Hi friends, welcome back! I finally crossed an item off my NYC bucket list, visiting the renowned New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. I’ve walked by this National Historic Landmark so many times, but haven’t gone in until this excursion. This is the most famous library in NYC and guarded by the iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, along Fifth Avenue. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building differs from the other NYPL branches because it is solely a research library and does not have books available to check out. My Battery Park library branch doesn’t look nearly as grand as this one!
This library was built in nine years from 1902 until 1911 and cost over $9 million dollars. Per the inflation calculator I used, that would be around $275 million dollars in today’s prices. This Library was designed in the Beaux Arts style famous for symmetry, columns and pillars, stone materials, and highly decorative surfaces. When the library officially opened in 1911, over one million books were in collection and over 30,000 people walked through on opening day.
As of today, there are 92 branches including research centers throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island (Brooklyn and Queens aren’t part of the NYPL), over 53 million items in the collection, and over 18 million visitors a year. The New York Public Library is the second largest public library system in America, and fourth largest in the world. To give you some perspective, with some books I place on hold I’m the 700th person in line to borrow the book!
I was hoping to join the free, one hour tour at 11 am, but when I got there at 10:15, the fifteen-person tour was already full. One day I’ll go back and take the tour now that I have my fill of pictures. The library also offers a free, fifteen-minute tour at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm of the Rose Main Reading Room limited to twenty-five people. I luckily made it in time to join this tour and take pictures of the Rose Main Reading Room. This is the most iconic room in the library and only available by tour or if you are researching.
The tour check in was on the third floor in the McGraw Rotunda, so I checked out the impressive murals while I waited for the tour to start. The ceiling in the McGraw Rotunda depicted Prometheus, the Greek demigod giving man knowledge and fire. If you visit, make sure to look up everywhere you go because even the ceilings are exquisite!
The murals in the walnut paneled McGraw Rotunda show the history of the written word, starting with Moses with the Tablets of Law, The Medieval Scribe, Gutenberg Showing a Proof to the Elector of Mainz, and The Linotype-Mergenthaler and Whitelaw Reid.
We walked through the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room before heading into the main attraction…
The beautiful Rose Main Reading Room. I was only able to stand on the side and not walk through, but the room was stunning! This room stands atop seven levels that store the research materials, and a conveyer belt type system gets the book to the patron once it’s requested. I read about the conveyer belt system and the library in the book The Lions of Fifth Avenue, but I’m hoping the hour tour shows more of the system.
In 2014, one of the 16-pound plastered rosettes on the ceiling fell off and shattered, and the room was closed two years for repair. In the picture below, the rosettes are on the perimeter on the ceiling in the middle of the green squares. Nobody knows how it fell off, but all 102 rosettes were tested and reinforced during renovation to make sure they wouldn’t fall. During renovation, this room was completely covered with scaffolding up to the ceiling and all of the shelves were emptied. It’s hard to imagine, but this short YouTube video shows more about it. Also during the renovation, storage was created under Bryant Park to house even more research articles.
The Rose Main Reading Room is about the size of a football field and features 52-foot ceilings. I love how bright the large windows make this room. If you are only looking to see the Rose Main Reading Room, I’d highly recommend taking the fifteen-minute tour lead by the Library’s docents.
As I mentioned earlier, this library is a working research library, so quite a few rooms are reserved and unavailable to visitors. As much as I would have liked to see every room, I can definitely imagine how hard it would be to complete research with tourists coming through and snapping pictures.
Astor Hall, the main entrance off of Fifth Avenue sure stuns with all the marble. Usually at Christmastime there is a beautiful tree and garland, but due to construction it wasn’t up last year. I love these grand staircases and balconies.
I had a grand time visiting the New York Public Library – Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and touring the Rose Main Reading Room. I’d highly recommend stopping in on a trip to NYC. If you aren’t joining a tour, you can see most of the interior in about thirty minutes, but can spend as little or as long as you’d like. It’s free to visit and you could always stop at Bryant Park afterwards to grab a quick bite, or head north a few blocks to Rockefeller Center or further on to Central Park. Hopefully I’ll make the exclusive tour list and have more to report back with on this magnificent library!