Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Circulation Department

The Circulation Department of the Library performs its work through forty-four Branch Libraries in the Boroughs of Manhattan, Richmond (Staten Island), and The Bronx. (Each of the other two Boroughs of Greater New York, Brooklyn and Queens, has its own Public Library.) These Branches are in separate buildings, with the exception of the Circulation Branch in the Central Building. That is supported by the funds of the Library; all the others are maintained by the City. Thirty-seven of the Branch buildings were erected from funds given by Mr. Andrew Carnegie. The collections of books in the Branches number from ten to fifty thousand, with a total of about 1,100,000 books.

According to the general custom of American libraries, the NYPL imposes few restrictions upon its readers. This fact, together with its situation in the metropolis of the country, is the reason why it is probably used more than any other library under one management in the world. The use is constantly growing. In 1915 there were borrowed from the Branch Libraries, for home use, 10,384,579 books.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Underneath the Main Reading Room is the steel stack, in seven decks, containing 334,500 feet, or 63.3 miles, of shelving. It has room for about 2,500,000 books. (The special reading rooms have a shelf capacity for about 500,000 books.) The books in the stack are brought by electric elevators to the Main Reading Room, as they are called for by readers. The stack is not open to readers or visitors.

Monday, February 2, 2009

NYPL Main Reading Room

New York Public Library Reading Room
The Main Reading Room, in the rear, extends nearly the entire length of the building. It has a floor area of half an acre, and is divided in the middle by a booth from which books are delivered. There are seats for 768 readers. Mr. A. C. David, in the article previously quoted from the Architectural Record, says:

"The Main Reading Room is one of the most spacious rooms in the world—beautifully proportioned, lighted by a series of windows on both the long sides of the room, and entirely accessible to the stacks. To have obtained a room of these dimensions, so excellently adapted to its purpose in every respect, was a great triumph for the architects."

The shelves along the walls contain a collection of about 25,000 volumes. These books are not only the usual works of reference,—dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and the like, but they also include a good working library of general literature,—philosophy, religion, science, history, law, biography, standard novels, poetry, and the drama. These books are for the free use of anyone in this room, without the need of making any application. The reader has only to select the book he wishes, and to take it to a table, where he may consult it. When he has finished he should leave it on the table, rather than attempt to return it to its place, since a misplaced book is temporarily lost.

Children's Room

Near the 42nd Street entrance a corridor runs east to the Children's Room (No. 78). The visitor to the building should not fail to see this room, with its attractive furnishings, its collections of brightly colored picture-books, and pictures.

The object of the room is not only to perform the usual work of a children's room, but also to interest and help parents and others in selecting children's reading. Authors, artists, and publishers come here for information about books for children. Another purpose is to furnish suggestions for similar rooms elsewhere. A number of libraries, in other parts of the world, have adopted suggestions which they found here. Exhibitions on various subjects are held from time to time, and there is a collection of children's books of the old-fashioned kind. Open 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. week days.

NYPL Public Catalogue Room

This room (No. 315) contains the catalogue of the books in the Reference Department of the Library,—that is, the books available to readers in the Main Reading Room and in the special reading rooms of the Central Building. It is a dictionary catalogue, on cards, in which the books are entered by author, by subject, and by title, when the title is distinctive. The catalogue is in trays arranged in alphabetical order, beginning on the northwest wall of the room and running to the right. At the end of this catalogue, and on the southern side of the room, is an author catalogue of the books in the Central Circulation Branch and Central Children's Room, Rooms 78 and 80, in the basement. At the end of this second catalogue and separated from it by a public telephone, is a catalogue of the books in the Library of Congress for which printed catalogue cards have been issued.

Second Floor

On the second floor a corridor runs along the front of the building, turning into short corridors at the north and south, and also into a central corridor. From these corridors open studies, offices and special reading rooms. In the central corridor, four studies open on the right, while the fifth room on this side is devoted to the:

Oriental Division (No. 219), with a collection of about 20,000 books and pamphlets in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, and other eastern languages. Open 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. week days.

Jewish Division (No. 217). Opposite the Oriental Division, on the south side of this central corridor, is the reading room devoted to the Jewish Division. There are about 24,000 books in the collection.

Slavonic Division. The room devoted to the Slavonic Division (No. 216) is also on the south side of the central corridor. The resources of this Division, books and periodicals in the various Slavonic languages, number about 23,000.[24]

Science Division. On the corridor parallel to Fifth Avenue, and leading north from the main staircase, the room on the right contains the Science Division (No. 225). There are about 35,000 books under the control of this Division.

