Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Secret Library in the NY Public Library System

Tucked away below street level in midtown Manhattan is the Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Library. Its size - 2,100 square feet - makes it the second smallest library in the New York Public Library system. (The Macombs Bridge Library, inside the Harlem River Houses, is the smallest, at 700 square feet.) Its subterranean location almost makes it a secret. The commuters who pass by its shadowy entrance while going to and from the adjacent subway station seem to be the only city dwellers who know about it.

The below-ground entrance to the Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Library.
Image via Michael L./Yelp.com

"If you don't take the train, you'd probably never even know this places exists," said commuter Eric Velasquez, who exits the No. 6 subway station at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 50th Street. A MetroCard machine is near the library's doors, so many people assume that the library is actually a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) outpost. "They come in asking for help with the MetroCard machine," branch manager Anisha Huffman told the New York Times. "We do help them if we're not too busy, and they also ask us for subway maps, so we keep a lot of them on hand."

The Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Branch started out as a library for the Archdiocese of New York, back in 1887. The New York Public Library took over the space and opened this branch in 1992. Considering its unusual location and its small size, this branch does get a surprising amount of foot traffic, especially during afternoon lunch hours and in the evenings. But it's not really a destination for research, Huffman told the Times. "Mostly, patrons don't come here for serious research. A lot of them are looking to head home with books for their children or looking for leisure books," she said.

Its location is a definite plus for commuters like Velasquez. "It's second nature to return the book," he explained, "because you can't help but pass the library every morning and evening when you're getting the train." And the practically secretive nature of the location gives it a club-like feel, which is a bonus for Melissa Britt, another commuter. "You see the same people all the time," she said. "You can't find this place unless someone tells you about it." Fellow book and library lovers, the secret is now out!

To read more about the Terence Cardinal Cooke-Cathedral Branch of the New York Public Library, check out the New York Times profile of it HERE. (All above quotes are from the Times article.)

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