Travel notes, reviews and useful tips

Libraries to Love: The New York Public Library

Don’t you just love libraries?

The New York Public Library under construction in 1908.

The New York Public Library main building under construction in 1908.

Growing Up in a Library

I grew up in the Philippines. I remember being in high school and going frequently to the local YMCA library after school. I loved perusing all the books and magazines. The librarian was a very nice, friendly young woman who treated everyone with kindness, including an insecure, pimply teenager. Sometimes I would stay until closing time reading old issues of the Readers’ Digest or National Geographic. Sometimes I would borrow a novel to take home.

When I entered college and left my little hometown for Manila, the university library was my favorite place on earth. I was always there. So much so, in fact, that when classmates wanted to find me, they’d come and walk around the library, find me somewhere and go “I thought you’d be here. Will you lend me your notes on Prof. X’s class?” Those were the days before every student had a mobile phone or paging device. I was in the library like clockwork.

University of the Philippines Main Library at night.

University of the Philippines Main Library at night. Photo courtesy of

Since my university had a nice campus, people would sometimes make films there. One time there was a movie crew doing what I would later learn was a coming-of-age film by some teenage “idol” actors. They roped off some parts of the library, which happened to be where I usually stayed. I needed to study for my exams, and was livid at being “kicked out” of what I felt was my property.

“Where is the director?” I growled at some poor make-up girl who happened to be standing nearby.

She immediately brought me her higher up, who listened patiently while I sputtered and spewed.

“How dare you make a stupid movie here before the midterm exams!” I barked hysterically.

Perhaps the director (or whoever she was) apologized in some way, but I don’t remember because I was so angry everything was white noise. I wanted to collar the entire crew and throw them out myself. That day I wrote a very angry letter to the school paper, which was published. The youth pastor at the church I attended saw the article and commented on it, but I don’t remember what he said as well, because even at that point I was still angry about the incident.

Modern Libraries in the Land of the Rising Sun

Nagoya University main library.

The Nagoya University main library. Photo courtesy of

And then I came to Nagoya, Japan to study. The university library there also became my place of refuge. There was a lounge area on the second floor, with expansive glass walls that faced the front garden. The best views were afforded by only a couple of chairs. I would go there between classes thinking “Is this my lucky day or not?”

Whenever I gave a tour of the university to some freshmen students, I would make sure to show them the ins and outs of my favorite place: the university library.

The Aichi Prefectural Library.

The Aichi Prefectural Library. Photo courtesy of

In Japan there are libraries everywhere, so I found another home away from home. It was the prefectural library, the largest in the area. Five shiny floors of library perfection. There was a restaurant (an affordable one at that) on the topmost floor, so even when it rained you could stay there all day. The best thing about it was that there were nice, comfy desks for studying. The tops were the mildly sloping type, with a bit of wood at the bottom to prevent the books from sliding off. I would go every weekend to this library and spend the entire day there (no, at that time there were no surf-all-you-want computers there with free internet connection. People went to the library to read, do research, and yes, nap). I would get booted out at closing time, where I would then take the subway home and stay up all night in front of the computer.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Library's central library. Photo courtesy of

After graduation, I moved to Tokyo to work for an IT company. I don’t remember ever finding a nice library to make into my second home there. I remember going to a few local ward libraries, as well as the bigger ones in the city center. But my weekdays and weekends were filled with work, work, work. When I wasn’t working, I was in my apartment sleeping. In fact, I would sometimes sleep over at the company office or lab when things were really busy, lining up chairs and trying to catch a few minutes of sleep before waking up early enough to go home, shower, and be at the office by 8:30 like everyone else. Going to the library to read during what little spare time I had was the last thing on my mind. After seven or so years with the company things became less busy, but the library-going part of my life was no longer there.