Economics Division. From the corridor on the northern or 42nd Street end of the building open the rooms devoted to Public Documents (No. 229) and Economics and Sociology. These were formerly separate divisions, but now united, and the entrance is through Room 229. The resources of the Division (including the large collection of Public Documents) number about 400,000 books and pamphlets.

Business Offices

Following the corridor leading south and then turning to the right along the 40th Street side of the building, one reaches some of the business offices of the Library—the office of the Bursar (No. 104), of the Building Superintendent (No. 103), of the Chief of the Circulation Department (No. 102), and of the Supervisor of work with children (No. 105). These offices are open for any persons who have occasion to visit them for business reasons, but they are of no interest to sightseers. In Room 100, devoted mainly to the cataloguing work of the Circulation Department, there is a card catalogue of all the books in this Department,—that is, in the Branches of the Library. The Room is open to the public, for the consultation of this catalogue, on week days from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.

NYPL Exhibition Room

Door of Exhibition Room New York Public Library
Door of Exhibition Room

Directly opposite the main entrance is the Exhibition Room, finished in white Vermont marble. The ceiling is supported by twenty-four columns of green veined white marble. The ceiling itself is elaborately and beautifully carved in oak. This room is devoted to exhibitions of rare books, manuscripts and prints. The exhibitions are changed from time to time, usually as often as three or four times a year. Open 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. on week days; 1 to 5 p. m. Sundays.

South side of Exhibition Room New York Public Library
South side of Exhibition Room

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Reserve Books Room

In this room (303) are kept the rare and reserved books of the Library.

Among the foremost treasures of the Library are: the Gutenberg Bible (printed by Gutenberg and Fust about 1455, one of the earliest books printed from movable types); the Coverdale Bible (1535); Tyndale's Pentateuch (1530) and New Testament (1536); and Eliot's Indian Bible. In fact, the collection of early Bibles in English is one of the great collections of the kind in existence. The Library also owns four[42] copies of the First Folio Shakespeare (1623); several copies of the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios (1632, 1663-64, 1685); thirty-five editions of the Shakespeare Quartos, before 1709; eight works printed by William Caxton (1475-90); the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in the territory now comprised in the United States (Cambridge, 1640); and the Doctrina Christiana, printed in Mexico in 1544.

One contribution to the Library has been commemorated by a tablet near the door of this room. It bears the inscription:


Opposite, in Room 304, is the office of the Bibliographer of the Library, and of the Chief of the American History Division.

Library for the Blind

The Library for the Blind (No. 116) is on the inner or western side of the corridor leading north from the main entrance. This collection contains about 8,000 books in embossed type for blind readers, and, in addition, 5,500 music scores, also in embossed type. These books are lent not only in Greater New York, but are sent free by mail to blind readers in all parts of the States of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A teacher employed by the Library goes to homes and institutions in the City of New York to teach adult blind persons to read by touch. The room is open on week days from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. A bronze tablet on the wall bears the following inscription:






The trustees named on the tablet are, of course, those of the former organization: the "New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind."

Patents Room

At the end of the corridor parallel to 42nd Street, is the Patents Room, a part of the Technology Division. It is open from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. on week days, and is closed on Sundays. Patents may be consulted evenings and Sundays by arrangement with the technology librarian, Room 115.

Current Periodicals Room

The corridor to the south from the main entrance leads to the Current Periodicals Room (Room Number 111). Here about 4,500 current periodicals are on file. A hundred of these are on open racks. The others may be obtained upon application at the desk. A classified finding list gives the reader the titles of periodicals kept here. As this room is sometimes confused in the public mind with a popular or club reading room, it should be remembered that this is one department in a building primarily devoted to the reference work of the Library. The few restrictions which are imposed are only for the purpose of keeping the files intact for binding. The Branches of The New York Public Library contain reading rooms where all the periodicals are on open racks.

Library Entrances

There are two entrances to the Library, the main entrance on Fifth Avenue, and the side door on 42nd Street, which gives admission to the basement, where the Central Circulation Room, the Newspaper Room and the Central Children's Room are to be found. On a first visit, however, the sightseer should use the main entrance on Fifth Avenue, in order to see the lobby, which rises through two stories, with broad staircases to the right and left. The flying arches of these staircases are of seventeen feet span, and are all of marble without any brick or metal work whatever. The marble used in the lobby is from Vermont. The ceiling is a true marble vault of forty feet span, supporting itself and the floor over it, with no metal whatever, except some reinforcing rods buried in the concrete filling in the floor above.

