Ask NYPL: The History of The Library Shop
This question was recently posed to the Ask NYPL reference librarians: “What were the predecessors to The Library Shop located off Astor Hall in the Schwarzman Building?” This is a question whose answer proves to be quite intriguing. What we found reveals a room whose uses were as varied and that served as many needs as The New York Public Library does itself!
Under the original and all later floor plans of the Schwarzman Building, the room that now serves as The Library Shop was known as Room 116. None of the several histories of The New York Public Library, nor The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building by Henry Hope Reed (available for purchase in the shop), nor our many databases could serve as the basis for any useful information in framing a response to this question. At this point, I decided to research this question myself via a variety of print resources and many interviews with current and former NYPL librarians who had worked in the Schwarzman Building. And the information that I found out about the principal predecessors to The Library Shop is quite interesting.
Room 116 of the Schwarzman Building was initially the home of the Library for the Blind, a branch of the circulation department of The New York Public Library from 1912 (the date the landmark building officially opened) until 1939. By 1920 — only eight years after opening — it already held a robust collection of 16,500 volumes of books in Braille, as well as 5,800 musical scores. In fact, it was the predecessor to The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library.
In 1940, it became the Office of the Bursar and it was used in that capacity — as the predecessor to the Payroll Office — for many, many years after that. Subsequently, for a number of years, it served as an important part of Personnel, one of ancestors of the present day Human Resources. Later in these years it was also broken into many smaller cubicles and used by a greater number of staff.
Room 116 also served as part of the Office of Special Collections, where patrons of the research libraries registered for use of the Special Collections of the Schwarzman Building, including but not limited to, the Rare Book Division, the Manuscripts and Archives Division, the Photography Collection, and The Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle (whose holdings are to provide many of the principal exhibits in a major exhibition on Shelley in the Schwarzman Building that opens later this month.)
It is also interesting to consider the “Old” Library Shop. The former Library Shop — before it arrived at its current location — was located under the North Stairs of Astor Hall (where the Volunteers’ Desk is now located). The former Library Shop was quite small — it primarily sold postcards — and it unfortunately ran into financial difficulties. NYPL ultimately closed the former Library Shop in 1979. Then, in 1982, taking a cue from a well-known uptown cultural institution, it opened The New York Public Library-Metropolitan Museum of Art Bookstore next to the main entrance of Mid-Manhattan Library, located across the street at Fifth Avenue and 40th Street. Later, this served as a second Library Shop in addition to the current one in the Schwarzman Building, and was then closed. The current Library Shop in the Schwarzman Building was opened to the right of the entrance of the Gottesman Exhibition Hall in May 1987, as part of the many renovations made to the Schwarzman Building under the leadership of former NYPL president Vartan Gregorian.
If you can't make it in to the Library to see the books and assorted literary wares in person, you can also visit The Library Shop online at thelibraryshop.org.