When you think of cool things to do in New York City, visiting the library isn’t usually at the top of the list. Let’s be real: How can three floors compete with the Statue of Liberty or even slightly less significant historical locations like a good dive bar?
But New York’s public libraries are like everything that’s great about the city all wrapped up together. So in honor of National Library Week, we’ve compiled a list of facts about the city’s public libraries that will make you finally sign up for that library card.
1. One-hundred Brooklyn librarians answered 3.5 million research questions in 2013.
You’d think the popularity and accessibility of search engines like Google would make research librarians obsolete, but not so: According to Brooklyn Public Library statistics, the number of questions being posed to librarians has risen 10 percent since last year. What’s impressive is not just the number of questions being asked, but the number of librarians handling all of Brooklyn (and likely other boroughs’) questions about New York history, genealogy and basically any other subject you can find a book about in the library. Having doubts about Brooklyn librarians’ success rates? You can ask them yourself how they did it.
2. Brooklyn public libraries lost over 70,000 books to thieves in 2012.
We’ve all done it: checked out that book about the history of birds in North America thinking it might be a fun way to spend the weekend, read 10 pages of it, then promptly forgot it on our nightstand for the next year and a half. Disappearing Brooklyn library books, however, are largely intentional thefts, with books being sold online or to used book stores within the area. Librarians reported that budget cuts which limited their staff made it more difficult for them to keep track of stolen books. Fortunately, Brooklyn libraries are constantly restocking their titles, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a copy of the latest fiction bestseller you’ve been dying to read. And for those who’ve ever been tempted to pocket library material, we instead recommend some of our favorite used book stores — TO BUY, NOT STEAL, FROM!
3. The New York Public Library created its own beer.
Alcohol and literature are one of everyone’s favorite duos, but booze and libraries are two things that don’t usually mix. In 2012, though, NYPL created “Fortitude’s Founding Father Brew” with Shmaltz Brewing company, using George Washington’s “small beer” recipe. Only a small amount was brewed, then served at a celebration in honor of the 42nd Street library’s 100th birthday, but you can find the original recipe yourself in the library’s collections or on its website.
4. You can watch porn at the library.
In December of 2013, Brooklyn Public Library installed a Websense internet filter and moved all their computers to public areas. Why, you ask? Before the internet filter, library patrons could easily access explicit content by simply clicking through a single warning. Watching porn in libraries is protected by the First Amendment, although viewing inappropriate content within 100 feet of a child is illegal. Although the filter has been helping Brooklyn libraries keep things PG, those without it say that some of their most frequent visitors are not dedicated readers, but library patrons with different motivations for getting their library cards.
5. There’s a secret branch of the New York Public Library in the subway.
The 51st Street 6 line subway station is home to the Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral branch of the New York Public Library. Librarians at the location report that they’re usually visited by the same partons, frequent commuters who are looking for something to read during their daily train ride. Like all New York librarians, though, they’re happy to answer research questions — usually about how to work the Metrocard machine. The library is currently closed for repairs, but you can visit it when it reopens in September if you need a good book for your ride home … or need to figure out how to get home.
6. The Brooklyn Public Library now has pie!
Just last month, Gowanus pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds opened a cafe in the Brooklyn Public Library. The Brooklyn Library Four and Twenty Blackbirds location serves the pastries that the original store is known for, as well as breakfast foods and coffee. No word yet on whether library visitors can expect to order literary-themed desserts (we recommend huckleberry pie), but either way, is there anything better than being able to dig in to a piece of pie while reading a copy of your favorite novel? If the library wasn’t your number one destination to take an OKCupid date before, it should be now.
7. There are 40 miles of library books underneath Bryant Park.
When you go ice skating at Bryant Park, you’re not just having fun in one of New York City’s favorite parks, you’re also skating on top of 1.5 million library books. The original library space was expanded in 1991 to make room for extra books and microfilm that couldn’t fit inside the main branch. The stacks aren’t usually accessible to the public, but can be visited upon request. So next time you’re lounging in Bryant Park, spending a day avoiding responsibilities, console yourself with the fact that you’re not just being lazy, you’re soaking up the knowledge just six feet beneath you.
8. The New York Public Library has starred in over 10 Hollywood movies.
The NYPL had a starring role alongside Tobey Maguire in 2002’s Spider Man, Jake Gyllenhaal in The Day After Tomorrow and Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, serving as a central location for the films’ events. One of the library’s lions also served as a character in The Wiz, coming to life and going along with Dorothy and Toto for their adventures, and who could forget Carrie’s tragic wedding day at the NYPL in Sex and the City (the most depressing thing to happen at a library since all the new copies of Harry Potter were checked out at the same time). When the library isn’t busy starring in feature films, it also takes on minor roles, like a very literary feature in Alice Cooper’s “Elected” music video.
9. The Brooklyn Public Library makes over a million dollars in overdue fines.
Of course, that money is used to make desperately needed repairs at the libraries that cost the city about $15 million annually, like fixing broken roofs and air conditioners. With a pretty slim fine rate, though — 25 cents a day for late adult literature and 10 cents for children’s books — the $1.6 million a year that the library rakes in seems like a lot. The late fee for DVDs is a steep $2 a day, so we recommend sticking to Netflix (and making a tax-deductible donation to your favorite library branch).
10. Former FBI agent Earl Edwin Pitts used the NYPL to meet with the KGB.
Pitts, who worked in the FBI New York office, passed information to the Russians for about five years in the late 1980s, often meeting in public places like the library to deliver confidential information. The FBI apprehended him in 1995 after concocting a story of a Christmas bonus Russian agents wanted to deliver to Pitts by asking him to meet them at the library. Pitts was convicted and now serves time at a Federal correctional facility in Kentucky. If you want to relive his adventure without the jail time, roam the library yourself and visit Room 228, where it all went down.
Do any of these crazy facts (besides the porn!) inspire you to spend more time at the library?
Are there any notable library stories that we’re missing? Does the library have a special significance to you that we missed? Most importantly: Have you gotten pie at the Brooklyn Public Library (and are you good at sharing)? Let us know below in the comments, and be sure to mention what you’re doing to celebrate library week, too.
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
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