Sunday, November 27, 2016

NYPL: Architecture and Atmosphere for the Ages

I have braved the alternately frigid and overheated, hour-long subway journey from my childhood home to the New York Public Library Main Branch in Manhattan countless times. This ritual began when I was very young. I tagged along with a parent or two, as we crossed the open public plaza and climbed the grand stairs, making our way to the Rose Reading Room. Inside, I was unceremoniously planted in a wooden seat, with my feet swinging and a dictionary as my silent babysitter. It had pictures. All around me heads bent over work, books and computers. The brass lamps with green lampshades, the high arching ceiling and natural light all lent the place an atmosphere that I could sense, but not yet explain.

This was not the kind of library that I was familiar with from school. There were no books that you could take home to read in bed. There were no late fees and little absentminded browsing. The entire place had a sense of industry. As a little girl, I thought it natural that such a place should exist, open and free for the public. Because this was New York—the library was a part of New York as much as were the rattling, swaying subways and the frigid weather that made my hair freeze.

Little me thought it made sense also, that such a place should be so grand. The New York Public Library’s entire aesthetic and construction acts a temple to books and intellectual pursuits. Its orientation of spaces, monumental proportions, detailed construction and efficient research functions communicate a message, directed to the public, emphasizing the library’s mission to preserve, disseminate and create culture.

As an adult, I was to discover that the sense of gravity that I felt when walking through the entrance on Fifth Avenue was something I shared with all New Yorkers. However alone I may have been in my academic endeavors, I was united with New York City by a love for the place at its heart.


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