New York Public Library

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New York Public Library
Established 1895
Location New York, New York
Branches 87
Size 20,402,004 books (51,274,648 items)[citation needed]
Access and use
Population served 3,476,139
1,620,867 (Manhattan), 1,373,659, (The Bronx), 481,613 (Staten Island)
Other information
Budget $50,171,798
Director Paul LeClerc
Staff 3,147

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is one of the leading public libraries of the world and is one of the United States's most significant research libraries. It is composed of a very large circulating public library system combined with a very large non-lending research library system. It is simultaneously one of the largest public library systems in the United States and one of the largest research library systems in the world. It is a privately managed, nonprofit corporation with a public mission, operating with both private and public financing. The historian David McCullough has described the New York Public Library as one of the five most important libraries in the United States, the others being the Library of Congress, the Boston Public Library, and the university libraries of Harvard and Yale.[1]

The New York Public Library has branches in the boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island. According to the American Library Association, the branch libraries comprise the twenty-sixth largest library in the United States.[2] New York City's other two boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, are served by the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Borough Public Library respectively. These libraries predate the consolidation of New York City.

Currently, the New York Public Library consists of 89 libraries: four non-lending research libraries, four main lending libraries, a library for the blind and physically handicapped, and 77 neighborhood branch libraries in the three boroughs served. All libraries in the NYPL system may be used free of charge by all visitors. As of 2007, the research collections contain 43,975,362 items (books, videotapes, maps, etc.) of which 15,985,192 are books. The Branch Libraries contain 7,299,286 items of which 4,416,812 are books.[3] Together the collections total more than 50 million items, and the books number more than 20 million, a number surpassed by only the Library of Congress and the British Library.

If the three public library systems of New York City were considered as a single entity this unified library would have 208 branches and a collection of more than 30 million book volumes, making it the largest public library in the world.[4]

Due to the current 2009 economic crisis, NYPL is facing a $23.2 million funding cut when the new fiscal year begins July 1. This will result in the expected elimination 465 jobs, and in sharply scaled back branch operating hours [5].


[edit] History

[edit] Founding

Postcard, ca. 1920

An early benefactor of the New York Public Library was New York governor and presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden, who left the bulk of his fortune -- about $2.4 million -- to "establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York." At the time of Tilden's death in 1886, New York already had two important libraries: the Astor Library, and the Lenox Library.[6] Another early founder-benefactor was wealthy New York Merchant, Robert Watts, the Son of New York Politician John Watts.

The Astor Library was created by John Jacob Astor, an immigrant who became the wealthiest man in America. When he died in 1848, he left $400,000 in his will for the establishment of a library in New York City. The Astor Library opened the following year, 1849. Although it was not a circulating library, it was a major reference library for research.[6]

New York's other main library was established by James Lenox and consisted mainly of his extensive collection of rare books (which included the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the New World), manuscripts, and Americana. The Lenox Library was intended primarily for bibliophiles and scholars. While it was free of charge, tickets of admission (such as those that are still required to gain access to the British Library) were still needed by potential users.[6]

So although there were already two fine libraries in New York City in 1886 and both were open to the public, neither could be termed a truly public institution in the sense that Tilden seems to have envisioned. But Tilden's vision was soon to come into fruition not only because of the generous bequest he left in his will but because of a man who was a trustee of his estate.[6]

By 1892, both the Astor and Lenox libraries were experiencing financial difficulties. Almost as if fate would have it, John Bigelow, a New York attorney, and Tilden trustee, formulated a plan to combine the resources of the financially-strapped Astor and Lenox libraries with the Tilden bequest to form "The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations". Bigelow's plan, signed and agreed upon on May 23, 1895, was hailed as an example of private philanthropy for the public good.[6]

The newly established library consolidated with The New York Free Circulating Library in February, 1901, and the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $5.2 million to construct branch libraries, with the requirement that they be maintained by the City of New York. Later in 1901 the New York Public Library signed a contract with the City of New York to operate 39 branch libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.[6]

Unlike most other great libraries, such as the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library was not created by government statute. From the earliest days of the New York Public Library, a tradition of partnership of city government with private philanthropy began. A tradition which continues to this day.[6]

[edit] Main branch building

"Patience" and "Fortitude" : the "Library Lion" statues; New York Public Library with mantle of snow (record snowfall of Dec. 1948)

The organizers of the New York Public Library, wanting an imposing main branch, found a prominent, central site available at the two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets, then occupied by the no-longer-needed Croton Reservoir. Dr. John Shaw Billings the first director of the library, created an initial design which became the basis of the new building (now known as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library) on Fifth Avenue. Billings's plan called for a huge reading room on top of seven floors of bookstacks combined with a system that was designed to get books into the hands of library users as fast as possible. Following a competition among the city's most prominent architects, the relatively unknown firm of Carrère and Hastings was selected to design and construct the building. The result, a Beaux-Arts design, was the largest marble structure up to that time in the United States.[6]

Christmas tree in the main entrance to the NYPL at the Astor Hall.

