N is for New York

Main location: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Tours
Library Website:  https://www.nypl.org/ 

New York Public Library

To many people, the landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman building, with its famous lions facing Fifth Avenue, symbolizes The New York Public Library. But the Library is actually a vast network of libraries, organized into two distinct parts, The Research Libraries and The Branch Libraries.

The New York Public Library is the country’s second biggest public library system (second only to the Library of Congress) and the world’s third biggest (coming in behind the British Library). When it was completed in 1911, New York Public Library was the largest marble structure in the country. At that time it contained 1 million books and more than 50,000 people visited on the first day. The library spans two full city blocks. 

The New York Public Library originated from the consolidation of the early libraries Astor Library, Lenox Library and the New York Free Circulating Library. 

Every part of the building is richly decorated. Astor Hall, where you first enter, and the McGrow Rotunda on the third floor are prime examples of this. The building itself is placed on an elevated platform so it can stand out even when there are many other buildings nearby. Along the top of the building are situated sculptures of allegorical characters representing the fields that the library will cover… History, Romance, Poetry, Religion, Drama and Philosophy. 

There are over 52 million items in the collections of The New York Public Library today, the manuscript archives and over 18 million books making up the core of the collections. 

Millions of items in other formats, ranging from 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablets to CD-ROMs, are also part of the collections. Films, maps, photographs, prints, magazines, government documents, menus, newspapers, sound recordings, and other artifacts of human communication are all gathered and preserved.

The library stacks under the main library are seven layers deep and built with steel and cast iron. Books are requested and delivered from these stacks using a mini rail system going up and down.

To hold more material on-site, a storage center that can hold 4 million items was built below Bryant Park. 

The first thing you notice as you approach the library are the majestic lions in front of it… Patience and Fortitude, named so by Mayor La Guardia to exemplify the city’s characteristics during the depression era. (I have always thought that the names should have been Patience and Perseverance. Better rhyming!). 🙂  The lion’s head is the logo of the library and lions’ heads can be seen throughout the building, suggesting the power and stability of the institution, and the idea that the lion is the protector of the building.

A blog post cannot even touch upon the vastness of the material in the library. Just to touch upon them…


Personal papers, literary manuscripts, original correspondence, company records – all are the raw material of the historian. The Research Libraries hold some of the most important of such manuscript collections in the world.

Photography Collection

Contains more than 200,000 images from the mid-19th century to the present, including the 72,000 items of Stereoscopic Views.


There are a half-million audiovisual items in the collections of the library. The many special video collections include oral histories of civil rights leaders and live dance and theatrical performances.

Map Division

This is the largest public library collection of its kind in the United States, with more than 420,000 maps and 20,000 books and atlases dating from the 16th century to the present. Shown here is an 18th-century map of Ireland.


Original comic books, including many examples of Classics Illustrated, form one of the Library’s caches of ephemeral material for research on 20th-century popular culture. Other materials in magazine format – general interest and scholarly periodicals, for example – are collected extensively throughout the Library.

Government Documents

Collection includes official gazettes and other publications issued by the United States, New York State, and international bodies like the United Nations.

Vital Records

Millstein Division for local history provides people interested in genealogical research access to New York city’s vital records – birth, death, and marriage certificates; census materials, ships’ passenger lists, city directories etc. 

Braille Books

The New York Public Library holds more than 11,000 braille books. Every day the library delivers thousands of braille books for home use throughout New York City and Long Island.

Cuneiform tablets. The Library’s collection of approximately 700 cuneiform tablets from the third millennium B.C., which are among the earliest written records, are housed in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. Cuneiform tablets were written by scribes, usually on soft clay that was then either baked in an oven or left to dry in the sun.

Music Manuscripts

The Music Division holds thousands of composers’ manuscripts from the 18th through the 20th centuries.


Outstanding collections of audiocassettes and CDs include nearly 35,000 recordings as well as talking books and magazines. 


Some 8,500 circulating 16mm films are held in the media center.


The Archives has a vast collection of opera and classical music in the LP format and excellent LP holdings in American pop music, jazz, musical theatre, and European and Wester hemisphere folk music.


The CD-ROM, with its space-saving capabilities, is today a familiar format in the Library’s electronic reference collections. The English Poetry Full-Text Database on CD-ROM includes over 165,000 poems drawn from 4,500 printed sources. American Business Disc CD-ROM lists over ten million U.S. businesses.

Research Libraries

The Research Libraries include four centers:

  • Center for the Humanities located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building
  • Science, Industry and Business Library on Madison Avenue
  • The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located at Lincoln Center
  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem

Branch Libraries

The Branch Libraries include 85 neighborhood libraries (including five central service locations) located throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. These local libraries provide circulating and reference collections to users of all ages; more than 11 million items are available for borrowing by cardholders, including books, magazines, videotapes, pictures, audio recordings, and other items. The Branch Libraries also provide specialized services for children, young adults, for people with disabilities, for the elderly and new immigrants, for job seekers and inmates, in fact anyone in need.

All the Library’s locations are linked with each other, and with the outside world, through telecommunications networks. The entire Branch Libraries catalog and the online catalog of The Research Libraries can be reached from any location within The New York Public Library system, from other libraries around the world, and from home computers via the Internet.

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