Laura Osterhout visits NYPL for the first time

On Friday, November 13, 2009, I was lucky to be able to visit the New York Public Library for the first time. I was visiting my brother, who lives in Brooklyn, and we made the trip into the city to spend a day taking in the sights and the good food and drink available in Chinatown and on Bleecker St.

I have wanted to visit the New York Public Library for many years, but have never had the opportunity until my recent trip to New York. We took the train into the city and walked down 42nd Street toward 5th Avenue. Coming from that direction, we walked up to the back of the building. We could have entered the library from 42nd Street, but I didn't want to miss seeing the iconic main entrance to the library, complete with two marble lions flanking the staircase.

The entrance to the building is so large that it's hard to fit it all into one picture. We ascended the steps up to the main entrance and joined the line to have our bags checked by security. Even the ceiling in lobby of the library is beautiful.

We walked through some of the public spaces in the library, and every room had its own unique charm. I walked up to a glass case near the reference desk on the third floor and was delighted to discover that I was looking at a Gutenberg Bible!

After being gently pushed out of the way by other visitors who wanted to see the bible, we found ourselves in the main reading room of the library, the room that's as big as a football field and one of the most recognizable reading rooms of any library in the United States.

My photographs, of course, do not do the room justice. You really have to see it in person. Or get a guided tour from a member of the NYPL staff. Through Ask Us 24/7 and the Revved up for Reference Conference I was fortunate to meet Matthew Sheehy, Assistant Director of Reference and Research Services at NYPL. Matthew was working the day that I visited the library and offered to give us a tour.

Matthew walked us through some of the public rooms in the library, including the new children's room. He also took us through some of the non-public library areas, including the stacks. I wasn't able to take pictures of the staff areas, but if you've seen one set of library stacks, you've seen them all. Well, not exactly. Stacks are stacks, but when you are standing in the middle of 40 miles of shelving, not knowing your way through the maze, you begin to appreciate the sheer volume of information and knowledge that you are surrounded with.

Matthew also told us about NYPL's underground storage maze. There are two stories of underground storage next to the library underneath Bryant Park. Most people will never know that while they are shopping or ice skating on the pond at Bryant Park, they are actually on top of thousands of volumes of books, manuscripts and rare print materials that don't usually see the light of day.

It was such a pleasure to hear about the library from someone who actually works there. Being a librarian is like being in a special club. Whenever we visit each other's libraries, it is a point of professional courtesy not only to give the visiting librarian a tour, but also to share secrets or tidbits of information that don't get mentioned during official tours.

I am happy to be able to check one library off my list of libraries to visit in my life. Having been to the New York Public Library once, I am quite sure that I will go back.


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