Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The New York Public Library

Once a year, as Christmas is approaching, the New York Public Library, which continues to hold one of the greatest collections of books in the world, opens its doors wide, including the ordinarly forbidden stacks, to celebrate the holiday season and to thank its many appreciative members. Sunday, on our way to Anne Frank USA (the subject of tomorrow's post), we stopped off to share in the holiday cheer and to get inside the Library's vast and mysterious inner sanctum.

As we walked into the great atrium of the library, which can be entered at the famous Fifth Avenue entrance, men and women could be seen walking around on extra high stilts, which seemed pretty festive in itself. But these were not conventional stilts; their bottoms looked like reindeer hooves. So there we were staring up at gleefully decorated holiday giants strutting around on sticks that looked like the feet of reindeer. One of the male giants leaned over to us to inquire if we had been naughty or nice, but it was a question accompanied by such a lascivious guffaw that we couldn't help but respond in unison, "Naughty!"

As we shuffled through he crowd toward the free wine and bread that beckoned on tables just beyond the atrium, we were already thinking about those stacks. How would we get in? How much would they let us see? What would it be like?

We stepped into an uncrowded chamber with a large elevator that took us upstairs to the library's magnificent main reading room, which is said to be about the size of a football field, and then with a respectful hush and a gentle warning about not touching anything, we joined about 40 other people and slowly snaked down the spiral staircase that delivered us to a timeless world of leather bindings, marble floors, and Carnegie steel.

The stacks are huge! They are held together by shelves of ornately carved Carnegie steel that cover many levels and those shelves don't just hold books; they also provide the structural support for the great reading room above. As you wander around in the stacks, you can't help being struck by how long the corridors are and how far down the levels go. It made me think of the Krell from the movie Forbidden Planet. When Walter Pigeon takes the visitors from Earth down below the surface of the planet and introduces them to the ancient world of the Krell, part of the tour includes their power plant which is the source of perpetual energy for the entire planet. No matter how far you look to the side or up and down, all you can see are the levels that the Krell created. The same goes for the stacks of the New York Public Library. Regardless of which way you look, all you can see are shelves of books, the legacy of those far seeing visionaries who constructed New York's greatest edifice of learning well over a hundred years ago.

1 comment:

  1. I hope that the knowledge contained in this glorious repository will suffice to protect us from the fate of the planet of the Krell. And that we will be wise enough to avoid creating our own 'monsters from the id'.