I spent many hours in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library's main branch on 42nd and Fifth Ave. during my grad school years. The enormous room just made me want to study since that's all pretty much the only thing to do there. I thought I knew the library pretty well, so I was surprised when I found out they give tours of the library twice a day (11AM & 2PM) on most days.
I went on a weekday at 2PM and joined a tour group of about 25 people. Our tour guide, Nina, gave us a little bit of history about the library – like how it was built on a reservoir (see photo) and how it took two years to drain before they could start building.
We started right by the entrance and made our way around the first floor, visiting the South Court Education Center, the Periodical Room and the Map Division. We then made our way up to the third floor to the Rose Main Reading Room.
On our way to the Reading Room, we stopped to look into the Special Collection rooms. These rooms are not open to the public and are only open to approved researchers.
We walked through the Catalogue Room, which used to hold card catalogs but is now filled with public computers, and entered the Rose Main Reading Room. The room is about the length of a football field and filled with 636 seats. This library is non-circulating, which means they don't allow any books to be taken out of the building. To get a book, a call slip must be filled out and handed to the desk in the middle of the Reading Room. This is where things get really interesting.
Under the Reading Room lies 88 miles of bookshelves, on seven floors, called the stacks. The books from the stacks are retrieved by Pages, library employees who work the stacks. It normally takes about 20 minutes or less for the book to be delivered. In addition to the stacks under the Rose Main Reading Room, there are 40 miles of stacks right under Bryant Park. Now, if the books are retrieved from there, that'll take a little longer to be delivered.
I was hoping the tour would take us through the stacks, but unforunately, no; only the Pages are allowed in there. However, I was able to peek in from the first floor South Court Education Center. Walk around the back of the room and you'll see a row of tall windows which look right into the stacks.
Once a year, they have a Holiday Open House where members of the library can visit the stacks under the Rose Main Reading Room. Donors at the Friend level ($40) or above will get an invitation to attend the Holiday Open House. Anyone ever been on the stacks tour?
The tour ended on the second floor overlooking the library entrance. Here, you can see an exhibition of the library's history, which is worth taking a look.
LOCATION: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building | Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street | New York, NY 10018 | 917.275.6975
ADMISSION & TOUR: Free!