Since we were dog free in NYC for the first time ever on the way back from Europe last summer, we were able to hike above Gotham on the wonderful High Line and catch a bird’s eye view from the Roosevelt Island Tramway, both canine incompatible tourist draws.
On the walk to the cable car, I took the opportunity to visit another eminent Big Apple attraction – the New York Public Library (NYPL, as if you didn’t know).
Touring the Kips Bay (KB) branch on Third Avenue was much more manageable than the main location on 42nd Street where you could spend days without seeing it all, and they still have the famous feline out front, albeit embossed on the book drop.
The two story structure has an elevator and a plaque out front with three partitions to insert notices of imminent happenings for kids, grownups and newly released movie showings. Opened in 1972 it’s named in honor of a 1600’s farmer who owned huge tracts in the district.
A rubber mat keeps mud in the foyer and leads to a glossy brick floor by the entryway. Colorful shopping baskets and a cloth covered table with pamphlets and a box for adult summer reading contest submissions flank the doorway.
Friendly staff greeted me and took time from their busy schedules to secure permission for me to take photos.
A colorful summery scene bordering encouraging slogans and cutout letters announcing their name adorns the Circulation Desk. Bamboo plants there and over a display of recently acquired DVDs, bestsellers and titles for tots join vibrant paintings and glass covered dioramas with abstract contents in this pretty area.
In the adult section downstairs there are lots of patrons using computers. A third of all New Yorkers don’t have home internet, so the wifi, twelve laptops, five desktops with word processing, two YA terminals plus three for kids are invaluable to lower income folk and those who want to save a buck.
Large clear black print points to mysteries, large type, urban and science fiction books and high windows over the cases let a green glow filter in from the foliage outside. Most shelves are uncrowded enough for face out suggestions and customers pick up their own non A/V reserves.
Like all branches, KB has assistive software (some have Braille writers or machines that pronounce text too). You can request ASL translators or close captions for programs and the disabled get a cut rate on fines.
The system has a publishing arm which puts out that wonderful tome, The New York Public Library Desk Reference (I have a passion for trivia so when I was getting my MLS my librarian mother gave me this and I immediately read it cover to cover), and many other classics including ones for kids on mythology, explorers and geography. There are new titles on Kerouac and the Afghan conflict and they also create a number of digital works – I was fascinated by the scans of old menus though the thought of sweetbreads is kind of disgusting and 60 cents seemed a bit outrageous for lamb’s tongue in 1918. The historical map collection is quite informative and I enjoyed William Henry Jackson’s old stereoscopic photos and original diary entries.
Upstairs red, white and blue stencils proclaim Welcome to the Teen Zone, which has Manga, adolescent fiction, upholstered seating and promotional posters. Cushy cherry chairs with attached tables form a ring where youngsters can read or work together.
The system provides young adults with a wide variety of entertainment options – they can explode melons, play board games, design an Anime character, attend beading workshops or offerings such as From Planes to Silly Putty: How Things Work.
KB also has baby lapsits and playtimes, exercise for those 50+ (other locations have yoga and meditation as well), a science club for kids, films for all ages, toddler sessions, Spanish programs, hoarder support groups, book discussions, free art workshops for seniors and classes on how to Skype, online banking, and using the cloud.
Construction paper stars brighten the cinder block especially on top of YA NF where college and SAT prep paperbacks are prominently featured.
Multihued hand prints on the panes, sunny yellow walls and serviceable furniture let you know you’re in the children’s space where a plush cupped palm lets youths browse technology volumes in comfort.
A long banner studded with butterflies and the slogan Catch the literacy bug publicizes summer reading and there are sections for media, picture, easy and board books, and fairy tales (as a child growing up in the Village, my mother, a voracious reader, could only borrow two fiction selections but cleverly skirted this limit by also checking out fairy tales since they are considered NF) in the low stacks that allow a clear sight line.
Practical replaceable tiles carpet the storytime room. Though KB doesn’t have meeting areas, NYPL rents eight incredible venues holding between 44 and 750 people depending on the layout. Marble and maple trim lavishly appointed halls and soaring atriums perfect for secular weddings and corporate fetes. The renowned front steps can be even be used as a movie set.
On one side, sturdy furniture in primary colors is impervious to roughhousing and mesh backed chairs by a two tiered shelf overlook the street below. Behind audiovisual, a wood panel covers the back and meets the plaster high above the stacks.
NYPL’s facilities are scattered around Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island and include centers for the performing arts and for science, business and industry. A few are open on Sundays. ILL is free and chat is available 24/7 through Ask NYPL or you can email questions. Employees visit nursing homes and homeless shelters and a four person department, not counting the volunteers, is dedicated to reaching prisoners. On the net, guides for everyone from job seekers to immigrants and business owners highlight sources, links, ESL coaching sessions and free school delivery for educators
The statistics are staggering. The system dates from 1895 and a number of its 88 sites were built by Carnegie. At these, along with the four research libraries, they help more than 18 million residents annually. Columbus’s missive declaring that he’d discovered America and Washington’s farewell speech are some of the prized possessions for perusal among the more them 51,000,000 items. They have digitized over 800,000 documents and have 755 databases and compilations. Everyone from infants to the eldest benefits from the astounding 55,000 free events each year.
Kids have Toddler Hangout, crafts, martial arts, creative writing, Chinese ribbon dancing and they can learn about bionic bodies and squirt gun volcanoes or hear Big Jeff sing.
Older inhabitants can take classes on topics as specific as puppetry, photo editing on tablets, recovering data, belly dancing, public speaking, Windows or Skype for Spanish speakers and making jewelry. They seem to be a social director for your neighborhood – play Italian card games at Belmont or Mahjong at Riverside, or got to a film and discussion. Recently a trivia contest with backing music was held at a nightclub and the subject of clothing design inspires symposiums and a Lindy Hop Fashion Show. On the first Friday of the month they host a party with cocktails where people with something in common (like historically black colleges alumni) can mingle after hours in their galleries.
The web site’s home page advertises a community oral history project about NY’s neighborhoods and an exhibit of illuminated paint – 3D works from artist Peter Bynum. The blurbs are intriguing – I immediately wanted to read about impostors and their scams and take the quiz on what kiddie lit character I am (Pippi Longstocking – yay! I love Astrid Lindgren’s tales). Listen to podcasts from interviews with creative figures, lectures on the woman of NY or recordings of poetry readings and WWI songs or watch videos of immigrants becoming citizens. If you become a friend of the library you get 40% off tickets to hear writers like Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) speak at LIVE from the NYPL. The fall calendar includes George Clinton, Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman. Toni Morrison, Lou Reed and John Waters have appeared previously. Other events are usually free like those from The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers where researchers discuss their work. Past programs have seen John Lithgow conversing with Bill Moyers and lecture topics such as the decline of American institutions and travelling in Siberia.
The online store sells everything from cuff links to baseball caps, and of course I have a lion coffee mug so I was delighted to see the iconic creatures on our way home.
It’s easy to understand why this venerable organization is arguably the world’s greatest public library, and Kips Bay is no small part of that.