The cornerstone was laid in May 1902, but work progressed slowly on the project, which eventually cost $9 million. In 1910, 75 miles of shelves were installed, and it took a year to move and install the books that were in the Astor and Lenox libraries.[6]

On May 23, 1911, the main branch of the New York Public Library was officially opened in a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft. The following day, the public was invited. Tens of thousands thronged to the Library's "jewel in the crown." The opening day collection consisted of more than 1,000,000 volumes. The New York Public Library instantly became one of the nation's largest libraries and a vital part of the intellectual life of America. Library records for that day show that one of the very first items called for was N. I. Grot's Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni ("Ethical Ideas of Our Time") a study of Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Tolstoy. The reader filed his slip at 9:08 a.m. and received his book just six minutes later.[6]

Cross-view of classical details in the entrance portico
Entrance to the Public Catalog Room
The Map Division

Two famous stone lions guarding the entrance were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter. They were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, in honor of the library's founders. These names were transformed into Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (although both lions are male). In the 1930s they were nicknamed "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. He chose these names because he felt that the citizens of New York would need to possess these qualities to see themselves through the Great Depression. Patience is on the south side (the left as one faces the main entrance) and Fortitude on the north.[6]

The main reading room of the Research Library (Room 315)—a majestic 78 feet (23.8 m) wide by 297 feet (90.5 m) long, with 52 feet (15.8 m) high ceilings—lined with thousands of reference books on open shelves along the floor level and along the balcony; lit by massive windows and grand chandeliers; furnished with sturdy wood tables, comfortable chairs, and brass lamps. Today it is also equipped with computers with access to library collections and the Internet and docking facilities for laptops. Readers study books brought to them from the library's closed stacks. In late December 2008, the library had to close off access to these stacks and all of the books housed there; the problem appears temporary, but the NYPL has not offered an explanation--beyond a vague mention of lead and facade work--or a date after which books can again be retrieved from the stacks for patrons. There are special rooms for notable authors and scholars, many of whom have done important research and writing at the Library. But the Library has always been about more than scholars, during the Great Depression, many ordinary people, out of work, used the Library to improve their lot in life (as they still do).[6]

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.[7]

Over the decades, the library system added branch libraries, and the research collection expanded until, by the 1970s, it was clear the collection eventually would outgrow the existing structure. In the 1980s the central research library added more than 125,000 square feet (12,000 m²) of space and literally miles of bookshelf space to its already vast storage capacity to make room for future acquisitions. This expansion required a major construction project in which Bryant Park, directly west of the library, was closed to the public and excavated. The new library facilities were built below ground level and the park was restored above it.

A panoramic view of the Rose Main Reading Room, facing south.

On July 17, 2007, the building was briefly evacuated and the surrounding area was cordoned off by New York police because of a suspicious package found across the street. It turned out to be a bag of old clothes.[8]

In the three decades before 2007, the building's interior was gradually renovated.[9]

On December 20, 2007, the library announced it will undertake a three-year, $50 million renovation of the building exterior, which has suffered damage from weathering and pollution. [10] The restoration design has been overseen by WJE Engineers and Architects, whose previous projects include the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s limestone facades and the American Museum of Natural History, made of granite.[11] These renovations will be underwritten by a $100-million gift from philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, whose name will be inscribed at the bottom of the columns which frame the building's entrances. Library officials expect that his name will be added some time in 2009 and that the larger restoration of the building’s facade will be completed in 2010.[12]

[edit] Other research branches

Even though the central research library on 42nd Street had greatly expanded its capacity, in the 1990s the decision was made to remove that portion of the research collection devoted to science, technology, and business to a new location. The new location was the abandoned B. Altman department store on 34th Street. In 1995, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the library, the $100 million Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of Manhattan, finally opened to the public. Upon the creation of the SIBL, the central research library on 42nd Street was renamed the Humanities and Social Sciences Library.

Today there are four research libraries that comprise the NYPL's outstanding research library system which hold approximately 43,000,000 items. Total item holdings, including the collections of the Branch Libraries, are 50.6 million. The Humanities and Social Sciences Library on 42nd Street is still the heart of the NYPL's research library system but the Science, Industry and Business Library, with approximately 2 million volumes and 60,000 periodicals, is quickly gaining greater prominence in the NYPL's research library system because of its up-to-date electronic resources available to the general public. The SIBL, the nation's largest public library devoted solely to science and business, provides users with broad access to science, technology, and business information via 150 networked computer work stations. The NYPL's two other research libraries are the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture, located at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located at Lincoln Center. In addition to their reference collections, the Library for the Performing Arts and the SIBL also have circulating components that are administered by the NYPL's Branch Libraries system.

