The New York Public Library
Rose Main Reading Room
New York, NY

The New York Public Library’s monumental reading room, one of the largest uncolumned rooms in the nation, was conceived in 1911 by the library’s first director, Dr. John Shaw Billings. To maximize light and air, Billings placed the room on the top floor of the building directly above eight levels of book stack storage. Over the years, the original space for readers diminished as other functions such as copy services, microforms and card stack storage encroached on reader space. Layers of dirt, water damage, and heavy usage left the reading room looking makeshift and tired. In addition, the Library faced an increasing demand for access to electronic information.

The Rose Main Reading Room Restoration, a centerpiece of the Library’s Master Plan, returns the historic room to its former function and grandeur. Envisioning themselves as the eyes of the original architects, Davis Brody Bond’ team of restoration architects adapted the room to maximize efficiency of library service while carefully maintaining its historic and aesthetic integrity.

The Library prides itself on its unparalleled public access to its renowned collection and electronic resources. Improvements provided by the Restoration include expanded capacity, new electronic resources, faster and more reliable book delivery, a multimedia viewing area, a self-service copy center, improved access for readers with disabilities and a reorganized open-shelf reference collection. Thirty of 42 original historic tables were meticulously restored and adapted to allow most user stations to access data and power for library equipment and personal laptops. 

Rose Main Reading Room during restoration

Rose Main Reading Room during restoration

Rose Main Reading Room during restoration

Rose Main Reading Room during restoration

Rendering of Main Reading Room by Vernon Howe Bailey, 1909

Rendering of Main Reading Room by Vernon Howe Bailey, 1909