Thursday, January 10, 2008

Everyone's Private Palace

Oh! Those Majestic Lions

----"New York for Kids" Part 1 ----

With the Christmas season over, the long months of winter are a great time for indoor activities. In the next few weeks, Postcards from New York will feature a series of great places to visit and enjoy with your youngsters.


Dear Postcards From New York Reader,

It has been awhile since your last Postcard, so let me officially wish you "Happy New Year!"

Proud, regal, majestic, their luxurious manes ruffled by the wind, El Polter’s two lions, named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, stare down their noses at us beneath hooded eyelids. Like two elder statesmen, they stand guard at the marble stairway entrance to the city’s only palace, The New York Public Library (NYPL) at Fifth Avenue and 41st Street.

“What is this place?” asked Holly Golightly as her friend Paul led her up the stairs in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Then as now, NYPL is too often overlooked as a terrific place to spend an afternoon; particularly with kids from 5 years to teenages, it is met with an anticipation of boredom (just insist on taking them, someday they will thank you).

While one can only roam the splendid rooms of the Louvre or Buckingham Palace to admire the many works of art, you can actually use this palace. Return again and again as often as you like, because it is open seven days a week, and it's free!

Walk the wide marble halls and go up one of the two grand staircases in Astor Hall to the third floor Main Reading Room. Take a seat beneath the coffered painted ceiling, look up to the sky and clouds; then sit in a high-backed wood chair made smooth and comfortable from decades of wear and explore current or past newspapers, magazines, rare books, prints, hundred year old maps and any book that has ever been published.

NYPL features art, print, and photography exhibits throughout the year. Stop to look at the incredible Gutenberg Bible dated 1455, one of the very first printed books on display on the third floor. Check the reception desks in Astor Hall for daily library tours and plan to attend one of the many lectures given each week on topics such as, "Uncovering your roots", "Genealogy research" or "The history of baseball". Check here for schedule of times. Reservations are not required; just show up.

If you are a visitor and need to check your email, the library provides free Internet access in the Main Reading Room.

Now a few things kids can look up on the library's many computers to make the visit a memorable learning experience. My seven year old niece Chanel became more and more fascinated with words and spent hours on the Oxford Dictionary (OED) computer. If your youngster has trouble, encourage him/her to ask the librarians for assistance, they are readily available and always helpful.

  • Find three headlines on the front page of The New York Times on the day of your birth.

  • Find at least five books on a subject that interest you on the computer.

  • Find a book about a famous person. Fill out the book request form near the computer, submit the form to the book clerk, then wait for your number and pick up the book in the Main Reading Room.

  • Look up the word “daisy” on the Oxford English Dictionary computer. Where did it come from and when first used? Now, look up any word you would like to know more about.

  • Find out who said “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.”

  • In the Map Room on the first floor, find an 1800's map of New York City.

  • Apply for an access card to use books in the Library.

  • Have fun!

    Jacqueline Cable
    For Postcards from New York

    Address to Remember: New York Public Library, 476 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10138-0018, 212-930-0653, The Library offers a free monthly e-newsletter that will keep you informed about everything exciting that is happening at the library. Sign up at

    Directions: From Times Square. MTA 7 to 5th Avenue, Bus 42 or 104 to 5th Avenue.

    Photo by Joseph Knight

    ©Copyright 2007 The Cable Group