Literary Landmarks: Jefferson Market Library

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438124723_6ef05aa130_zLiterary Landmarks is a series that invites YPGers to visit a place of literary significance in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco.

What combines books, fashion shows, prison, labor union strikes, Gothic architecture, Greenwich Village history, and more? The Jefferson Market Library, of course.

Allow me to elaborate.

As I approach this NYPL branch in Greenwich Village, which is known to house a particularly extensive collection on the colorful history of the neighborhood, I immediately think, whoever is responsible for the photography of this building on the internet is under-qualified. Seriously, the photos online do not do it justice. Surrounded by mom & pop drug stores, coffee shops, and a Ricky’s (for all your beauty needs)—nothing taller than two stories—the Gothic behemoth positively looms over the neighborhood. I picture Dracula clinging to the side of the clock tower and the image really works for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, the clock tower and its gorgeous wraparound balcony are not open to the public. (This was my first question for the librarian, obviously—um, how do I get up there??) However, guests can climb up and enjoy what I’m sure is a heart-stopping view of the village and who knows how far beyond once a year during Open House New York, so mark your calendars for the second week of October.

That said, the inside of the building still makes you feel like you’re in Hogwarts, which is everything you could want from a library (if it’s not, you clearly don’t work in publishing so get out) and there are several tiny doors in the basement that 100% must lead to secret passageways. I heard it’s connected to the UN Headquarters, the New York Stock Exchange, and Diagon Alley underground. There’s also a “tiny art gallery” on the basement level, great study spaces, a spiral staircase, and stained glass windows that put St. Patrick’s Cathedral to shame (okay, not even close).

You should definitely check out the building’s history online, which I won’t restate here but just to pique your interest: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Strike, women’s prison, Mae West, Marianne Moore.

For the lowdown on the present day, I talked to the endlessly charming Library Manager Frank Collerius about the branch’s best events and programs, and what makes their collection unique. His favorite library perk? “Jefferson Market University,” where you can enroll in college courses taught by New School and NYU professors—the same courses they teach at their home universities—for FREE. They offer subjects from film to physics to foreign languages at all levels. Want to read Elena Ferrante in the original (no offense to the eminent translator Ann Goldstein, of course)? Frank had a patron tell him recently about starting in a beginner Italian course at the library and moving up so that he can now read whole novels in Italian.

In addition to various film and reading series, this NYPL branch holds other, perhaps more surprising events, such as the 12-hour fashion show that took place earlier this year. They selected eight finalist designers from numerous applications and turned the reading room into basically Project Runway’s studio, providing the contestants with fabric, sewing machines, supplies, and 11 hours to create their looks. For the last hour, “real women”—librarians!— modeled their outfits for the public on a runway constructed in the library, to be judged by a panel of fashion professors and bloggers for a cash prize.

In case I haven’t made myself clear, this is the coolest library ever.  Happy reading!

Fun: 4. Very cool events, obviously, and we all love books, obviously, but it’s still a library… it’s still, you know, quiet.

Cool Factor: 3. See above.

Affordability: 5. Free = self-explanatory.

NYC Experience: 5. The history and architecture can’t be beat—it’s a historic landmark thanks to the citizens of the Village in the 60s who saved it from being crushed and replaced by a glass apartment building. Naturally.

This article was contributed by YPG member Madeline Jones. For more information, visit our Contributing Writers page. Post photo credit: Wally Gobetz via Creative Commons.

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