I have a friend who has a drone.
I realize that not many people can say that. It's akin to saying "I know a guy who knows a guy in New York City who once ate 300 sandwiches in a single sitting." Just within the realm of believability.
But I do. His name is Nate Bolt, and he lives in San Francisco. He was recently in New York for a conference, and wagering on the fact that he often travels with Lucy IV (as his drone is so lovingly named) (don't ask about Lucys I-III), I reached out to him about coming to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building to shoot some video.
We waited until the library closed—we didn't want to scare the pants off our patrons—and at twilight we set forth on our mission: to document the main branch on video from angles rarely seen by our visitors. Lucy IV is a DJI Phantom quadcopter drone, and when loaded up with the camera equipment—in this case alternating between a GoPro and an iPhone—she weighs just around 2 lbs. We visited some of my favorite places in the Library: Astor Hall, the Rose Main Reading Room, and the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division.
I was really excited about getting footage in Astor Hall. So many people are on auto-pilot just using that space as a thoroughfare, taking the grand staircases up to the McGraw Rotunda. But Lucy IV let you feel the enormity of the room, see the detail in the marble, and examine the candelabras from a different perspective.
That different perspective astounded me over and over again. For example, an oft-photographed spot is the doorway from the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room to the Rose Main Reading Room. You may know it by the quote from Milton's Areopagitica above the door: "A good Booke [sic] is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life." I have walked through that passageway more times than I can count, and I have never noticed that there is a giant rounded-arch window above the wooden panel.
Photo credit: Maykel LoomansIf you watch the video through till the end you will catch a shot of me, lying on the floor of the Rose Main Reading Room, attempting to get a video of the drone for the Library's Instagram account. While I would never recommend you reenact this—the main branch alone saw 2.3 million visitors walk through last year—next time you visit the room remember to look up and take a moment to realize that you are in one of the largest un-columned rooms in the world.
Certainly every time I set foot in this building I am reminded what a joy it is working here. I get to interact with people who are game for anything; people who understand that the library is a place to foster innovation and are willing to engage new audiences in crazy ways like flying a drone through a landmarked building. So I'd like to take a moment to give a special set of thank yous: to Theresa Myrhol, Director of Library Services at the Schwarzman Building, who helped secure permissions on crazy short notice; to Mary Lee Kennedy, Chief Library Officer, who trusted we would leave everything as we found it; and Jim Pisaniello, VP of Facilities Ops and Security, who did not completely freak out when met with the phrase "we want to fly a drone through the NYPL."