A Gutenberg Bible sits on a shelf deep in the monumental recesses of the New York Public Library. Perhaps not on a shelf. And no one is likely to loan it out soon. The Gutenberg Bible is the first major book in history produced on a printing press—the book that launched the world-changing Gutenberg Revolution. It means something that in this age of the denuded little object known as the book, one of the great libraries of the world has it safely stashed. But of course the New York Public Library is about more than books. It’s about that other denuded little thing: Western Civilization. And it stands as one of its enduring landmarks.
First opened in 1911, the New York Public Library was created by bringing together a $2.4 million donation from Samuel J. Tilden to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York,” along with the collections of the financially strapped Astor and Lenox Libraries. The site of the Croton Reservoir was chosen for the new library, and Dr. John Shaw Billings, director of the New York Public Library, conceived its initial design. When the building opened, this Beaux-Arts wonder was the largest marble building in the United States, and home to over 1 million books.
In addition to its vast collections of books and periodicals, the impressive architecture and awe-inspiring interiors of the New York Public Library alone are worth the visit, if not its many treasures and artworks including murals, paintings, photographs and a comprehensive Americana collection.
Free one hour tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Sunday (closes on summer Sundays and some holidays) highlighting the Library’s history and architecture. Get an informed overview of the beauty and expanse of the Library’s collections. Free tours of the Library’s Current Exhibitions at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays.
New York Public Library 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue | 212-930-0830
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