Where: New York, New York
What: The gorgeous, iconic 42nd Street library building, three sister research locations, plus a full 88-branch and online library system, complete with over 51 million items from historical artifacts to circulating materials. Oh, and Patience and Fortitude.
The New York Public Library is a kind of Mecca for me; a pilgrimage I make when I visit the east coast. It serves as a refresher for the soul, an inspiration and reminder that education, art and literature are things to be cherished and revered.
And of course it’s a massive tourist destination. This cannot be helped. The iconic Stephen A. Schwartzman building – the main NYPL tourist stop – resides in Midtown Manhattan near Times Square, Bryant Park, and within view of both the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. The building itself is a huge draw – its white marble glistens, and Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions outside the main entrance, beckon visitors to come and snap a selfie.
Despite its touristy draw, it’s also a working research library, full of rules and signs and stern librarians – so the air of reverence and study is preserved.
How could you do anything but study while there is beyond me. Everything begs to be examined and pondered over, from the ornate carvings and paintings on the ceilings, to the marble and bronze drinking fountains. Everything looks sharp and polished and preserved from a time long past, when education was highly valued and libraries were a place valued for research. There is detail to be absorbed everywhere – snakes on the main entrance handles, mermaids on the ceiling. Statues and sconces and even little ancient phone booths.
In addition to its research and circulating collections, the library also showcases rotating exhibitions, hosts speaking and musical engagements, and offers a variety of classes, programs and tours.
During my visit, one of the exhibitions happened to be based on one of our favorite topics – children’s literature. From Mary
Poppins to The Story of Ferdinand, the Grimms Brothers to J.K. Rowling, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” was captivating in an educational and nostalgic way. It was an inspiring walk through the development of children’s literature in different cultures and genres, and designed in such a way that you felt as though you were taking a stroll through beloved kid’s books like Where the Wild Things Are and The Secret Garden. Bonus – this exhibition is running through September 7, 2014.
All this and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of just how amazing the NYPL is. Maybe it’s just because I’m a total romantic when it comes to libraries and I have a soft spot for any library, anywhere. This one just happens to be… incredible. Like the library of libraries – in my limited travels, anyway.