Our recent trip to New York was part of a band trip to play in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York so we travelled as part of a large group. When I asked on the first morning if anyone would like to join us for a tour of New York’s public library I was met with confused looks and polite ‘no thank yous’.
But I didn’t care. I was excited. The tour took just over an hour, which isn’t a surprise when you consider the sheer size of the library. The library came into being when the Tilden Trust and the Astor and Lenox libraries were consolidated on May 23, 1895. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was built in 1911 and is a simply stunning piece of architecture.
Fun facts that I learned on the tour include that there are 88 miles of shelf space in the library itself and a further 40 miles under Bryant Park to the back of the building. They also use their own classification system for shelving the books, designed by the first Director, Dr. John Shaw Billings.
We found out about the main collections held by the library as well as the building itself and even R, who is not a librarian, found it really interesting. One thing that struck me during the tour was that the library only receives a small amount of their budget from the government and relies on donations to provide the rest. This is in sharp contrast to public libraries here. Does this say something about the importance of libraries in US culture?
One of the historic benefactors mentioned on the tour was steel baron Andrew Carnegie, who is probably more famous for building Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie also donated a lot of money for the construction of public libraries in Ireland, which is something not many people may be aware of so I plan on exploring his influence on the Irish public library system in a future post.
I would definitely recommend a trip to the library if you’re visiting New York and I also plan on making library tourism a feature of our holidays in future. Do you have any recommendations to start me off?