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The New York Public Library continues to amaze us.

The New York Times ran an article recently – Secret of the Stacks.  The library encompasses four major research libraries and 87 branches, with a total of 20 million books, 50 million cataloged items and a growing demand in this recession for loaner laptops and other free services. Only the Library of Congress and the British Library are larger. But even the Fifth Avenue landmark by itself is a marvel of big numbers. It is undergoing a $1.2 billion makeover in preparation for its 100th birthday. Built from 1899 to 1911, it cost $9 million, contains 530,000 cubic feet of white Vermont marble and 125 miles of shelving, and opened with an inventory of one million items.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library Inquiry Desk 1923

It highlights unique and unknown facts about the library:

  • Most Faithful Customer : Norbert Pearlroth, the head researcher for “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” visited the library almost daily. Although he wrote about the incredible, his own routine was anything but: He sat at the same table for 52 years, from 1923 to 1975.
  • Menu collection : The library has 40,000 restaurant menus, the world’s largest collection, dating from the 1850s to the present. It is heavily used by chefs, novelists and researchers; a few years ago, a marine biologist consulted menus from the early 1900s for a study of fish populations.
  • Curiosities : The most bizarre item, not counting those skull fragments from Percy Bysshe Shelley in Room 319, has to be Charles Dickens’s favorite letter-opener. The shaft is ivory, but the handle is the embalmed paw of his beloved cat, Bob, toenails and all.

The library has a great collection of images on Flickr and most images have no known copyright restrictions. 1,300 photographs in all and cover various events and subjects. It is part of the Commons on Flickr which is described as the world’s public photo collection. This collection is useful for research, history and browsing.  There are many of libraries and museums that are contributing to the project as well.

Paradise Lost

The collection also includes books that are notable not because of what they're about or when they were made, but because of who owned them. This copy of Milton's Paradise Lost was owned by William Wordsworth, as his signature at the top right indicates. (Gothamist)

At a time when we learned the budget crisis might make the  New York Library a victim, we find this little gem of a collection. The rare book collection is a priceless collection of rare books unique and there are 130,000 books in the collection.

The collections include the first book published in North America and books owned by famous authors. The books go back hundreds of years and they are physical witnesses to history.

To view the collection you must be registered as a researcher (which is just registering in the rare books room) and the collection can be viewed online.

If you live in New York, visiting or just simply love books – this is one of New York’s finest.

Via Gothmist