New York Libraries: A Bit of History and Big News

6:08 am  |  25.03.2021

New York (AP) – “Fortitude” is currently reading the novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Patience” is reading the book “Menschenkind” by Tony Morrison. The two stone lions guard the entrance to the headquarters of the New York City Library in the middle of Manhattan – and to celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding on Saturday (May 23), they each got a red dummy book placed in front of their muzzle.


Originally the two marble lions were called “Leo Astor” and “Leo Lenox” after the library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. In the 1930s, however, the then New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed it. The lion at the southern end of the entrance stairs should now be called “Patience” (patience), the one at the northern end “Fortitude”, because, in his opinion, the New Yorkers would need these qualities in the severe economic crisis of the 1930s.

Even in the Corona crisis around 90 years later, in which the New York Public Library (NYPL) has been closed for several weeks, these properties should be an advantage. The entrance steps, where friends usually meet or tourists take photos, are currently mostly deserted. The NYPL has canceled all anniversary celebrations or moved them online. Only there you can currently borrow books, audiobooks, or films, for example.

The NYPL was founded in 1895 as a private foundation through the merger of two public libraries – the Astor Library, founded by the German-American entrepreneur John Jacob Astor, and the Lenox Library by the lawyer James Lenox. It now houses around 55 million books and data carriers, making it the third-largest public library in the world after the British Library in London and the Library of Congress in Washington – and the NYPL is not even the only library in New York. While it is responsible for the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island with 92 branches, the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn each have their own library systems. The City of New York supports the three systems with around $ 80 million each year.

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One of the special treasures of the NYPL collection is, for example, the original letter from Christopher Columbus from 1493, in which he announced the discovery of the new world. Many estates from celebrities, such as the author Tom Wolfe, are also part of the collection. In addition to books, the branches offer access to computers, exhibitions, events, and advanced training courses – and one of them even offers ties and handbags for job interviews, all free of charge. The main building at Bryant Park, which opened in 1911, has repeatedly been used as a backdrop for films and series.

Around 17 million people typically use the NYPL locally each year. The most popular book in the history of the library is the children’s book “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, which has been loaned out more than 485,500 times. Followed in the seats: “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss and “1984” by George Orwell.

The online lending of the library is being used much more than before in the Corona crisis, as library director Tony Marx recently said in an interview. As a result, the range of e-books is now being increased significantly. How and when to continue with the paper books is still unclear. “We may have to quarantine our books for a long time to make sure we don’t pass viruses from one person to the next. That’s what the experts in the world of libraries and science have to tell us”.

And what is New Yorker’s favorite e-book during the Corona crisis? “Becoming”, the autobiography of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

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New Library by Steven Holl Architects

View from above

The shiny metal surface of the Hunters Point library automatically attracts the eye. Also noticeable are the futuristic huge windows of the new library. Steven Holl Architects went to great lengths to design a new branch of the Queens Public Library.

Reading enthusiasts can blow off some steam on a 2,000 m² space in Queens.

The futuristic shell is complemented by a pleasing bamboo design in the interior and offers visitors an impressive spatial experience. Another bonus: while reading, you can enjoy a unique view of the New York skyline. The library building, in the form of a small cube, merges with the horizon between the splendid towers.


On six main floors, visitors will find everything they could dream of in a library: terraced reading areas, quiet and common rooms, areas for children, youth, and adults. Everything merges more or less smoothly.

Everyone can get together in the large audio room on the ground floor. Various themed events are held here, complementing the numerous books on the site. The above floors are connected by several staircases: they end on a walkable rooftop with a large terrace open to the public.

Aside from the bamboo cladding inside, concrete is one of the predominant materials in the building – Steven Holl Architects have remained true to their style. The exterior and interior of the building create breathtaking contrasts: the futuristic façade blends with the ambiance of the living room in the interior.

It took a long time from the first decision on construction activities at the turn of the millennium to the start of construction in 2015 and completion of construction last year – there have been multiple technical or financial problems.

In total, the cost of the project is likely to exceed 40 million euros. The long wait was worth it. The building was commissioned by the Queens Public Library and the New York City Department of Design and Construction.

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City Library Lends Bags and Ties for Job Interviews

A computer bag and ties in a branch of the New York City Library

In New York, job seekers can look forward to a new service: the library now rents out accessories for job interviews.

Books, DVDs – and, more recently, ties and handbags: The New York City Library NYPL started lending out equipment for job interviews this summer.

Under the name “Grow Up Work Fashion Library”, the Riverside branch now also offers briefcases, computers, and handbags in neutral colors. There are also ties in purple, with dots or stripes. Customers can borrow the accessories free of charge for up to three weeks.

Librarian Michelle Lee came up with the idea after hearing from the young participants in interview preparation courses that they did not have suitable equipment for such interviews. “I hope that a lot of people will take advantage of this offer now and that it will help them start their careers,” says Lee.

The library also offers information sheets: There, job seekers can find tips for the job interview, book recommendations, and further information on the appropriate choice of work clothing.

The lending ties and bags may also be used for other occasions, as the library suggests on its website: for weddings, proms, or other formal occasions.


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