Literary Travel: The New York Public Library

I love books. A lot. I love to travel. A lot. So I often view books and travel through the same lens. I call it my literary travel lens. What books can I read before I visit a place to learn before I go? What books can I read that will transport me through the pages when I can’t actually visit a place? Today’s literary travel adventure is a visit to the New York Public Library.

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New York Public Library: The History

The iconic New York Public Library first opened its doors to the public on May 24, 1911 (the dedication was on May 23) checking out N. I. Grot’s Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni (Ethical Ideas of Our Time) at 9:14 a.m. More than 100 years later there are now more than 50 million items and 92 locations in the NYC Public Library system. It is the second largest public library in the United States (the Library of Congress is the largest) and fourth largest public library in the world!  

The original branch, and arguably most famous, is located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. This branch is home to the famous New York Public Library Lions, Patience and Fortitude. It has also served as the home to actual families! A few months before the library opened to the public John H. Fedeler moved into the library with his family and worked as the library’s live-in superintendent and engineer. (Read more about growing up in the library HERE)

Today the library is worth putting on your Things to See in NYC list! You do not need a library card to enter the library, get materials from shelves, or listen to free talks. However, you do need a card (available to residents of New York) to check resources out of the library. Begin your visit by watching a short 12-minute film about the library which plays every half hour. Then you can set off to explore the many areas of the library. Including a book train that transports books from underground to the Rose Main Reading Room (you can watch a video of the train in action HERE)

Bonus Fun Fact: You can get married at the New York Public Library! But it won’t be cheap!

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Read Before You Go

Whether you are planning a trip to visit New York City and want to read before you go or you’re hoping to explore the library through the pages of the book, these books will transport you to the shelves on Fifth Avenue.

For the youngest family members, read Josh Funk’s Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude. You can grab your copy from Amazon or Bookshop. This delightful picture book is all about the lions who stand out front and greet visitors to the library each day. Until one day when Fortitude finds Patience is missing and he must find his friend before the new day begins.

For the elementary and middle school members of your family (or for interested grown-ups!), pick up a copy of The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb (grab your copy from Amazon or Bookshop). This mystery is inspired by the real life of Viviani Joffre Fedeler, who was born and raised in the New York Public Library.

The adults in the family can read The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis (grab your copy from Amazon or Bookshop). Follow along as two generations of women navigate the fallout from book thefts at the library in the early 1910’s. Alternating between 1913 and 1993, Laura Lyons and her granddaughter Sadie Donovan, explore the history of the New York Public Library and how the impact it’s had on their family.

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