drawings, statues, and even stuffed animals. Most of them are usually out of the public view, available only to scholars. Now the library has created the Polansky Exhibition Space, where many of the these treasures can be seen by the general public.


Maquette of Lift Every Voice and Sing by Augusta Savage

Black Manhattan by Romare Beardon

Drawing for 'Bad Hat and Fountain" by Ludwing Bemelmans

Drawing for "Through the Looking Glass" by John Tenniel

Street Music - Jenkins Band by Norman Lewis

Said Abdullah and Vénus Africaine by Charles Henri Joseph Cordier

The Fantastic Turban by Frank Mason

Liberty and Justice by John Moore

"I Am A Man" by Ernest C. Whiters

Political Prisoner by Elizabeth Catlett

Costume for Tevye's family for Fiddler on the Roof by Patricia Ziprodt

A Red Record by Ida B. Wells

Libraries are wonderful places. A visit to the main branch of New York Public will remind you that wonder is a great emotion to feel.

Nuts and Bolts:

  • The Main Branch of NYPL is located at 476 Fifth Ave, at 41st Street.
  • It is open seven days a week, Mon - Sat  from 10AM - 6PM (Weds. until 8 PM), and Sundays from 1 PM - 5PM
  • The following subway trains stop at 42nd street, at various avenues:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, B, D, F, M, Q, R, W

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