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The Quick 10: The New York Public Library Turns 100!

Happy Birthday to one of the best places in the world to curl up with a good book: the New York Public Library. Here are a few fascinating facts about the library to celebrate her big centennial.

[Exterior marble work : southw... Digital ID: 489520. New York Public Library1. We have former Governor of New York Samuel J. Tilden to thank for the NYPL. When he died in 1886, he left about $2.4 million to “establish and maintain a free library of New York.” That’s because a free library wasn’t particularly common at the time. Libraries were privately-held and required a membership to enter. A few years later, two of those libraries – the Lenox and Astor libraries – were struggling to stay afloat financially. Tilden’s attorney suggested merging the two into “The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.” They agreed, and 16 years to the day that the agreement forming the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations was signed, the library opened on May 23, 1911.

2. The opening was kind of a big deal – the dedication ceremony was presided over by President William Howard Taft.

3. On opening day, the library boasted a modest collection of about one million books. Today it has more than 15 million books and about 50.6 million items in total.

A sectional view of the New Yo... Digital ID: 805999. New York Public Library4. According to 2009 research by the American Library Association, the NYPL is only the fourth-largest library (by volumes held) in the U.S. The biggest is the Library of Congress with nearly 33 million, followed distantly by the Boston Public Library with about 23.5 million. Harvard beats out the NYPL just a little: 16 million and some change.
5. At the time, the building was the largest structure made of marble ever attempted in the United States.

6. The first book ever checked out at the library was called “Farm Management.” The New York Times scoffed about the fact that “the first book loaned by the great book palace related to the raising with profit of the humble potato.”

7. Sculpted by artist Edward Clark Potter, the feline duo that guards the library have experienced some identity crises over the years. They were originally called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the founders of the libraries that ended up becoming the NYPL. Then they apparently entered a higher social class and were referred to as Lord Lenox and Lady Astor, even though the lions are both male. Then, in the 1930s, Mayor La Guardia took it upon himself to name them Patience and Fortitude to encourage New York citizens during the Great Depression. Those names are the ones that stuck, so be sure to say hello to them the next time you’re there – as you’re entering, Patience is on the left and Fortitude is on the right.

8. It takes 20,000 bottles of Windex to clean the library’s 355 miles of bookshelves.

9. Don’t live anywhere near NYC? No worries – just make your way to Universal Studios Singapore or Universal Studios Florida. There are replicas of the famous building in the New York sections of their theme parks.

10. You might remember that an important scene in Ghostbusters involved the ghost of an angry ex-librarian who refused to leave her former place of employment. Improv Everywhere recreated that scene at the library last year. Hilarity ensues.


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