Reading Between the Lions

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in February/March 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.


Looking up while wandering the streets of a city takes on a whole new meaning when that city happens to be New York… Especially when all of a sudden you find yourself seeing the Chrysler Building from in between other buildings. Fun fact, I confused the Chrysler Building with the Empire State Building for the longest time. The Chrysler Building was built in 1930 and held the title of tallest building in the world for 11 months, after which the Empire State Building was completed, stealing that title in what at the time was known as the “Race into the Sky.”

New York Public Library

While known simply as the “New York Public Library,” this building is actually the library system’s main branch, and its proper name (as of its 2007-2011 renovation) is Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The lions that flank the entrance were designed by the Piccirilli Brothers based on a design by Edward Clark Potter. There’s apparently a legend that states that they were so placed so that visitors could enter the library and “read between the lions.”

The New York Public Library was born of the union of the Astor and Lenox Libraries in 1895, as well as a bequest from Samuel J. Tilden (25th Governor of New York) and a donation from Andrew Carnegie (industrialist and philanthropist). The site chosen for this new institution was formerly an above-ground reservoir, and the design for it was based on sketches by its new director, Dr. John Shaw Billings, who had previously been a librarian, building designer, and surgeon.

The Library opened on May 23, 1911 with 15,000 guests in attendance. I find it very neat that we actually know the first item that was called up and how long it took to be delivered, as the library had implemented a new system to make deliveries quicker. It was N.I. Grot’s Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni (“Ethical Ideas of Our Time”), a study of Nietzsche and Tolstoy, and the request was placed at 9:08am, with the book being delivered seven minutes later. The New York Public Library system today is the second largest public library in the US, behind the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

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