For the last five years I’ve visited New York City in April to attend the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual meeting. Every year I’ve made a pilgrimage to Fortitude and Patience, the stone lions that stand outside the public library on 5th Avenue. This year I finally went inside–as part of an ASJA field trip. The library gave us a double treat: an introduction to its research resources and a private tour.
Even from the perspective of someone who has spent hundreds (maybe even thousands) of hours at the University of Chicago’s wonderful Regenstein Library, the New York Public Library’s resources are pretty dang impressive. Four research libraries (plus 87 circulating branches) linked by a single catalog, an astonishing off-site book storage facility, special collections galore, and access to many, many on-line databases. Not to mention gorgeous reading rooms.
When they told me I could have a library card even though I don’t live in New York, I said, “Sign me up!”
The tour was a history nerd’s delight: a combination of stories about the past, architectural trivia, and glimpses of the library’s future use as a circulating library. Here are some of the highlights:
• The marble in the main hall is the same as that used to build the Parthenon, after all the library was meant to be a temple of learning
• The building was designed with an eight-room apartment for the building’s janitor and his family. (Can you imagine growing up with the library just downstairs?)
• We got to go down in the stacks, something not allowed on the public tours. Look carefully and you’ll see something missing: books! Most of them have been moved to an off-site storage facility designed for book preservation. These days you need to request books the day before you need them.
Now that I’ve found my way inside, you can be sure I’ll be back.