[edit] Branch Libraries

The New York Public Library system maintains its commitment to being a public lending library through its branch libraries in The Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, including the Mid-Manhattan Library, The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, the circulating collections of the Science, Industry and Business Library, and the circulating collections of the Library for the Performing Arts. These circulating libraries offer a wide range of collections, programs, and services, including the renowned Picture Collection at Mid-Manhattan Library and the Media Center at Donnell.

Of its 82 branch libraries, 35 are in Manhattan, 34 are in the Bronx, and 11 are in Staten Island.

[edit] ASK NYPL (Live Help 24/7)

Since 1968 Telephone Reference has been an integral part of The New York Public Library’s reference services, although it existed long before in a limited way. Now known as ASK NYPL[5], the service provides answers by phone and online via chat and e-mail. The service fulfilled nearly 70,000 requests for information in 2007. Inquiries range from the serious and life-changing (a New Orleans resident who lost his birth certificate in Katrina needing to know how to obtain a copy; turns out he was born in Brooklyn), to the fun or even off-the-wall (a short-story writer researching the history of Gorgonzola cheese). In 1992 a selection of unusual and entertaining questions and answers from ASK NYPL was the source for Book of Answers: The New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service’s Most Unusual and Entertaining Questions, a popular volume published by Fireside Books. National and international questioners have included scores of newspaper reporters, authors, celebrities, professors, secretaries, CEOs, and everyone in between.

New York Public Library Elevation

In 2008 The New York Public Library’s ASK NYPL reference service introduced two enhancements that improve and expand the service.

The Library recently launched 917-ASK-NYPL, a new easier to remember telephone number for Library information and for asking reference questions. Every day, except Sundays and holidays, between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, anyone, of any age, from anywhere in the world can telephone 917-275-6975 and ask a question. The library staff will not answer crossword or contest questions, do children's homework, or answer philosophical speculations.[13].

In addition, the ASK NYPL service is now available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Library users can ask reference questions in Spanish and English and seek help at anytime through online chat via the Library’s website at Through participation in an international cooperative, the Library receives support answering questions outside regular hours.

[edit] Website

The New York Public Library website provides access to the library's catalogs, online collections and subscription databases, and has information about the library's free events, exhibitions, computer classes and English as a Second Language classes. The two online catalogs, LEO (which searches the circulating collections) and CATNYP (which searches the research collections) allow users to search the library's holdings of books, journals and other materials.

The NYPL gives cardholders free access from home to thousands of current and historical magazines, newspapers, journals and reference books in subscription databases, including EBSCOhost, which contains full text of major magazines; full text of the New York Times (1995-present), Gale's Ready Reference Shelf which includes the Encyclopedia of Associations and periodical indexes, Books in Print; and Ulrich's Periodicals Directory.

The NYPL Digital Gallery is a database of over 600,000 images digitized from the library's collections. The Digital Gallery was named one of Time Magazine's 50 Coolest Websites of 2005 and Best Research Site of 2006 by an international panel of museum professionals.

Other databases available only from within the library include Nature, IEEE and Wiley science journals, Wall Street Journal archives, and Factiva.

[edit] NYPL Law Enforcement

The NYPL maintains a force of NYC Special patrolman who provide security and protection to various libraries and NYPL Special investigators who oversee security operations at the library facilities. These officials have on duty arrest authority granted by NYS penal law.

However some library branches use contracted security guards for security.

[edit] The NYPL in popular culture

[edit] Film

The NYPL has frequently appeared in feature films. It serves as the backdrop for a central plot development in the 2002 film Spider-Man and a major location in the 2004 apocalyptic science fiction film The Day After Tomorrow. It is also featured prominently in the 1984 film Ghostbusters—a librarian in the basement reports seeing a ghost, which becomes violent when approached. In the 1978 film, The Wiz, Dorothy and Toto stumble across the Library and one of the Library Lions comes alive and joins them on their journey out of Oz.

Other films in which the library appears include 42nd Street (1933), Portrait of Jennie (1948), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), You're a Big Boy Now (1966), Chapter Two (1979), Escape from New York (1981), Regarding Henry (1991), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), The Time Machine (2002), and Sex and the City (2008) .

[edit] Television

  • The NYPL was featured in the pilot episode of the ABC series Traveler, as the Drexler Museum Of Art, most often as backdrop or a brief meeting place for characters.
  • The NYPL is the setting for much of '"The Persistence of Memory," the eleventh part of Carl Sagan's Cosmos TV series.

