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History of the 42nd Street Library: Architecture

Designing the Library

In 1892, the Library's first director held a competition to select the architects to design New York's new Central Library. Among the designers invited to submit plans to a closed phase of the design competition, the favorites were McKim, Mead & White, a well-established firm that had trained the competition's winners - John Carrère and Thomas Hastings - in the early 1880s. These sources document the competition:

Edward Laning WPA Murals

The Story of the Recorded Word, a set of four large arched panels by Edward Laning, was constructed as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) Project for the McGraw Rotunda of the Library from 1938 to 1942. Laning told the tale of the written word through each of the panels. Explore the materials listed below to learn more:

Restoring the 42nd Street Library

A three-year, $50 million project to clean and restore The New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building's exterior finished in the spring of 2011. Curious what this project looked like? Check out Restoration of the Schwarzman Building Exteriors, a video that takes you behind the scenes of this massive project.

Explore this interactive map to discover what the 42nd Street Library looked like in its early years, from the basement to the third level. The floorplans are sourced from the Central Building Guide. All photographs are from the Digital Collections and The Library in Pictures; Forty illustrations of the New York Public Library and its Activities.

Architectural Histories


Over 2,500,000 books were held in steel stacks on seven levels under the Rose Main Reading Room. Patrons submitted requests on call slips, and staff members inserted them in pneumatic tubes to the appropriate stack level. As the Library's collections grew and preservation technology advanced, the stacks were phased out as a long-term storage option and replaced by two Milstein Research Stacks beneath Bryant Park, as well as an offsite storage in New Jersey. Although the stacks can no longer preserve and store research materials, they remain an innovative architectural element that allowed the Library to store massive collections in midtown Manhattan.

NYPL Blog Post: