Afterward exploring the library, step out into Bryant Park and enjoy a coffee at the open-air café
The New York City Public Library is second biggest library in the US, after the Library of Congress, and the fourth biggest in the world. Opened in 1911, it stands on Fifth Avenue at its intersection with 42nd street, and stretches for two full blocks. Though imposing, it is completely open to the public.
The library is a beaux-arts style masterpiece, sculpted from more than 530,000 cubic feet of white Vermont marble. Its entrance is palatial: a wide staircase leads up to three arches, flanked by Corinthian columns that support a frieze adorned with six statues, representing philosophy, romance, religion, poetry, drama and history.
Two marble lions sit either side of the stairway leading in. In the 1930s they were named “Patience” and “Fortitude” by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who thought these were the qualities the citizens of New York required to see themselves through the Great Depression. The names stuck.
Inside, there is the Astor Hall, with its tremendous, vaulted ceilings, and a short walk takes you to the Rose Man Reading Room — the jewel in the crown. The room has a 16m high, lavish, panelled ceiling, and is lit through colossal arched windows by day, and with grand chandeliers by night. Work, read, or just admire the room from its banks of weighty wooden tables, adorned with polished brass lamps, to the sound of pens scratching, pages rustling and the odd tired creak of a chair.
Among the treasures housed here you will find an original copy of the declaration of independence, a Gutenberg bible, and the largest collection of maps in the world: 431,000 maps, and 16,000 atlases and books on cartography, all dating from the 16th Century to the present day.
Beyond that, various oddities have stacked up over the years. They have Truman Capote’s cigarette case, the cane Virginia Woolf left on the riverbank the day she committed suicide and locks of hair from Charlotte Brontë and Walt Whitman. Probably the most bizarre item, though, is Charles Dickens’ favourite letter opener. The shaft is ivory, but the handle is the embalmed paw of Bob, his favourite cat, fur, nails and all.
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