[edit] Novels

  • Lynne Sharon Schwartz's The Writing on the Wall (2005), features a language researcher at NYPL who grapples with her past following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
  • In 1985, novelist Jerome Badanes based his novel The Final Opus of Leon Solomon on the real-life tragedy of an impoverished scholar who stole books from the Jewish Division, only to be caught and commit suicide.
  • In the 1984 murder mystery by Jane Smiley, Duplicate Keys, an NYPL librarian stumbles on two dead bodies, circa 1930.
  • The NYPL is depicted on the cover of Raven Rise by D.J MacHale. The library plays an role in the book, as it is seen in the present and future, to which it is shown as the majority of it being destroyed.
  • Allen Kurzweil's The Grand Complication is the story of an NYPL librarian whose research skills are put to work finding a missing museum object.
  • Donna Hill, who was herself an NYPL librarian in the 1950s, set her 1965 novel Catch a Brass Canary at an NYPL branch library.
  • Lawrence Blochman's 1942 mystery Death Walks in Marble Halls features a murder committed using a brass spindle from a catalog drawer.

[edit] Poetry

Both branches and the central building have been immortalized in numerous poems, including:

  • Richard Eberhart’s “Reading Room, The New York Public Library” (in his Collected Poems, 1930-1986 [1988])
  • Arthur Guiterman’s “The Book Line; Rivington Street Branch, New York Public Library” (in his Ballads of Old New York [1920])
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Library Scene, Manhattan” (in his How to Paint Sunlight [2001])
  • James Haug’s “Heat: a Composite” (in his The Stolen Car [1989])
  • Muriel Rukeyser’s “Nuns in the Wind” (in The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser [2005])
  • Paul Blackburn’s “Graffiti” (in The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn [1985])
  • E.B. White's "Reading Room" (Poems and Sketches of E.B. White [1981])
  • James Turcotte’s poem series “The New York Public Library,” his moving meditation on his advancing AIDS, which appeared in the Minnesota Review (1993)
  • Ted Mathys’ "Inventory Entering the New York Public Library" (Gulf Coast [2005])
  • Jennifer Nostrand’s "The New York Public Library" (Manhattan Poetry Review [1989])
  • Susan Thomas’ "New York Public Library" (the anthology American Diaspora [2001])
  • Aaron Zeitlin's poem about going to the library, included in his 2-volume Ale lider un poemes [Complete Lyrics and Poems] (1967 and 1970)

[edit] Other

Excerpts from several of the many memoirs and essays mentioning The New York Public Library are included in the anthology Reading Rooms (1991), including reminiscences by Alfred Kazin, Henry Miller, and Kate Simon.

[edit] Other New York City library systems

The New York Public Library, serving Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, is one of three separate and independent public library systems in New York City. The other two library systems are the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Borough Public Library. The three library systems combined operate a total of 208 library branches.

According to the latest Mayor’s Management Report, New York City’s three public library systems had a total library circulation of 35 million broken down as follows: the NYPL and BPL (with 143 branches combined) had a circulation of 15 million, and the QBPL system had a circulation of 20 million through its 62 branch libraries. Altogether the three library systems also hosted 37 million visitors in 2006.

Private libraries in New York City, some of which can be used by the public, are listed in Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers (Gale)

[edit] References

  1. ^ Simon & Schuster:David McCullough,, retrieved on 2007-10-12 
  2. ^ American Library Association: The Nation's Largest Libraries,, retrieved on 2009-3-17 
  3. ^ New York Public 2007 Annual Report (PDF)
  4. ^ Queen Library Facts, Brooklyn Public Library Welcome Page.
  5. ^ [1] Dailey News, Economy sets stage for service cuts, layoffs at New York's city library systems, Dorian Block and Frank Lombardi, March 18th 2009
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l [2]Web page titled "History" at the New York Public Library Web site, accessed December 20, 2007
  7. ^ "New York Public Library". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-16. 
  8. ^ "New York Public Library being evacuated". Twitter. 17 July, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-17. 
  9. ^ Pogrebin, Robin, "A Centennial Face-Lift For a Beaux-Arts Gem: Restoration of Library Facade Begins With Visions of a Nightly Spectacle", article, The New York Times, page B1, December 20, 2007
  10. ^ [3]Web page (news release?) titled "The New York Public Library Will Restore its Fifth Avenue Building's Historic Facade / Project to be Completed in Time for Building's 2011 Centennial / (New York City, December 20, 2007)" at the New York Public Library Web site, accessed December 20, 2007
  11. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (December 20, 2007). "A Centennial Face-Lift for a Beaux-Arts Gem". "". The New York Times. Retrieved 3-30-2009.
  12. ^ Santora, Marc. "After Big Gift, a New Name for the Library," New York Public Library. April 23, 2008.
  13. ^ "Library Phone Answerers Survive the Internet." The New York Times 19 June 2006.[4]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 40°45′10″N 73°58′54″W / 40.75270°N 73.98180°W / 40.75270; -73.98180

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