I have to give credit to my parents for the endless bedtime stories, birthday Anne of Green Gables box sets, and regular trips to the library for making me a reader since I was a little girl. I'm fairly sure I can still find my first library card nestled in an old Velcro wallet alongside my National Honor Society membership and my Red Cross swimming certificates.
I join the library system in each city I live in and the tradition continues today with my newly minted membership to New York Public Library. There’s a branch in my neighborhood, but the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building on 5th Avenue (aka ‘the one with the lions’) is truly an iconic New York landmark and I couldn’t pass up a chance to walk up the same steps where giants such as Dr. Peter Venkman have tread.
I timed my visit so that I could take advantage of the free (!) daily building tours led by a library docent. Here’s a really brief sketch of what I learned: the NYPL was founded in 1895 when two private library collections – The Astor Library and The Lenox Library – and funding from a bequest were combined. The ‘Main Branch’ opened in 1911 on a site provided by New York City and has served as a place of learning for the city and the world ever since.
During my visit I also saw a special library exhibit called The ABC Of It: Why Children’s Books Matter that explores how the content, illustration, and design of books for children have evolved over time. The curator, Leonard Marcus, showed examples of these changes through an amazing variety of materials – everything from a Puritan era alphabet primer, to super hero comics, to a Kara Walker pop-up book. There's also a solid representation of several New York-centric characters like Eloise, James and the Giant Peach, and Lyle Crocodile.
The whimsy factor is fairly high – a good thing in my book (#sorryimnotsorry #puns) – so prepare to be transported back to childhood. For me the highlights were seeing an original manuscript of The Secret Garden – Mary Lennox and I go way back; P.L. Traver’s parrot handle umbrella, which later became Mary Poppins signature accessory; the original stuffed animal that inspired Winnie the Pooh (Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger all make appearances too); and a video demonstration of Eric Carle’s handmade paper collage illustrations for The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Amazing to all these items from some of my favorite literature collected in one spot.
I’d recommend checking this exhibit out before it closes in September and if you’re looking for more context for the library’s history and architecture the tour gives a good overview. I know I’ll be keeping tabs on future special exhibits and author events, and I’m definitely excited to see what the NYPL comes up with next.