In which bookshelves are installed at the New York Public Library
When the New York City Public Library opened on May 23, 1911, the building spanned over two city blocks and boasted one of the most impressive collections of books—and bookshelves—in the world. “ It is impossible to think of New York without the New York Public Library, ” notes Henry Hope Reed, during the centennial celebrations of the library. “[Its] presence is that of some great natural fact. It would appear to have always been there.”
During its initial construction, the newspaper media talked up the library’s bookshelves something fierce. Since the library was to hold over three million volumes, shelving and storing a collection of that size was no small undertaking. In 1905, initial schematics of the library ’ s bookshelves were published in the New York Times and Scientific American; articles claimed that the library had a set of bookshelves constructed on a practically unheard-of scale, unlike any other shelves in any other library built before it. On October 1, 1905, the Times practically fell over itself, gushing with enthusiasm:
The skeleton of a bookcase that will hold 3,500,000 volumes — without exception the largest bookcase in the world — that is what one may see to-day back of the great central hall of the majestic marble structure that is slowly rising in Bryant Park.
It is just completed, this marvelous network of steel bars and uprights, and exemplifies the very latest methods and appliances for the shelving of books. There is nothing like it in the great libraries of the Old World . . . In the Congressional Library . . . the modern steel bookcase is in use, but not in the solid, impressive mass, distinguishing it over all others, that is shown in the New York Public Library . . . Above it will be placed the spacious reading room of the library, on either side the various halls, offices, and exhibition rooms. Thus surrounded, this monster bookcase becomes, architecturally, the heart of the whole structure, the treasure for whose protection this marble palace is built. Even now, with this maze of steel laid bare, it is difficult to appreciate its immense capacity for the shelving of books. A bookcase holding three and a half million volumes means a series of shelves that if laid together, end to end, would measure over eighty miles.