New York Public Library

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New York Public Library, central block, built 18971911, Carrère and Hastings, architects (June 2003)

The New York Public Library (NYPL), one of three public library systems serving New York City, is one of the leading libraries in the United States. The other New York City public systems are those of Brooklyn and Queens. The online catalogue of the Library is known by the acronym, CATNYP.

The Public Library's main building on Fifth Avenue (image, right) is the crowning achievement of the Beaux-Arts architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings. Its status as one of the world's leading libraries is confirmed by its possession of (for instance) a Gutenberg Bible and a Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.


[edit] History

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"Patience" and "Fortitude", The "Library Lion" statues at the New York Public Library, with a mantle of snow during the record December 1948 snowfall.

In the late nineteenth century, New York City had two reference libraries open to the public: the Astor Library, founded by a $400,000 bequest of John Jacob Astor (17631848), which had opened in 1849, and the Lenox Library, founded by James Lenox (18001880), a book collector, which stood on the Fifth Avenue site now occupied by the Frick Collection.

In 1886, Samuel J. Tilden (18141886) made a bequest of about $2.4 million to establish a library in New York City.

John Bigelow (18171911), a New York attorney, was a trustee of the Tilden will, and 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". This entity came into being as a private foundation on May 23, 1895.

The library consolidated with The New York Free Circulating Library in February, 1901, and Andrew Carnegie donated $5.2 million to construct branch libraries, with the proviso that the City of New York fund their maintenance and operations. The New York Public Library is thus a partnership of city government with private philanthropy.

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A panoramic view of one of the twin Research Rooms

The main Research Library (now known as the Humanities and Social Science Library) was built on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan between 40th and 42nd Streets on the former site of the Croton Resevoir, and was dedicated on May 23, 1911, opening the next day. The famous 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 Lord Astor and Lady Lenox (although both lions are male). In the 1930s they were nicknamed "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. 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.

The famous main reading room of the Research Library, room 315, is a majestic 78 feet (23.8 m) wide by 297 feet (90.5 m) long, with 52 feet (15.8 m) high ceilings. It is 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; and 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. There are special rooms for notable authors and scholars, many of whom have done important research and writing at the Library. Many people, out of work during the Great Depression, used this resource to give themselves the equivalent of a university education, (just s with all libraries).

In the 1980s the library added more than 125,000 square feet (12,000 m²) of space to its storage capacity. 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. The park was then restored on top of the underground facilities and re-opened to the public.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Library on 42nd Street is one of four libraries that comprise NYPL's Research Libraries. The others are the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture, located at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem; the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located at Lincoln Center, and the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) located in the former B. Altman Building at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. 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] Branches

The NYPL maintains 86 neighborhood branch libraries including five central circulating libraries throughout The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island (The Mid-Manhattan Library, The Donnell Library Center, 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) are all in or near midtown Manhattan and offer a wide range of in-depth collections, programs, and services, including the renowned Picture Collection at Mid-Manhattan Library and the Media Center at Donnell.

[edit] Telephone Reference Service

The New York Public library has a telephone-reference system that was organized as a separate library unit in 1968 and remains one ofthe largest. Located in the Mid-Manhattan Library branch at 455 Fifth Avenue, the unit has 10 researchers with degrees ranging from elementary education, chemistry, mechanical engineering and criminal justice, to a Ph.D. in English literature. They can consult with as many as 50 other researchers in the library system.

Under their rules, each inquiry must be answered in under five minutes, meaning the caller gets an answer or somewhere to go for an answer — like a specialty library, trade group or Web site. Researchers cannot call back questioners. Although the majority of calls are in English, the staff can get by in Chinese, Spanish, German and some Yiddish. Specialty libraries, like the Slavic and Baltic division, can lend a hand with, for example, Albanian.

Internet inquiries make up only a third of the questions, but they can take up to 35 minutes each and 85% of total staff time. Internet inquiries come by e-mail (13,398 in 2005) and a one-on-one chat that resembles instant messaging (7,220 in 2005). While telephone calls have declined recently to fewer than 150 a day from more than 1,000, they still made up two-thirds, or 41,715, of all inquiries in 2005; the rest were by computer.

Every day, except Sundays and holidays, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, anyone, of any age, from anywhere in the world can telephone 212-340-0849 and ask a question. The library staff will not answer crossword or contest questions, do children's homework, or answer philosophical speculations.<ref>"Library Phone Answerers Survive the Internet." The New York Times 19 June 2006.[1]</ref>

[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 subscription databases give NYPL cardholders access to thousands of current and historical magazines, newspapers and journals. The NYPL Digital Gallery is a database of half a million 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.

[edit] The Library in literature and film

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At the entrance to the New York Public Library.

The NYPL has frequently appeared in feature films, most often as backdrop or a brief meeting place for characters. 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. In the film, a librarian in the basement reported seeing a ghost, which became violent when approached. Other films in which the library appears include Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), You're a Big Boy Now (1966), Chapter Two (1979), Escape from New York (1981), The Time Machine (2002), and Regarding Henry (1991). 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.

In the episode "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid" in the animated television series Futurama, the giant brain is confronted by Fry in the library. In an episode of Seinfeld, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) dates an NYPL librarian, Jerry Seinfeld is accosted by a library cop (Philip Baker Hall) for late fees, and George Costanza (Jason Alexander) encounters his high school gym teacher living homeless on the building's stairs.

In 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. Cynthia Ozick's 2004 novel Heir to the Glimmering World, set just prior to World War II, involves a refugee-scholar from Hitler's Germany researching the Karaite Jews at NYPL. In the 1996 novel Contest by Matthew Reilly the NYPL is the setting for an intergalactic gladiatorial fight that results in the building's total destruction. 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. 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.

Smaller mentions of the library can be found in Henry Sydnor Harrison's 1913 novel V.V.'s Eyes; P. G. Wodehouse's 1919 A Damsel in Distress; James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953); Stephen King's 1980 Firestarter; B.J. Chute's 1986 The Good Woman; Sarah Schulman's 1986 Girls, Visions and Everything; and in Isaac Bashevis Singer's posthumous Shadows on the Hudson (1998). A charming, lightly fictionalized portrait of the Jewish Division's first chief, Abraham Solomon Freidus, is found in a chapter of Abraham Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky (1917). Bernard Malamud’s short story "The German Refugee," (in his Complete Stories [1997]; originally published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1963) mentions the library, as does the story "Owd Bob" in Christopher Morley's 1919 humor book, Mince Pie.

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]). Two poems by E.B. White (“A Library Lion Speaks” and “Reading Room” appear in Poems and Sketches of E.B. White (1981).

James Turcotte’s moving meditation on his advancing AIDS takes the form of a poem series called “The New York Public Library,” which appeared in the Minnesota Review in 1993, the year Turcotte died. Other notable periodical poetry about the library includes Ted Mathys’ “Inventory Entering the New York Public Library” in Gulf Coast in 2005 and Jennifer Nostrand’s “The New York Public Library” in the Manhattan Poetry Review, 1989. The anthology American Diaspora (2001) includes Susan Thomas’ “New York Public Library.” Yiddish poet Aaron Zeitlin wrote a poem about going to the library, included in his 2-volume Ale lider un poemes [Complete Lyrics and Poems], published in 1967 and 1970.

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.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

New York City governmental institutions

Government · Mayor · City Council · Judiciary · Brooklyn Public Library · City University of New York · Economic Development Corporation · Department of Education · Fire Department (FDNY) · Lower Manhattan Development Corporation · Department of Parks and Recreation · New York Public Library · Police Department (NYPD) · Queens Borough Public Library

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