The New York Public Library is, as their website states, one of the great knowledge institutions of the world. Historian David McCullough has labeled it one of the five most important libraries in the United States, in such august company as the Library of Congress and Harvard University Library. With a combined total of over 50 million library materials (over 20 million of which are books) held by both the research and branch libraries, it is simultaneously one of the largest public library systems and one of the largest research institutions in the country.
The New York Public Library is organized into a dichotomous system of research libraries (comprised of non-circulating reference collections comparable to many university libraries) and branch libraries (lending libraries similar to municipal libraries country-wide). The system contains a total of 89 libraries: four non-lending research libraries, four main lending libraries, a library for the blind and physically challenged, and 77 neighborhood branch libraries across the three boroughs served (Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island).
Recently, the New York Times published an article titled “Secrets of the Stacks” in which they highlight some of the interesting, quirky, and little known features and offerings of the NYPL. I’ve reposted a few of my favorites from the article below:
- The library’s reference service (accessible online or by calling 917-ASK-NYPL) was established in 1968 and remains popular today. How popular? The service receives a question every 10 seconds.
- The library boasts the world’s largest collection of restaurant menus. The library has 40,000 menus dating from the 1850s to the present. While primarily of interest to chefs, it is also utilized by novelists and researchers, including a marine biologist who consulted menus from the early 1900s for a study on fish populations.
- The library also has stores of historical artifacts bearing some relation to famous authors. Some of the odder holdings include the original Winnie-the-Pooh, the cane Virginia Woolf left on the riverbank the day she committed suicide, Truman Capote’s cigarette case, hair from the heads of Charlotte Brontë, Walt Whitman, Mary Shelley and Wild Bill Hickok, and perhaps strangest of all, Charles Dickens’s favorite letter-opener, constructed with the embalmed paw of his beloved cat Bob as the handle.
If you would like further information on some of the New York Public Library’s more exceptional offerings, there is a book available in the DCPL catalog that discusses and illustrates 300 of the most important manuscripts, books, maps, prints, photographs, and ephemera held by the NYPL. Treasures of the New York Public Library is somewhat dated but still an excellent resource for interested parties. And those fascinated by the decor and architecture of the main branch will want to check out The New York Public Library : its architecture and decoration.