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New York Public Library

Located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, often referred to as the “main branch” of the New York Public Library, is an iconic structure. From the pair of stone lions (“Patience” and “Fortitude”) guarding the entrance to the famous Rose Main Reading Room, it is easily recognizable, even for individuals like myself who have never seen it in person.

Recently Morgan Holzer, Information Architect at NYPL, teamed up with Nate Bolt to provide us with a novel view of the NYPL; through the eyes of Lucy IV, a DJI Phantom aerial drone! Shooting after hours, they capture footage of Astor Hall, the Rose Main Reading Room, and the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. As Holzer mentions in her write-up of the project, the different perspective provided by the drone “astounded me over and over again.” Take a look at the embedded video below and see for yourself! As noted in the description, “lots of safety precautions were taken and no books were harmed in the making of this video.” If you are interested in catching a glimpse of the drone itself, make sure to watch the video all the way through; it appears around 2:10.

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Aug 8 2012

On the menu…

by Dea Anne M

I’ve always enjoyed reading what I suppose you could call culinary history. Books like The Food of a Younger Land, The Big Oyster: history on the half shell, and Something from the Oven: reinventing dinner in 1950s America are all favorites of mine. I think it’s fascinating to learn about the cooking, dining habits, and available ingredients of people in other times and places. Did you know that at one time the lower estuary of the Hudson River was home to over half of the world’s oyster supplies or that the first frozen dinner was a Thanksgiving type meal of turkey and dressing?

Of course, restaurant menus can provide an important window into the dining preferences of particular people and times. The New York Public Library boasts what sounds like  an impressive collection of menus with its strongest focus on those dating from between 1890 and 1910. Currently NYPL is inviting the public to participate in its What’s On the Menu? project. Participants transcribe menus dish by dish in order to create a wider base of data available to historians, researchers, novelists and anyone else who needs specific information from the menu collection. Right now, the collection’s only searchable information are details such as the name of particular restaurants, geographical location and the like. Imagine though that you are a novelist and you need to find out how much your character would have paid for a plate of oysters at a Cavanagh’s in 1918. Thanks to the Menu Project, you can have your character choose, with complete historical accuracy, either the Lynhavens for 35 cents or the Pan Roast for 45 cents. Maybe your character wants to treat his paramour to pheasant at Delmonico’s on March 11th in 1916. Sorry, it isn’t on the menu, but it will be on April 19th two years later.

The website for the Menu Project provides easy to follow instructions for transcription or review of the menus and their various dishes and you can do as much as you like. It looks interesting to me as well as fun and I’m thinking to give it a try. You can too by simply visiting the web site. No registration is required. In the meantime, I might pursue my menu interest by paging through these titles featuring recipes and stories from some of this country’s historic restaurants:

Manhattan’s 21 Club opened in 1922 as a speakeasy. Featured in many movies and books, 21 is maybe best known for the row of painted lawn jockeys that line the balcony above its entrance. You can read more about the restaurant in The 21 Cookbook: recipes and lore from New York’s fabled restaurant by Michael Lomonaco.

Delmonico in New Orleans opened in 1895 as an off-shoot of New York’s famed Delmonico’s. Purchased and refurbished by Emeril Lagasse, it reopened in 1997. Read all about it (and check out vintage back and white photographs) in Emeril’s Delmonico: a restaurant with a past  by Emeril Lagasse.

Closer to home, Mary Mac’s Tea Room holds a treasured spot in many Atlanta hearts. Opened in 1945, the restaurant serves classic favorites of southern cuisine. Find them all, along with stories of the restaurant’s history in Mary Mac’s Tea Room: 65 years of recipes from Atlanta’s favorite dining room by John Ferrell.

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May 28 2010

Who You Gonna Call?

by Jesse M

It has been over two years since the beginning of the recession, and though the economy is slowly recovering, dramatically reduced tax revenues along with higher demand for public services and assistance has left many municipalities with vast budget shortfalls. In order to balance the books, many local governments have had to reduce or even eliminate public services considered to be non-essential, and unfortunately one of the first targets is often the library system.

New York City is no exception to this sad story. The New York Public Library faces a funding cut of $37million, a staggering amount of money whose absence could lead to nearly a dozen branch closures, reduced service days (four per week rather than six), and the elimination of numerous programs for kids and adults. Fortunately NYPL isn’t taking this lying down and has initiated an advocacy campaign called Don’t Close the Book on Libraries, which encourages people to write letters to their representatives on the Library’s behalf and/or donate funds directly to the Library. In order to help get the message out, NYPL has partnered with Improv Everywhere (who describe themselves as a “long form improvisation troupe which executes pre-planned ‘missions’ which usually involve socially awkward or unusual situations.”) to produce a viral video in the library. Specifically, they decided to stage a sort of recreation of a scene from the 1984 film Ghostbusters which was shot in the Rose Main Reading Room. You can watch video of the “mission” below:

For pictures and behind the scenes info, head over to the Improv Everywhere website.

Of course, NYPL isn’t the only library system feeling the pinch. The American Library Association has a list of links to websites dedicated to saving the library systems in their states which you can view here.

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Nov 27 2009

Secrets of the Stacks

by Jesse M

NY Public Library
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.

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