May 23, 2011

Read any good books lately?

Two  birthdays of note today – first, the New York Public Library is celebrating its centennial year and second, this is the birthdate of the fabulous Alicia de Larrocha.

Library under construction, 1908.

The library has an interesting genesis.  There were lots of libraries in New York City during the 19th century, but every one of them was private, subscription only.  Very good way to keep the riffraff out and everybody that wasn’t rich was riffraff.

But Boston led the way with the first public library so NYC had to keep up.  A former governor of New York and one-time presidential candidate – Samuel J. Tilden – very kindly left a two and a half million dollar bequest to the city for a public library and it only took about ten years for them to figure out where to put it.

There just happened to be a big hole in the ground at 42d street and Fifth – where a reservoir had been – which would nicely accommodate a library.  Another five years and there it was, the NYPL.

President william Taft cut the ribbon on May 23, 1911, and it wasn’t long before the reading room looked like this:

Panorama of the Reading Room, 2006, photo by Diliff.

(Click on photo to get the full effect.)

You don’t have to live in New York to use the library – their famous reference desk answers questions 24/7 (call 917-ASK-NYPL) or you can go to their website and get answers online via chat – with one proviso: they don’t do homework.

They also have a great digital library – just looking around a bit, I came across this nice Berenice Abbott photo called ‘The Blossom Restaurant’:

Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, Manhattan.

[Image ID: 482799]

And now for a little of the wonderful Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009) to start the day:



  1. Fine report and music thank you.


    Comment by avery — May 23, 2011 @ 6:54 am | Reply

  2. During my lifetime, schools and libraries were all public. I thought it was always so. Again thanx for the valuable social history lesson.
    Alicia De Larrocha’s music is terrific. She makes difficult music seem so spontaneous and free.


    Comment by GALYA TARMU — May 23, 2011 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

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