Inside The New York Public Library: The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

May 23, 1911, and it’s the
opening day of the Library. It’s a huge deal. People have been
watching this building go up for more than a dozen years. It was a very important civic event. The
president of the United State, William Howard Taft, attended, the governor of New York attended, of course, the mayor of the City of New York, and then there were
thousands and thousands of people who queued up to come in and see this place. There were a million books when the Library opened. There was capacity for three million, so
they were planning ahead. The history of this site is very
interesting. It was originally a potter’s field — that is, a cemetery for poor people. Later during the American Revolution, it
was the site of a major battle led by George Washington. In the mid-19th
century it was the site of a reservoir, the Croton Reservoir, that
served the growing population of New York City. By the end of the 19th century, the city
had outgrown the capacity of the reservoir. In the late 19th century there
were so many, very civic-minded and very wealthy people in New York City, and
their ambitions to create a world-class city were evident everywhere. And the
city needed a world-class library. And those same ambitious, very civic-minded, individuals made it happen, so the trustees wanted to have a public
competition for the commission to build the library. Anybody could submit a design, and 88
people did. The winning team consisted of John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, and it was somewhat of a surprising choice because they were the youngest and least
experienced. But Carrère and Hastings had these gracious touches all over the
exterior and of course the lions, Patience and Fortitude, which maybe
clinched the deal. The proportions are beautiful, and
there are all these welcoming touches like the fountains and the flagpole bases. They’re are among the most beautiful in
the world. And the three porticos, which are meant to invoke a triumphal arch.
There are allegorical figures on the attic frieze representing things like
history and drama and literature and poetry and philosophy and so forth. One wonders what it must have been like
for people who were visiting the Library from different parts of the world who
came into this building and were compelled and moved to try to better
themselves. You enter this small door, then you’re in this soaring space, Astor Hall. You see these two beautiful
staircases that lead you up to the second floor. Up on the third floor you first enter the McGraw Rotunda. This space is decorated with a cycle of
murals by someone named Edward Lannon, who created them from 1938 to 1942, and they depict the story of the recorded word.
And there’s a mural on the ceiling which is Prometheus bringing fire to humankind. Proceeding into the Rose Main Reading Room, that is the most majestic space in the Library and one of the most glorious library spaces in the world. The first thing you notice is that it’s
enormous; it’s almost the size of a football field. The second thing you notice is the
magnificent ceiling, which has lots of gilt on the stucco work and these
marvelous paintings. This building is so immense that it’s
almost like a cathedral with chapels. We have these special collections that are
supported by very expert curators who work with researchers who are doing very
in-depth and scholarly work to help them get their projects accomplished. And
important work is produced with our collections all the time. When the list
of awardees comes out for the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prizes it’s remarkable how many of those people
are frequent users of our space. Libraries are evolving very quickly.
They’re changing in enormous ways, but people still value
the collections and love the space. You can come into this Library any day,
and you will see that it is packed. Going back to the Croton Reservoir days
is like an aquifer, like an aquifer of the mind. It continues to be like that source of
nourishment of water, of something sustaining, and that’s what The New York
Public Library will remain.

25 thoughts on “Inside The New York Public Library: The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

  1. Right now this great building has been emptied of the majority of the NYPL collection and the Rose Reading Room is closed. The information provided by the video is wrong. Astor and Lenox were long dead when the NYPL was founded, it was the work of others, even the more recently deceased Tilden had other plans. The information about the architectural competition is inaccurate. Carrere & Hastings did not enter the open competition (first stage) and many of those who did were less experienced than they were. The winning architects were selected in a second competition that included first stage winners and prominent architects invited and paid to enter the second stage (including Carrere & Hastings). The famous lions were not part of the competition submission and did not clinch the deal. It is a disappointment, but not a surprise that NYPL, has produced this gloss on its own history. After all, it took the work of the Committee to Save NYPL to stop the irresponsible destruction of the book stacks at the building's center. Please ask NYPL to pay attention to the building and the books in its care.

