Little Bits of History

Patience and Fortitude

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2010

The facade of the New York Public Library

May 23, 1911: The main Research Library of the New York City Library system, built on Fifth Avenue is dedicated in a ceremony presided over by President Taft. Samuel J. Tilden made a $2.4 million bequest to establish a public library in New York City. Prior to this, there were two reference libraries for the public, one established by John Jacob Astor and a second by James Lenox. Lenox Library was at the site of the current NYC main library.

The Sumerians were the first people we know of to set aside space for the gathering together of written material. They did so in the third millennium BC. The tradition was carried on throughout the Middle East. They not only gave a space for storage of written material, but devised a way to store it for easy access and retrieval – an early Dewey Decimal System. The ancient Greeks and Romans spread libraries throughout Europe. With the invention of the printing press with movable type, mass production of books became more feasible. Cheap paper and ink helped move the process along.

“Libraries are the memory of humankind, irreplaceable repositories of documents of human thought and action,” claims the New York Public Library’s website. There are many famous book repositories such as the Oxford Bodleian Library, the Bibliothèque, the British Library, and the Library of Congress. Libraries are open to the curious, those who seek to learn. The New York Public Library has four major areas of The Research Libraries as well as branch libraries giving more people access to the books. There are two majestic marble lions guarding the portal to the main library. They were carved out of Tennessee marble and their names are Patience and Fortitude, well they are called that today. They have had many names over the decades, but have held these monikers since the 1930s.

Today, NYC Library has 86 branches with five central circulating libraries. Queens and Brooklyn have their own libraries, too. Nearly 2 million New Yorkers hold library cards for the research and branch libraries. They have 49 million pieces in their collections including a Gutenberg Bible and Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton. The yearly operating budget is nearly $300 million.

“The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.” – Carl T. Rowan

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” – Ray Bradbury

“It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it as the founding of a public library.” – Andrew Carnegie

“How little our libraries cost us as compared with our liquor cellars.” – John Lubbock

Also on this day:
In 1701,
William Kidd was hanged for piracy.
In 1785, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter claiming he invented bifocals.