I’ve wanted to visit the library on 42nd Street ever since the map room was renovated. I finally got a chance to stop by one Saturday. Past the security guard and to your right in Room 117 is the Lionel and Princess Firyal Map Division. The entire library is already quiet, but walking in the map room is a completely different experience. It doesn’t feel stuffy inside even though the room holds some 400,000 maps and at least 16,000 atlases, books, periodicals and CDs about carthography. The New York City collection alone consists of maps from the 16th century. Maps cataloged after 1970 are all accessible via the library’s online CATNYP.
From a Henry Hope Reed book, I got the architectural details of the map room. The doorway is made of blue gray Fermosa marble from Germany while the perimeter of the floor is made of dark cream Hauteville with an inner band of Red Champlain ‘Oriental Variety’ from Vermont. The heavily-trafficked areas of the floor are made up of red Welsh quarry tiles. I have to admit that I didn’t even notice the doorway and the floor until I started reading about the room’s details because as soon as you walk in, the paneling strikes you. Eight patterns repeat in French walnut: satyrs, cherubs, lion heads, dog heads, birds, sphinxes, cornucopia and acanthus. The lowered plastered ceiling hides two east-west beams which allows for the six semi-domes around the edges of the map room. There are PL letters in gold on the domes for, what else, Public Library. The chandeliers are bronze with ornaments of acanthus, bayleaf wreaths with ribbons, bearded lions and carved scrollworks. There are shelves that hold a lot of books, but the long walnut tables dominate. The trestle tables are on pedestals decorated with the arms of the city of New York. The bases end in dolphin heads and rest on blocks of Verde Antique marble. Every little bit of detail is impressive. The librarian allowed me to take photographs as long as I kept my flash off.
The New York Public Library is open everyday except Sunday from 11am to 6pm; Tuesdays and Wednesdays until 7:30pm.
Map Room photos on Flickr