New York Public Library

Zack at the NYPL

Recently I took a trip to New York City. I’d never been, and was really excited to experience “the Big Apple.” I didn’t have a lot on my schedule in terms of things to see, or places to go… I much prefer to wander neighbourhoods and people watch.  A few highlights of my trip were seeing some Broadway shows (West Side Story & Hair… both are AMAZING), hanging out in Central Park, visiting Brooklyn, the Meatpacking District and the High Line, and of course, the New York Public Library!

I had never been to the NYPL, and through the combination of my personal interest in libraries, and the “screen presence” of the New York Public Library in movies (e.g. Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow, Sex and the City, etc.), I simply had to take a tour!

I was amazed to learn that the main branch of the NYPL is largely a reference (i.e. non-circulating) and research-focused library! (This contradicts the scene in SATC the movie when Carrie Bradshaw leaves the library with a book she’d borrowed [!!!])… But back to the point of this blog entry… I was mostly interested in learning about the collection, library services, some history, and to marvel at the beauty and majestic presence of the building. I love libraries.

The most interesting thing that I learned on our tour was that the majority of the stacks of the main branch are closed to the public. Public users are required to locate items using OPAC machines or the online catalogue, then write down each title on a small piece of paper to be submitted to the staff at the retrievals desk access point. (Here comes the craziest part..) THEN, staff members roll up the piece of paper containing the bibliographic information and call number and place the request in a tube, where the request is sent using pneumatic tube technology to the stacks area. Once the request has been received (on the stacks floors below the reference area), a staff member finds the requested materials to be delivered back to the reference area. Our tour guide told us that this process takes roughly 20 minutes (which, is pretty darn good, I’d say!). This system is something I’d only seen in science fiction, and I was surprised to learn of its success in a library environment. You can read more about this technology in this New York Times article.

Unfortunately we lost our tour group during a tour of the reference room, because we were snapping photographs and admiring the collection on our own. We eventually caught up with the group (which had dwindled in numbers, significantly), just in time to visit the gift shop on the main floor. Our guide was so kind, she gave us coupons for %15 percent off our purchase! I bought a mug : )

Reference questions at NYPL


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