New York Public Library Centennial
by Erich Strom, 05/18/2011
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Sure, with a collection of 15 million items, it's one of the world's greatest research facilities. But more important, the main branch of the New York Public Library (officially known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building), which turns 100 years old on May 23, stands as the grand marble capitol of the "republic of letters," as Andrew Carnegie, one of the library's early benefactors, put it, "where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration." In that spirit, Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions who guard the entrance on Fifth Avenue, shall enforce the same door policy for the weekend-long celebration that they have for a century: everyone is invited to attend.
Before hitting the weekend's full slate of free events (see below for highlights), be sure to take in the Rose Main Reading Room. The very heart of the library, it measures 297 feet from end to end and 51 feet up to the ceiling, room enough for 42 long oak tables, seating 600. Underneath the slate floor, the seven levels of stacks hold millions of volumes on 88 miles of shelves. Fill out a call slip for one that piques your interest, and it will be delivered marvelously to the reading room by conveyor belt in minutes. For more marvels, check out Celebrating 100 Years—a special exhibition of some of the library's most valuable and fascinating items, from intriguing ephemera (dime-store novels, dance cards) to irreplaceable treasures (a Gutenberg Bible, Sumerian tablets)—in the first-floor galleries.
Finding the Future
In true finals fashion, the weekend kicks off with an all-nighter. After the doors close on Friday night, 500 contestants will play Find the Future: The Game, an "alternate-reality" scavenger hunt. Starting Saturday morning, anyone can join in, either at the library (using a smartphone) or over the Internet. The weekend's theme continues with Know the Past, Find the Future, a commemorative book of essays from 100 authors, scholars and luminaries on the items from the library's collection most precious to them. Pick up a free copy and then catch a few of the contributors—including writer Adam Gopnik, singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash and Imam Khalid Latif, director of The Islamic Center at New York University—in a discussion of their selections (Sunday, 1pm; reservations required).
Words, Words, Words: Literary Performances
Acclaimed downtown theater group Elevator Repair Service mashes up F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway with Shuffle, whose script will be generated in real time by computer algorithm (rolling half-hour performances: Saturday, 1–6pm; Sunday, 1–4pm). "Bedtime Stories for Grown Ups" presents a more traditional take on storytelling, with Tony winners David Hyde Pierce and Anika Noni Rose reading works by Tobias Wolff and ZZ Packer, respectively (Saturday, 9pm; reservations required). The younger set can take in Hampstead Stage Company's Alice in Wonderland (Saturday, 2pm) or join graphic novelists Susan Kim and Nick Bertozzi for History, Fantasy, Future: Comics Make You Think, a multimedia performance that brings comic books to life (Saturday, 11am).
Diving in to the Collections
Learn how the library's online collections of newspapers, documents and photos can put the City's past at your fingertips at the workshop Digital Gotham: Researching New York City History Online (Saturday, 11am–noon, 3–4pm; reservations required). The Map Division (definitely worth a visit) has a collection of more than 400,000 maps and atlases, plenty of raw material for Mapping on the Web: New Methods of Mapmaking, a workshop that covers the application of new digital techniques, such as "map warping," to old maps (Saturday, 1pm; reservations required).