I Love You, New York (Public Library)

Still, when my husband and I had the chance to visit New York this year, I made sure that a visit to the main building of the New York Public Library was in our itinerary. Perhaps because I still believe that in order to learn more about a place, be it a learning institution or an entire city, one of the best places to go to is their local library. Not necessarily to borrow history books about the place, but just to be there and see what it looks like, learn how long it has been there, and see the locals coming in and out with their book bags.

We went to the main branch of the New York Public Library, called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in Midtown Manhattan. It was unabashed love at first sight for me. It was the most beautiful library I had ever seen. The place was imposing on the outside: all marble and sculptures and Corinthian columns. Inside the vastness and beauty of the classical interiors were absolutely awe-inspiring.

“This is a library? A real library?” I couldn’t get over it.

Completed in 1911, the building was the epitome of Beaux-Arts magnificence applied to public infrastructure. It was designed by the firm Carrere & Hastings, and won through open competition in 1897. John Carrere and Thomas Hastings met at the famed Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where they were trained in classical architecture. This Midtown Manhattan building is the crowning glory in what was to become a most illustrious portfolio.

It took five years to complete the building’s interiors. The result is an incredibly gorgeous library. Lovely, too, was the outside, including the stairs and surrounding Bryant Park. There was construction going on in the park so we weren’t able to enjoy it to the fullest. We did buy a salad lunch and ate in one of the outdoor tables in front of the library, just like the locals. The weather was a little chilly but the sun was out and there were people all around us: eating lunch, chatting, reading the paper, typing on their laptops. This place wasn’t just a library for lending books or research; it was a space for the community to use and enjoy on a daily basis.

There are varied reasons why people fall in love with New York City. Some say it’s going to Central Park on a sunshiny morning; for some it’s Broadway; for others it’s the museums par excellence and the vibrant art scene. I knew I was smitten when I encountered the New York Public Library’s main building. I knew at once that this library was a place I would love to “come home to” day after day.

Before Going

The Rose Main Reading Room.

The Rose Main Reading Room. Photo courtesy of

When planning a visit, be sure to check the official website to see if there are special events when the main building will be closed to the public.

What About You?

Do you have a favorite library? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section. Also, if you know the New York Public Library buildings well and have some tips for visitors, do share!

Books to Consider

External Links

New York Public Library – official site
PinoyExchange forum – source of University of the Philippines Main Library photograph.
Nagoya University page – source of Nagoya University Library photograph.
Manabinet Aichi – source of Aichi Prefectural Library photograph.
Shirokane Style – source of Tokyo Metropolitan Library photograph.
New York Public Library Wikipedia article – source of Rose Main Reading Room and circa 1908 construction photographs.
The Straight Dope: How did public libraries get started? – informative article on the origins of the American public library system.

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  1. noritan /

    I love libraries, too.

  2. LOL! That’s a hilarious incident at your college library! Obviously territorial instincts kicked in. “This is MY library. Hear me roar!” ROTFLMAO. Glad to hear you didn’t rip apart the film crew. You know, with your bare hands. 😀

  3. Some comments from Google Plus:

    G McElroy wrote:
    ” I do and always have loved libraries! Hours n hours of wonderful things to discover and learn! Taught myself music theory! How to read music, Taught myself to play piano, guitar, bass, and to program drum machines, how to do a dba, started a record company, a publishing company, and so much more all do to books and public libraries!! Love love love them!”

  4. Sharon /

    Hey, I never heard that story before! But I can just imagine you LOL.
    Yeah, libraries are awesome. I I loved the Brent Library in Baguio and the SIL library in Bagabag. And who can forget the YMCA? I probably ought to donate some books there…
    It’s too bad there are no nice libraries here in Quezon City that you can go to after you leave school.

    • I didn’t tell anyone… Kuya Caloy read the school paper and learned about it, though. In retrospect, I think I overreacted to the whole situation.

      Thanks for sharing your library faves! 😀

      I miss Ate Belen and the cozy Y library in Baguio.

      • I can’t believe I missed that letter! I used to read the Collegian from cover to cover. Anyway, it’s nice to be able to look at our younger selves and laugh.


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