September 27, 2021

And We’re Back: The New York Public Library Reopens Historic Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room

From the NYPL:

The New York Public Library today reopened two historic rooms in its iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street after a more than two-year closure for repairs and restorations.

The Rose Main Reading Room and adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room were both reopened to the public at 10 a.m. today. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in the Rose Main Reading Room’s South Hall shortly before then. New York Public Library President Tony Marx and Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Abby Milstein both spoke. Renowned poet Elizabeth Alexander read two poems: “The House Was Quiet and The World Is Calm” by Wallace Stevens, and “Branch Library” by Edward Hirsch.

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Source: Max Touhey Photography

Marx, Milstein, Life Trustee Sandy Rose – whose family funded a restoration of the Reading Room in the 1990s – and elected officials including Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer, Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, New York City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Andy King, New York State Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick, and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, cut the ribbon.

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Source: Max Touhey Photography

“This public library, the greatest of public libraries in the world, is the foundation stone of a learned, informed, civil society,” Marx said. “It is the institution open to all, ensuring that all can come and learn from our great collections and our great staff . . . It is the basis of the democracy that we must continue to replenish. It is the institution committed to inclusion and opportunity . This Room is the symbolic center of that basic commitment, the values of openness and opportunity, of inclusion. This great space, the greatest public room in this city, is now reopened to all.”

The reopening of the rooms – spaces where researchers can access the Library’s general research materials, and anyone can do quiet reading or studying – comes more than two years after an ornamental plaster rosette fell from the Rose Main Reading Room’s 52-foot high ceiling overnight in May of 2014. The Library decided to conduct a full inspection of the ceilings of both the Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, building scaffolding and massive platforms the length of the near football-field sized room for access. Although the ceilings – built with the rest of the Library in 1911 – were found to be in good condition by WJE Engineers & Architects, P.C., the Library decided to make several improvements to the ceiling, including:

  • Recreating and replacing the rosette that fell
  • Reinforcing all 900 plaster elements in both rooms with steel cables
  • Enlisting renowned muralists EverGreene Architectural Arts to recreate a 27 by 33 foot James Wall Finn mural on the ceiling of the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room. Unlike the murals in the Rose Main Reading Room by the same artist, the Bill Blass mural had not been restored in the 1990s, and a fine arts conservator determined that it sustained irreparable damage, loss of original paint, discoloration, patch jobs and unsophisticated over-paint.
  • Working with Aurora Lighting to restore the Room’s chandeliers, including putting in LED lights.

Tishman Construction Corporation was the project manager on the $12 million restoration, which was completed several months ahead of schedule. The room will be the site of this year’s Library Lions fundraising gala on Monday, November 7.

While the rooms were closed, the Library maintained service for researchers in other rooms throughout the building. With work complete, research functions will return to Bill Blass and the Rose Main Reading Room – with improvements.

Source: Max Touhey Photography

Source: Max Touhey Photography

The Library, along with Gensler Architects and Tishman Construction, recently completed construction of a second level of state-of-the-art collections storage under Bryant Park, creating capacity for 4.3 million research volumes at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The Library began moving materials into the new lower level of the Milstein Research Stacks in the spring; the process is expected to be completed in early 2017. With this increased capacity, the Library estimates that it can fill over 90 percent of research requests with materials located on-site.

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Source: Max Touhey Photography

The Library also installed a new, modern conveyor system to bring materials from underground storage to the Rose Main Reading Room. The $2.6 million system – 24 individual cars that each carry up to 30 pounds of materials on 360 feet of track – is more efficient and easier to maintain than the previous conveyor belt system.

The Library is offering a free exhibition on the third floor of its Stephen A. Schwarzman Building documenting the recent work in the building as well as historic efforts entitled Preserving a Masterpiece: From Soaring Ceilings to Subterranean Storage. It is on view through October 9.

Rose Main Reading Room Fast Facts:

  • It opened on May 23, 1911 along with the rest of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
  • The Library’s general research materials can be accessed from the room.
  • The Room is 78 feet by 297 feet – the length of two city blocks and nearly the length of a football field
  • The ceilings are 52 feet high
  • There are 900 plaster elements on the ornamental ceilings, each of which was reinforced with steel cable as part of the latest restoration.
  • The Room (along with the adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room) holds about 52,000 reference books, such as encyclopedias and dictionaries in various languages.
  • The Room (along with the adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room) have murals of the sky on the ceiling by artist James Wall Finn. All of the murals have been recreated and restored to their original intent by muralists Evergreene Architectural Arts. The Blass mural was the most recent to be restored. It was completed in 2016.
  • Literary figures such as Norman Mailer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elizabeth Bishop, E. L. Doctorow, Alfred Kazin, Jonathan Safran Foer and many more have spent time in this room.
  • The room has been featured in several feature films, including 1984’s “Ghostbusters.”
  • The entire Room is designated for research and quiet study and there is a small viewing area where visitors can admire and take non-flash photography of the room and ceiling.
  • The Room is named for Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam R. Rose, children of the family that donated money to restore the room in the 1990s.
  • The Room has wi-fi.
  • Millions of research books are kept in state-of-the-art storage underneath Bryant Park. When those materials are requested, staff underground pull the books, and they are placed in a “book train” conveyor to be sent to the Reading Room. You can see the small red cars – which can each hold 30 pounds – in the central staff section of the Room.
  • The Library formerly used pneumatic tubes to send research requests to the storage area. While that system is no longer efficient, you can see the tubes behind the Bill Blass reference desk.
About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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