Between the pillars facing the entrance are two inscriptions. At the left is this:


And at the right:


The latter is a quotation from an address by Daniel Webster at Madison, Indiana, June 1, 1837.

Rear of the Central Building

The rear of the building should be viewed from Bryant Park. The long windows are to light the bookstack. Some critics have commended the rear of the building very highly. Mr. A. C. David, in the article previously quoted, says:

"This façade is very plainly treated, without any pretence to architectural effect. It is, indeed, designed frankly as the rear of a structure which is not meant to be looked at except on the other sides. Any attempt, consequently, at monumental treatment has been abandoned. The building is designed to be seen from Fifth Avenue and from the side streets. The rear, on Bryant Park, merely takes care of itself; and one of the largest apartments in any edifice in the United States is practically concealed, so far as any positive exterior result is concerned."

Central Building Exterior

Exterior. The material of the building is largely Vermont marble, and the style that of the modern Renaissance, somewhat in the manner of the period of Louis XVI, with certain modifications to suit the conditions of to-day. It is rectangular in shape, 390 feet long and 270 feet deep, built around two inner courts. It has a cellar, basement or ground floor, and three upper floors.

"The Library," wrote Mr. A. C. David, in the Architectural Record, "is undeniably popular. It has already taken its place in the public mind as a building of which every New Yorker may be proud, and this opinion of the building is shared by the architectural profession of the country. Of course, it does not please everybody; but if American architects in good standing were asked to name the one building which embodied most of what was good in contemporary American architecture, The New York Public Library would be the choice of a handsome majority."

Mr. David continued: "The Library is not, then, intended to be a great monumental building, which would look almost as well from one point of view as another, and which would be fundamentally an example of pure architectural form. It is designed rather to face on the avenue of a city, and not to seem out of place on such a site. It is essentially and frankly an instance of street architecture; and as an instance of street architecture it is distinguished in its appearance rather than imposing. Not, indeed, that it is lacking in dignity. The façade on Fifth Avenue has poise, as well as distinction; character, as well as good manners. But still it does not insist upon its own peculiar importance, as every monumental building must do. It is content with a somewhat humbler rôle, but one which is probably more appropriate. It looks ingratiating rather than imposing, and that is probably one reason for its popularity. It is intended for popular rather than for official use, and the building issues to the people an invitation to enter rather than a command....

"The final judgment on the Library will be, consequently, that it is not a great monument, because considerations of architectural form have in several conspicuous instances been deliberately subordinated to the needs of the plan. In this respect it resembles the new Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The building is at bottom a compromise between two groups of partly antagonistic demands, and a compromise can hardly ever become a consummate example of architectural form. But, on the other hand, Messrs. Carrère and Hastings have, as in so many other cases, made their compromise successful. Faithful as they have been to the fundamental requirement of adapting the building to its purpose as a library, they have also succeeded in making it look well; and they have succeeded in making it look well partly because the design is appropriate to its function as a building in which books are stored, read and distributed. A merely monumental library always appears somewhat forbidding and remote. The Library looks attractive, and so far as a large building can, even intimate....

"The popularity of the Library has, consequently, been well earned. The public has reason to like it, because it offers them a smiling countenance; and the welcome it gives is merely the outward and visible sign of an inward grace. When people enter they will find a building which has been ingeniously and carefully adapted to their use. Professional architects like it, because they recognize the skill, the good taste and the abundant resources of which the building, as a whole, is the result; and while many of them doubtless cherish a secret thought that they would have done it better, they are obliged to recognize that in order to have done it better they would have been obliged to exhibit a high degree of architectural intelligence. In the realism of its plan and in the mixture of dignity and distinction in the design, The New York Public Library is typical of that which is best in the contemporary American architectural movement; and New York is fortunate, indeed, that such a statement can be made of the most important public building erected in the city during several generations."

The Central Building

The Central Building of The New York Public Library is on the western side of Fifth Avenue, occupying the two blocks between 40th and 42nd Streets. It stands on part of the site of the old Croton distributing reservoir, and it was built by the City of New York at a cost of about nine million dollars.

Competitions to choose the architect for the building were held in 1897, two years after The New York Public Library was incorporated. The result of the competition was the selection of Messrs. Carrère and Hastings, of New York, as architects. In 1899 the work of removing the old reservoir began. Various legal difficulties and labor troubles delayed beginning the construction of the building, but by November 10, 1902, the work had progressed so far that the cornerstone was laid. The building was opened to the public May 23, 1911, in the presence of the President of the United States, the Governor of the State of New York, the Mayor of New York, and an audience of about six hundred persons.