Exploring the New York Public Library

As I’m a voracious reader and lover of books and libraries, the New York Public Library – and specifically the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – is one of my favorite places in New York City. Although the library now has annexes all over the city, this building, which first opened to the public in 1911, is the one that most people associate with the NYPL. Today, I thought I’d take you on a tour of the library.

Here’s our view as we get ready to cross Fifth Avenue and approach the main entrance to the building. As you can see, the building is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture. Doesn’t it look promising as we approach?


As we cross the street, we see the famous library lions. Since the 1930s, they’ve been known by the names Patience and Fortitude.


During the Christmas season, the lions wear evergreen wreaths studded with pinecones and trimmed with a red bow.


On either side of the main entrance are magnificent fountains. If you look closely, you may be able to see the netting that prevents birds from perching on the statues.





Make sure you look around as we go through the entrance. The details on the huge bronze doors are incredible, and the arched ceiling of the portico is also magnificent.



We’ve entered into the grand Astor Hall. The white marble reflects the light shining through the front windows.


Here’s one of my favorite details in the entire library – a small marble plaque set into Astor Hall’s floor. The plaque remembers Martin Radtke, a Lithuanian immigrant to the United States who educated himself during regular visits to the library over the course of his life. Upon Martin’s death in 1973, the library discovered that he had left his savings to the library – $368,000 in all. How special that he has been honored in this way.


There’s so much more to see as we explore the library’s many rooms and corridors. Can you imagine sitting at one of the tables for a while, reading a book you’ve requested from one of the librarians? If you have the time, we can catch up on some news in the periodicals reading room, or explore an atlas in the Map Division reading room. And there’s so many interesting architectural details and art to experience as well. Don’t forget to look up! The ceilings display more fine craftsmanship.










Periodically throughout the hallways you may spy these lions along the wall, remnants of the original water fountain system. You can’t get a drink of water from these fountains today, but they are still fun to see.


One of the most impressive rooms in the library is the Rose Reading Room, which stretches the length of a football field. The Rose Reading Room has just reopened after a lengthy restoration process. The ceilings are beautiful in this room as well, and there are so many other interesting architectural details to explore.






Let’s not forget to head down to the ground floor. As we exit the elevator, we spy this rare artifact: a set of pay phone booths! Unsurprisingly, none of them are in use.


And then we come to the library’s Children’s Center. The entrance to the Children’s Center is guarded by lions as well, although these two are made of Lego blocks.



The Children’s Center is a magical place, with a mural of various New York City landmarks stretching around the room.



Best of all there are the original stuffed animals that inspired author A. A. Milne to write the children’s book Winnie the Pooh.


I hope that you enjoyed our tour. There are even more treasures to be discovered if you visit the New York Public Library for yourself. The library even offers free tours on a daily basis. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets. (Yes, the building stretches the length of two city blocks – but the short blocks!)

A personal note: I wrote this post as a tribute to a wonderful friend and family member that we lost this week. Roy lived an incredible life, full of love and family adventures. His wife Rosie, my cousin, has become a close friend as we’ve collaborated on family history projects. Roy had lost his eyesight over the years, but he still participated in numerous book clubs and loved to read. He was one of those special people who are life-long learners. Somehow, writing about a library seemed like the perfect way to honor his memory as his family prepares to celebrate his life tomorrow.

27 thoughts on “Exploring the New York Public Library

  1. Anonymous

    Great post, and great photos! As an NYC native, it’s been many years since I’ve been there. I’m hoping that your post is enlightening for those who have never visited. And I was very touched by your final paragraph, what a wonderful sentiment.

  2. Another site to put on my bucket list. I’d love to see the Pooh items. And the Martin Radtke story is sweet. Condolences to your family on the loss of your cousin. A “special person who was a life long learner” is a lovely remembrance.

  3. I love libraries, my second home, especially our own State Library of Victoria on Swanston St, Melbourne in Australia. Somewhere I will always speak in hushed tones being surrounded by all that knowledge and endeavour. I’d heard a lot about the NYPL. Lives up to its reputation. I would be at home there. A wonderful environment, definitely conducive to learning.

  4. Loved this post….

    Have been there many times, but had never noticed (!?) the statues on either side with the fountains,. nor the Radtke memorial. One of my happiest work moments here was translating 18th c documents in French, obtained from the Australian archives, and using a book only available at the library, a history of a very odd/domineering French priest. I’d disappear for hours into the 18th c and Mangareva, an island in the south Pacific where the priest set up a sort of fiefdom. At day’s end, I’d sort of wake up again and step out onto 20th century 5th Avenue. The Rose Reading room is glorious!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! I’ve been there numerous times and would love to identify a research project that would allow me to hang out longer. Every time I go I discover something I haven’t noticed before. I don’t know how many times I must have walked over the Radtke memorial without noticing it.

  5. Thanks for the tour, it’s a beautiful library! I wish London had a large central public library somewhere like most American cities seem to (I used to love the ones in Cleveland and Akron, when I lived in NE Ohio), instead of subscription-only libraries and small council-run libraries in each borough (not that I’m not grateful for them, but the selection of books is limited, and they seem to be constantly under threat from budget cuts).
    I’m sorry for your loss.

  6. Libraries are such wonderful destinations. When we did our college tours with my oldest, it was on of the things that stood out about our visit to Pratt Institute. They have a beautiful (although certainly much smaller) library with gorgeous details.

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