President William Howard Taft presided over the dedication of the New York Public Library, “the largest marble structure ever constructed in the United States,” on 23 May 1911.
Although not one of the Carnegie Libraries, it was conceived during that public library boon (1883 – 1929). Andrew Carnegie, who made his money in steel, built 1,795 libraries were in the US.
Instead, the New York Public Library was a marriage of convenience between two private libraries, facilitated by the estate of New York Gov. Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886). When he died, Tilden “bequeathed the bulk of his fortune — about $2.4 million — to ‘establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York’.”
There aren’t many truly public places left in America. Most of our shared spaces require money or a certain social status to access. Malls exist to sell people things. Museums discourage loiterers. Coffee shops expect patrons to purchase a drink or snack if they want to enjoy the premises.
One place, though, remains open to everybody. The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that includes books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.