This past weekend, the New York Public Library celebrated the centennial of the magnificent building which houses its research collection with a series of events. The one I was the most excited about was the tour of the stacks. As many of you know, the 42nd Street research library is a closed stacks institution. Users fill out a form and submit it, and 20 or so minutes later the book appears at desk in the middle of the reading room. The forms until very recently were sent downstairs, to the 7 floors of stacks below the reading room, by pneumatic tubes, but I believe, sadly, that system has at last been made obsolete. Anyway, the whole process seems very mysterious and slightly magical to someone like me, who has has spent countless hours in the building. Most people on the tour seemed to feel the same way, especially the woman who had tears in her eyes she was so excited about seeing the stacks. Perhaps not surprisingly, once we got down to the stacks, I felt like I was in a Wes Anderson movie set, in a charming thicket of old card catalog cases, shoots and conveyor belts, call slips and (of course) books.
There is also a wonderful exhibition of some of the library’s treasures. Highlights for me were seeing Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Jack Kerouac’s diary that served as the basis for On the Road and the first book published by Europeans in the Americas, from the 1500s. The oddest item might have been Charles Dicken’s letter opener–the handle was the paw of his beloved cat Bob, who had passed away. The exhibition’s curator Thomas Mellis is making a series of videos about some of the artifacts.
Another highlight–models of the library’s famous lions (Patience and Fortitude), made of Legos.