New York Public Library Main Branch

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New York Public Library Main Branch

In 2011 the "Library with the Lions" celebrated its centennial as a masterpiece of Beaux Arts design and as one of the great research institutions in the world, with more than 6 million books, 12 million manuscripts, and 3 million pictures. Expect changes, if not to the look, then to the feel, of the building as it attempts to become more welcoming and useful for its next 100 years of use, all without selling its soul, of course. After years of deliberation and negotiation with a very attached public, renovation plans now include the creation of more public space and amenities as well as state-of-the-art collections storage beneath Bryant Park. For now, the library remains open to visitors. The marble staircase at the library's grand 5th Avenue entrance is an excellent perch for people-watching, before or after you explore the opulent interior.

The library's bronze front doors open into Astor Hall, which leads to several special exhibit galleries and, to the left, a stunning periodicals room with wall paintings of New York publishing houses. Ascend the sweeping double staircase to a second-floor balconied corridor overlooking the hall, with panels highlighting the library's development. Make sure to continue up to the recently restored, magisterial Rose Main Reading Room—297 feet long (almost two full north–south city blocks), 78 feet wide, and just over 51 feet high; walk through to best appreciate the rows of oak tables and the extraordinary ceiling. Several additional third-floor galleries show rotating exhibits on print and photography (past exhibits have included old New York restaurant menus and a 1455 Gutenberg Bible). Free hour-long tours leave Monday–Saturday at 11 and 2, and Sunday at 2 from Astor Hall. Women's bathrooms are on the ground floor and third floor, and there's a men's bathroom on the third floor.

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