New York Public Library – Into the Archives

Serving more than 17 million patrons a year, and millions more online, the Library holds more than 55 million items, from books, e-books, and DVDs to renowned research collections used by scholars from around the world. Housed in the iconic 42nd Street library and three other research centers, NYPL’s historical collections hold such treasures as Columbus’s 1493 letter announcing his discovery of the New World, George Washington’s original Farewell Address, and John Coltrane’s handwritten score of ‘Lover Man.’” New York Public Library

NYC Public Library Research Room Jan 2006 Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

I have never been to the New York Public Library but, just by viewing photographs, I feel the sense of wonder thinking of the marvelous stories that are held within these walls. Imagine all the people who have visited this library, studied at one of the tables, surrounded by a stack of books, note papers, and pens.

During this period of solitude, museums, art galleries and libraries have worked tirelessly to remain connected and vibrant. Their creative use of technology to bring messages via e-mail and all social media venues has been heartening and life-affirming. Today, we are heading into the New York Public Library, specifically into the archives.

Archives preserve our story and provide a space where previous generations are able to tell us what they experienced and valued. Keeping records increases our sense of belonging to a wider narrative, giving us a foundation upon which to document our time and place within history. Archives are letters from the past to us who live in the present. Our task it to keep that moving forward to future generations.

Join me as we meet up with Declan Kiely, Director of Exhibitions, New York Public Library as he takes us on a brief tour of what is in the NYPL archives. It is a confirmation that we must find a way to keep our stories alive. As Declan states, it is the creative spirit at work.

15 Replies to “New York Public Library – Into the Archives”

  1. I’ve always enjoyed going to the library, since I was a kid.
    Not to sound geeky, but I loved doing homework and projects there. There was no internet, but I had information galore, at my finger tips. LOL… the Encyclopedia Britannica, and lots more.
    The New York Public Library looks wonderful to sit in and read, or just discover history. The building is gorgeous.
    In the late 1990’s I discovered our new reference library. It’s part of the regular public library system, but there is no borrowing. It has rare books, manuscripts, mircofiche files, art, music, computer records, etc. Not sure about locks of hair.
    They have many reading and cultural events during the year, although Covid has closed things down, for now.
    True, it is not grand and stately, like the NYPL, but it is airy, modern and we are blessed to have this wonderful place. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/torontoreferencelibrary/

    1. I love libraries of any size. When I lived in Northern Manitoba, our school had a wonderful room dedicated to books. It was a lovely place to come and feel the quiet atmosphere. I just went on the Toronto Public Library website – what a wonderful place. The architecture is spectacular. I went through each floor to see what was there, from the arts & picture collection on the 5th floor to the Toronto Star Newspaper Room in the basement. We are blessed to have our libraries and librarians (I notice that you can book time with a librarian). I am certain there are locks of hair there in the archives!!!

      1. I’ll take a comb next time I go! Lol!
        I’ll bet they have some Stephan Leacock and Lucy Maud Montgomery in there!

  2. How I would love to visit this iconic institution. When I was doing my MA and we still lived in London, I absolutely adored visiting and working in the British Library. It is a stunning place full of inspiration and wonder. It had a wonderful smell of learning and adventure and I credit it with helping me finish my degree – I was so keen to go there as often as possible that I got an incredible amount of work done!! X

    1. I can only imagine the excitement of being surrounded in an atmosphere of knowledge and exploration. You are so right- there is an unmistakable smell of learning and adventure. If only the walls could speak, the tables announce who studied at their table, the doors shout out who had entered their doors. As Stephen Fry once said, “An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.”

      1. It was a privilege to be able to experience the library’s riches. Our Edinburgh libraries will be opening soon – it will be like visiting old friends!

      2. How very well said, Liz. I share your sentiments – it will be like we are welcomed home.

  3. I’ve only been to New York three times … and have stood outside this amazing building — but the call of the purpose of my visits to New York never allowed me the time to peruse the wealth contained within its space. How very unfortunate! Yet – with the wonder of technology – we all have the opportunity to be enlightened. In under 5 minutes, this vignette of just a small selection of the Library taught me much. Thank you, Rebecca! You continue to be an inspiration through the conversations that you create! While I don’t often respond — know that I find the work that you do to be a source of knowledge and joy!

    1. You made it to the front doors and that is a remarkable accomplishment. In one of our last conversations about transitioning in the internet age, you said that we were on a trajectory course to connect through technology in ways that we could never imagine in our current reality. I agree wholeheartedly. And based on the amazing response of our libraries, museums and art galleries during this time of solitude, I believe these organizations will lead in this transition. I’m am looking forward to our next podcast conversation, Sarah. Much love and many hugs!

  4. This is an amazing place, what a privilege it would be to spend time there (how many days,weeks, possibly months) just to see all of the wonderful things preserved there. incredible the time and knowledge of how to keep all the artifacts safe for such a long time. Thank you for sharing. Can you imagine walking to see all of this, much less the research that could be done. The tables look inviting.

    1. When I first found this photo, I found myself imagining that I was sitting at one of these tables, close to a lamp, surrounded by books. I agree, the tables look inviting, especially in the way they are positioned in the room, surrounded by shelves of books. How to keep artifacts safe and preserved is one of my mini-research projects. I have so many photos and notes from my father that I must preserve for those who come after. What to keep, what not to keep, where to store and how to store are questions that come up when we consider family histories. The Berg brothers understood the power of memory. Their efforts have given a gift to the world.

  5. Thank you for this, Rebecca. Great post, and the many artifacts shown in that video are amazing to see — and to hear described. A lock of Charlotte Bronte’s hair, and much more. Wow!

    1. Yes – I can’t believe that there was a lock of Charlotte Bronte’s hair! I am so glad you enjoyed this meander through the archives of the NYPL. The story behind the Berg Collection is even more remarkable than the collection if you consider how these articles were preserved. I am grateful for all those who preserve stories, whether it be of noted personalities or of family archives. My grandmother kept all of my mother, Frances’s letters from Brazil. I am going to read them with Frances and recall the stories that came from her time the 1950’s. We create personal novels even when we don’t write them down.

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