  2. The video information on our magnificent NYPL Main Branch may be wrong, but the Schwartzman Main Branch remains in all its splendour as presented, a treasure for all of us to enjoy.  Thank you, NYPL, guardians of this city treasure. 

  3. New York Public Library apologizes for racially profiling reporter
    By Post Staff Report
    November 11, 2016 | 4:20pm

    The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue AP

    The New York Public Library has apologized to Page Six reporter Carlos Greer after he experienced racial profiling during a gala at the city institution.

    “I was racially profiled at the New York Public Library, and it was humiliating,” Greer wrote in a piece published in The Post on Friday.

    At Monday’s Library Lions Gala, Greer, a 32-year-old black man, was told by security, “You fit the description [of a party crasher].

    "The New York Public Library receives millions in public and city money every year to meet its nearly $150 million operating budget. It is a tragedy that it can only be comfortably enjoyed by those of a “certain description.”

    We have started, and will continue, a review of what went wrong at this event, and how our procedures may need to be changed.  Mr. Greer has covered the NYPL annual gala for many years.  We hope he accepts our apology and we look forward to seeing him in the future.


    Tony Marx
    President, The New York Public Library

  4. Harlem Library Underfunded, But Midtown Branch To Receive $300M …

    NewsOne › harlem-new-york-public-libr…
    AMP – As the New York Public Library ( NYPL) system prepares its flagship 5th Avenue location for a $300-million overhaul, .

  5. Who was Regina Andrews?

    Regina Andrews (nee Anderson) was born in Chicago, 1901, of Native American, Jewish, East Indian, Swedish and African descent – she had one grandparent who was a Confederate general, another was African born in Madagascar. She studied at Wilberforce University and Columbia University. In 1923, she visited New York City on vacation and that was it – she fell in love with the Big Apple and never moved back to Chicago. 

    Andrews applied for work at the NYPL and, according to Whitmire, “she had expected to encounter no resistance from the library administration since New York City was supposedly at least as cosmopolitan as Chicago, if not more so. Actually, though fewer African Americans lived in Chicago than New York City, the Chicago library hired more of them to work in its libraries.”

    When Andrews was asked about her race on the library application, she simply wrote, “I’m American.” When the topic arose again during a follow-up interview with the library a few days later, she was told “You’re not an American. You’re not white.”

  6. This is one of the most amazing architecture they built in the early 20th century. Why don't they build something similar to this nowadays instead of those odd looking glass buildings.

  7. In the mid-80's I worked at the library. I sat in a very large room on the first floor overlooking 42nd Street which housed the Geological Surveys Collection. But primarily they had me typing up book reviews for their newsletter at the time. There was a woman working there, she must have been in her 80's or 90's – she was actually retired from the library and getting her pension.. but she hated sitting at home so came to the library every day. I remember her telling me about the composer Bela Bartok – how he loved the library and how she was one of his very small circle of friends during the years of WW2. As someone who plays piano and learned Bartok's Sonatina at a young age.. this was all very magical to me.. and I still have very fond memories of working at NYPL.

  8. Dear Sir, Madam,

    YouTube indicates that you are the rightful proprietor of this video,

    We, the production team of the Dutch SBS6 television program ‘Hart van Nederland’, wish to cover an item on the award for the best library of the world for our television broadcast of tonight. In connection with the Item, we wish to make use of the following video. In connection with our planned broadcast of the Item, we request your permission to broadcast this video.

    If we do not hear from you before toningt 21:00 we assume your consent to the use of this video in the Item.

    Kind regards,

  9. As a child A) I asked if I could return a book on Staten Island [knowing perfectly well that I could] and the librarian got all flustered. She went away, asked another (or others) and came back stammering, "Err, …I think so." B) The second thing I did on the same trip was to get lost. To this day, 65 or more years later, I'm still a reader and am almost staff at my local library. TV? Not interested. Give me a book.

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