The cold winter wind blew me up the stairs and past the Lions, Patience and Fortitude, guarding the entrance to the New York Public Library (NYPL). In my opinion, every trip to New York must include a visit to NYPL, or the trip is not properly consecrated. Designed in the classic beaux-art style by the architecture firm Carrere and Hastings, the building opened its doors to the public in 1911 with over one million items. Today, the collection numbers over fifty-one million items. Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was one of the first curators of the collection. A beacon and haven for scholars, the main reading room, the Rose Room, named for the generous donor family, and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room are being restored and will reopen during the Fall 2016. The historian David McCullough places NYPL among the five most important Libraries in the United States including the Library of Congress, Boston Public Library and the university libraries of Harvard and Yale. The restoration includes, asbestos removal, reinforcing the ceiling and restoration of the Rose Room’s murals of blue skies and clouds.
Fred Lerner in his book The Story of Libraries from the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age described Vladimir Lenin’s admiration for NYPL. In 1913, the Russian Revolutionary wrote “…in the Western countries…they hold that great public libraries, with hundreds of thousands and millions of books, ought not to be the property only of scholars…they are anxious for readers to read books bought at public expense in their own homes; they see the pride and glory of the public library not in the number of rarities is possesses…but in the extent to which books circulate among the people”…..nourishing their souls and feeding their imagination.
Underneath the Rose Room’s spacious skies, many authors have nourished their souls, fed their imagination, and found context within the 40,000 volume reference collection housed in the reading room. Literary greats such as Issac Bashevis Singer, Elizabeth Bishop, E. L. Doctorow, Alfred Kazin, and Henry Miller found inspiration within the Rose Room’s walls. Many of these authors were immigrants, or their sons and daughters born in this new world, New York. The Library opened its doors and its books and gave these newcomers the world, restoring, nourishing and feeding their souls and imaginations. Excitedly, I await the next generation of immigrants, who will grapple with their ideas, applying patience and fortitude, as they create underneath these spacious skies.
Patience and fortitude are touchstones for life; wise words for guiding a lifetime of work, a long-term relationship, or perhaps just simply life. Leaving the library, I pause near Fortitude and whisper from the Mourner’s Kaddish “may there be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us all Israel, to which we say Amen.” Until we meet again Evelyn, daughter of immigrants, blessings on you on your next journey.