Believe it or not, I don’t usually seek out libraries while I’m on vacation. I’m a big fan of libraries, of course, but when I’m visiting a new place I’m usually preoccupied with non-Iowa sites, like skyscrapers and world famous museums and mountain vistas. However, I was lucky enough to be in New York City earlier this month and my friends and I made it a point to stop in at the New York Public Library; it was a visit that was both fun and inspiring.
At the main entrance you’re greeted by the library’s famous lions, named Patience and Fortitude, and the grand facade of the beautiful Beaux-Arts building which opened in 1911. The building is very museum-like, with it’s marble columns and sweeping staircases, murals painted on the ceilings, fine art decorating the reading rooms, glittering chandeliers and ornate windows. It is also very library-like, with it’s bustling crowds (it was very busy), rows and rows of reference books and public computers, busy families in the Children’s Center and hushed silence in the research rooms. It is obviously a much-used, much-loved building.
We were lucky enough to be visiting while a special exhibit was on display, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” Beautifully curated, the exhibit was a walk down memory lane for the child in anyone – an Alice with a neck (made from books) that slowly expanded, then retracted, a charming re-enactment of the web Charlotte made to save Wilbur as well as recordings of E.B. White reading passages from his famous book, a cut-out of the Wild Thing to climb on, a life-size room from Goodnight Moon, the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends (who are usually on display in the Children’s Center), an umbrella donated by P.L. Travers just like the one Mary Poppins carried, an original watercolor by Eric Carle and many more treasures.
Another fun attraction was the NYPL Photo Booth in the soaring main lobby. Anyone can answer a few simple questions, then have your picture taken to commemorate your visit. The photo is later emailed to you and are also on view on the NYPL Facebook page and Flickr account. It’s a wonderful blend of old and new, something libraries all over the world practice every day.