Mon and Wed, 11am-6pm; Tue and Thu, noon-7pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-5pm; Sun, closed
F at Lexington Ave.-63rd St.; 6 at 68th St.-Hunter College
A vibrant center of cultural and political life, the city’s most famous, lion-bookended research library houses over 25,000 volumes that span the blockbuster (Thomas Jefferson's handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence) and the esoteric (every extant issue of the South China Morning Post). The imposing Beaux-Arts structure was designed by the then-unknown architectural firm of Carerre and Hastings, constructed over the course of nine years, and completed to great fanfare in 1911. The gem of the main branch is the Rose Reading Room, where patrons (with ACCESS cards secured in advance) submit call slips for books sent through a pneumatic tube system traveling through an eight-story maze of book stacks. In the few minutes it takes for a request to arrive, visitors can wander the 297-by-78-foot room outfitted with 42 vast oak tables and ceiling murals depicting the sky. A revolving series of public art, history, and science exhibits can be found elsewhere in the building, while lectures, reading seminars, and research classes thrive in its many nooks. Such cultural exchange spills outside the library doors, where a cross-section of laborers and scholars, protestors and chess players, tourists and performers lays claim to the marble steps.Extra
The marble lions that guard the library entrance, named Patience and Fortitude by Depression-era mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, were designed by sculptor Edward Clark Potter and are part of the original structure, which was dedicated on May 23, 1911. The reading room that houses the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History, and Genealogy is one of the loveliest rooms in the library.
Within the library's collection, you'll find two copies of the 1623 first folio edition of Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies; nineteenth-century ukiyo-e prints from Japan; a daguerreotype portrait of Walt Whitman; and the Gutenberg Bible.
Free tours of the library are held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Meet at the Information Desk near the entrance. Docent-led tours of exhibits are given at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Group tours of 10 or more people require special arrangement. Reservations can be made at 212-930-0501.
This cultural landmark boasts three amazing spaces: the Celeste Bartos Forum, Astor Hall, and the McGraw Rotunda. Expect a lot of red tape to accompany just about every decision, but for grandiosity and sweeping drama, the venue is virtually unparalleled. Prices upon request.