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New York Public Library

New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018

* Google Maps street view

History - written by Chris Buchner (used with permission)
The New York public library is one of the largest library branches in the world. Near the end of the 19th Century, however, New York City was still growing and only had two important libraries. One was the Astor, created with the financial aid of John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), who was a German immigrant and the wealthiest man in America at the time of his death. The other was the Lenox, founded by James Lenox (1800-1883) who was a philanthropist and founder of the New York Presbyterian Hospital. The library housed his large collection of paintings and books.

By 1892, both libraries were suffering financially, threatening New York's only library system to fail. Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886), a former governor, believed a growing city like New York needed it's own free library system and left $2.4 million of his personal fortune to that cause. John Bigelow, an attorney and Tilden trustee, formed a plan where the Astor, Lenox and Tilden's money would combine to form a new entity to be called the New York Public Library.

The Library would be built on the Croton Reservoir which spanned from 40th Street to 42nd Street along Fifth Avenue. John Shaw Billings, a brilliant librarian, was named director and sketched out what would become the earliest plans for the library's building. After a bidding process, the unknown firm of Carrère and Hastings was selected to design and build the library. Two years after dismantiling the reservoir and preparing the area for construction, the cornerstone was finally laid down in 1902.

The library was dedicated in May of 1911, exactly 16 years after Bigelow's plan was given the green light. On that day, one million books were placed inside the building and in attendance was President William H. Taft, Governor John Alden Dix and Mayor William J. Gaynor. The next day, the library was opened to the public, and the New York Public Library system had begun.

Today, there are branches of the Library dotted all over the five boroughs. They report numbers of 15 million people using them a year. The Library makes every effort in keeping with the times, adding in multimedia centers to most of the branches and allowing fast and easy access to every item they possess. The Library continues to grow and will remain an important part of New York forever.


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