Reminder: Free Tours of the New York Public Library’s Schwarzman Building

free tours main reading room ny public library
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Looking for some free tours in New York?  Why not check out the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, which was completed in May 1911. There are free 50-minute tours which start at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. most days, with just a 2 p.m. tour on Sundays.  Docent-led tours are an excellent way to see highlights of The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.  The Library offers free tours of the building as well as exhibitions.  Free docent-guided tours for walk-in visitors are available.


Deciding to walk through on your own?  We would start with the lions, designed by Edward Clark Potter, nicknamed Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression by a desperately cheerleading Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. They’ve been tidied up for the centennial, but face it, after 100 years of acid rain, noxious exhaust, miscreant kids and pigeon poop, you’d look beleaguered, too.   Inside, you shuffle through grand Astor Hall, check the Gottesman Exhibition Hall, admire the gilt ceiling of the map room and the cityscape paintings in the DeWitt Wallace Periodical Room. The Children’s Center has the original Winnie the Pooh, a tattered bear that author A.A. Milne gave his son, Christopher, in 1921.


Upstairs, you pause at the murals and woodwork in the McGraw Rotunda, the chandeliers in that old card catalog room, and finally, the library’s main reading room, nearly 300 feet long, dramatically restored and named in 1998 for the Rose family.     Its resources are open to anybody with a library card, and requests are still carried to the seven levels of stacks below by way of an ancient system of pencils, papers, pneumatic tubes and conveyor belts. On 42 long tables, 168 reading lamps glow through gold shades.


“If you want to see New Yorkers intensely at work in one of the most beautiful rooms in the country, go to the Rose Main Reading Room,” Paul LeClerc, until recently the chief executive officer of the library, told me. (He has since been succeeded by Anthony W. Marx.) “You walk in there, you see 600 or 700 people. Who knows who they are or what they’re doing?”     The room’s 52-foot ceiling is the sort of thing you’d expect to see sheltering the head of a 19th century European emperor. Daylight filters down through a procession of arched windows.   Linger here. Maybe you’ll spot Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist and Nobel Laureate whom staffers have served repeatedly in the last year. Or maybe you’ll just tumble to a comforting thought: American civilization isn’t an oxymoron after all, and this place is the proof.



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