We’ve gone “home” to New York so much that we’re constantly looking for places we’ve never visited. On our recent trips, we’ve gone to see these NY landmarks:
- Looking at the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry
- Taking a walk on the High Line.
- Eating at Katz’s Deli
- Barcade (one of the 15 places for geeks and nerds in NYC)
However, there’s been one place we wanted to visit but never could fit into our plans. The New York Public Library. More accurately, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
The New York Public Library serves the residents of Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island and has branches throughout the three boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens have their own libraries). But when tourists think about the NYPL, they know the location on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, which was featured in Ghostbusters. It’s the one with the two lions flanking the main entrance.
The library offers free 1-hour tours at 11 AM and 2 PM on Monday-Saturday. Tour groups are limited to 20 people and reservations open on Sunday (at midnight Eastern Time) for the following week. I stayed up and grabbed two spots on a Monday at 11 AM.
We met our tour guide in the main lobby. It was both of our first time visiting the library. It was more like a museum than a working public building.
We learned about the library’s history and how it was built on the site of the Croton Reservoir. From there, we went to the DeWitt Wallace periodical room, named after the founder of Reader’s Digest, who spent hours in this room reading and condensing articles from the Library’s collection for the magazine.
We went through several library rooms and eventually walked to the top floor. Even the stairways in the library are works of art, with carvings along the ceiling and plenty of natural light.
The main attraction of the library is the Rose Reading Room.
One of New York City’s most iconic locations, the majestic Rose Main Reading Room measures 78 feet by 297 feet—roughly the length of two city blocks—with 52-foot-tall ceilings displaying murals of vibrant skies and billowing clouds. This breathtaking Beaux-Arts space weaves Old World architectural elegance with modern technology. Here, patrons can request material from the Milstein Stacks, the Library’s environmentally optimal storage facility located underneath Bryant Park with a capacity of over 4 million items. Visitors can also browse and read the thousands of reference volumes lining the shelves.
Did you know 4 million items of the NYPL collection are stored underneath nearby Bryant Park? I didn’t. But the star of this building is the reading room.
The room is almost city blocks long and has 52-foot high ceilings. It’s an impressive space, before the detailed ceiling with a mural of the cloud-filled sky.
Guests can visit the library without a guide, but we enjoyed having a volunteer docent who told us about the items in the collection, which cover everything from the library’s map collection (which is one of the world’s best), the photograph and print division, the collections of British authors and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
Not all collections are open to the public as the library also functions as a research institution.
I’m upset it took us so long to visit the library but I’m glad we waited until we could take a tour. There’s way too much to appreciate without a guide to show you around.
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