My children are OBSESSED with reading (good problem to have, I know). They can’t get enough of books. Exactly one year ago, we were in New York City to see a Broadway play for my daughter’s birthday. We were exploring Bryant Park and saw the New York City Library. We had an hour before the show and it was too cold to “walk around the city” so we decided to check out the library. We ended up spending most of our time in the children’s room, but I made note of the tour group that passed us and vowed to return. We did, exactly one year later.
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York City Library opened in 1911 and probably the most well known of the 92 properties in the library system. It’s one of four research centers, in addition to the 88 circulation branches located throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Some areas of the library are open to the general public and some are reserved for credentialed people who visit to complete research. The library offers audio tour for a nominal fee at any time the library is open, but also offers free, guided tours tour twice a day. Check in at the docent desk in Astor Hall. Make sure you check times and get there early, as tour spaces are limited.
Traveling with Children:
- As an English teacher, I found the tour fascinating. My children enjoyed parts of it, but I don’t think younger children (aka under the age of 7) would be as engaged as older children.
- You’ll be walking and climbing a lot of stairs (elevator are an option). Strollers are not allowed.
- There are several banks of restrooms throughout the library (one set is located directly outside the children’s room).
- Coat check is available near the children’s room.
- Security will check your bags when you enter AND exit the library and no food or drink is allowed (they’ll ask you to throw it out before you leave the lobby).
- There is a small cafe with a few tables in Astor Hall next to the gift shop.
Highlights from our Tour:
- Not technically part of the tour, but a must see if you have children, is a visit to the Children’s Center, located on the ground floor (you can enter on 42nd street). Make sure to check out the display of the original stuffed animals that inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh characters. There’s almost daily programming for children of varying ages, a bank of computers for research, and, of course, thousands of children’s books.
- Dewitt Wallace Periodical Room, named after the founders of Reader’s Digest, has original architecture and furniture and is open to the public for research and studying.
- Gottesmann Exhibition Hall has the only wooden ceiling in the library and columns made of single slabs of marble- be sure to look for these elements. Gottesmann is the largest exhibition space in the library and features a rotating exhibit. When we visited, it was the start of a 1960s Counterculture exhibit, which looked cool, but not totally child appropriate.
- The Wachenheim Gallery, the smallest exhibition space, showcases items from the library’s permanent collection on a rotating basis. One of the most popular items, displayed every July, is an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
- The Visitor’s Center has a couple of classrooms where you can attend free classes on a wide variety of subjects, as well as a theater which runs a 23 minute video about the history of the library.
- The third floor Special Collections space is not typically open to the public. There is a variety of research rooms where thousands of items from the permanent collection, ranging from Charles Dickens' letter opener and an annotated copy of A Tale of Two Cities to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s shoes to Sylvia Plath’s diary, are housed.
- The McGraw Rotunda is stunning. There are four replica murals by Edward Laning illustrating the history of the recorded word.
- The Bill Bass Catalog Reading Room is a public space where you can request periodicals in a most unique way: Once you look up the call number for a text via computer, a note is sent to librarians stationed five flights of stairs below Bryant Park where over a million periodicals- 90% of the collection- are housed. The librarian will find the text, put it in a "library train" and send it back up to the reading room to be delivered to you. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. Take note of the library train in the photo below-left.
Once you've explored the library, why not walk around the building and check out Bryant Park? There is always something fun going on, every day of the year. Check out my tips and suggestions here.