A Paradise for Knowledge Seekers – Latest News from Jammu and Kashmir | Tourism
The New York Public Library’s reputation rests not only on its huge collection of books, but also on its divergent artifacts and programs aimed at expanding the sphere of knowledge, Ranjita Biswas noted during her recent visit.
The richly polished desk is where Charles Dickens wrote most of his prolific writing. In one corner of the room is a poster advertising a performance by legendary dancer Sara Bernhardt; next to it is another announcing the next act of the famous magician Houdini. The “The Written Word” section includes excerpts from the writings of luminaries such as Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, WB Yeats, etc. Religious texts, in the original, such as the Gutenberg Bible, sacred texts of Islam on display. These, and other items of interest are part of “Treasures: The Polonsky Exhibit” at the New York Public Library.
It was a pleasant surprise when I visited there recently.
The objects on display are among the most extraordinary elements of the Library’s collection, which numbers some 56 million objects collected over its 125-year history. They are living stories of people, places and times spanning 4,000 years, from the emergence of the written word to the present day.
On another floor of the library, a colorful world of insects aptly titled “Where Arthropods and Homo Sapiens Meet” was waiting to be explored. Part of artist Peter Kuper’s upcoming graphic novel, this is the result of his fellowship as a researcher at the library. The exhibit traces the evolution of insects over 400 million years and recounts their interaction with Homo sapiens up to that age. It is estimated that there are ten quintillion (add 18 zeros to 10 to get an idea!) insects on earth.
It was indeed an experience to walk through the living exhibit with cut-outs of butterflies, beetles and many other species with information about them at every stage interspersed with nuggets like a haiku by Matsuo Basho (1690) “The Cry of the cicada / Gives us no sign / That he will die soon” or “Aristotle saw us as symbols of resurrection and immortality”.
It is also another example of how libraries have evolved from the profile strictly related to reading and borrowing books. They can indeed act as a dynamic place for interactive activities, exchanging ideas and learning new skills.
The iconic Rose Reading Room is, of course, a must visit and there are also free tours (no loud talking and no invasive photography). For bibliophiles, and for the simple pleasure of soaking up the atmosphere with researchers and readers, it is, to use a widely used term, “brilliant! Many well-known Hollywood movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Thomas Crown Affair, Finding Forrester, Network, etc. were filmed here.
The history of the New York Public Library is intimately tied to the city’s emergence as a major metropolis and cultural center in the 19th century. It was a joint effort of prominent visionary citizens who made a generous donation, the aspirations of book lovers, and the merger of two existing libraries that were going through a funding crisis.
When John Shaw Billings, a brilliant librarian, was appointed director of the institution, his idea of what a great library should be played a part in the architecture as he briefly sketched it on a scrap of paper. His plan called for a huge reading room on seven stories of stacks and the fastest delivery system in the world to get library resources as quickly as possible to those who requested them.
The cornerstone of the library was laid in May 1902. Nine years later, more than one million books were laid out for its official opening on May 23, 1911.
Today, the historic marble building in the heart of the city with two lions on both sides at the entrance proudly announces its sacred heritage. It is also spread across 92 sites and includes four research centers focusing on the humanities and social sciences, performing arts, black history and culture, and business and industry.
The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as its services for people of all ages. The research and circulation collections combined total over 51 million items, including materials for the visually impaired.
Additionally, each year the library presents thousands of exhibits and public programs, including technology, literacy, research, and English courses for speakers of other languages. Some 18 million patrons visit the library each year; its website receives 32 million visits per year from more than 200 countries. (TWF)