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Quick History Facts

  • The New York Public Library was formed by the consolidation of the Tilden Trust and the Astor and Lenox libraries on May 23, 1895
  • The landmark building was constructed on the site of the old Croton Reservoir
  • The cornerstone was laid on November 10, 1902
  • The library building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (now named the Humanities & Social Sciences Library) was dedicated by President William Howard Taft on May 23, 1911
  • The building was opened to the public at 9:00 a.m. on May 24, 1911. More than 50,000 people visited the library. The library was opened for 13 hours until 10:00 p.m.
  • Original architects: John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings designed the building as well as the tables, chairs, lamps and chandeliers, even the hardware and wastebaskets
  • Architecture Style: Beaux-Arts
  • Status:  Registered National Historical Landmark
  • Builder: Norcross Bothers
  • Decorative Paintings: James Wall Finn
  • Metals: Stirling Bronze & Co.
  • Furniture: Derby Desk Co.
  • Construction duration: 16 years from design to completion
  • Cornerstone laid: November 10, 1902 (weight 7.5 tons)
  • Exterior: Vermont marble
  • Building cost: $9,000,000 on a $20,000,000 plot
  • Building Dimensions: 390' x 270' = 10,382,600 cubic feet; height 68' front; 98' back
  • First Director: Dr. John Shaw Billings
  • The Library Lions, sculpted by Edward C. Potter in pink Tennessee marble, have been known by various nicknames since they were placed in front of the library building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in 1911.  Although they have no official names, they are commonly known as Patience and Fortitude today.
  • There are 88 miles of shelf space in the Humanities & Social Science Library and 40 miles under Bryant Park
  • The NYPL Research Libraries has a unique classification system.  Many of the books are shelved according to a system designed by the first Director, Dr. John Shaw Billings.  His system was not always easy to adapt so since the 1950s books in many parts of the collection have been shelved according to size.
  • The Rose Main Reading Room was completely renovated and restored due to the generosity of the Rose family and reopened in November 1998
    • Name: Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam R. Rose Main Reading Room
    • Funded by: Library Trustee Sandra Priest Rose and Frederick Phineas Rose
    • Restoration Architects: Davis Brody Bond, LLP
    • Restoration Project Duration: one and one-half years
    • Dimensions: 78' wide x 297' long x 51'2" high.  The size of the Rose Reading Room almost equals a football field.  It is one of the largest rooms in the nation without a dome, interior columns or steel-reinforced walls to support the ceiling.
    • Seating: 42 oak tables, each seating up to 16 readers (total of 624 reader seats; before renovation, only 490 reader seats)
    • Ceiling:  New murals were inspired by the original paintings.  They give the impression of looking through the ceiling up to the sky.  The ceiling is executed in plaster, with molded ornamentation, decorative painting, gold and copper leaf, recessed murals
    • Walls: Caen stone (plaster, designed to resemble stone block)
    • Floors: 2" thick red quarry tile (imported from Wales), with marble border
    • Tables: American white oak on marble bases: 22' x 4', tops weigh over 600 lbs. each
    • Pneumatic tubes deliver call slips to the Rose Main Reading Room where they are sorted and sent to all 8 levels of the stacks in the building. 
  • Coinciding with the restoration of Bryant Park and its temporary closing, the reinforced concrete Bryant Park Stack Extension was excavated 30 feet deep under Bryant Park, on the site of the Revolutionary War battlefield.  Construction began July 1988.
    • There is 6 feet of soil between the top of the extension and the park.
    • Opened September 3, 1991. Cost $24,000,000 including conveyor systems, microfilm storage vault, lighting, climate control, fire suppression systems, and compact movable shelving.  Project funded by the City of New York.
    • 120,000 square feet linked to the main building by a 120-foot tunnel
    • There are 40 miles of shelf space under Bryant Park

 Library History Bibliography

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