NYPL Celebrates 100 Years With Literary Artifacts Exhibit

By Ben Fractenberg on May 10, 2011 4:59pm 

By Ben Fractenberg

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — Ever wanted to go to an exhibit were you could see items such as Jack Kerouac's glasses or a cat's paw letter opener owned by Charles Dickens?

The New York Public Library is opening a show on May 14 showcasing more than 250 diverse artifacts from its collection at its main branch on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

"For the last 100 years, curators at The New York Public Library have used their tastes and talents to build one of the world's most renowned research collections, item by item, day by day," said NYPL President Paul LeClerc in a statement. "Each of the 250 items selected is not only individually compelling, but shown together, [they] tell the story of the world around us, and how it has changed over time."

The exhibit features items spanning thousands of years of human history. Literary artifacts belonging to the likes of William Shakespeare and Jorge Luis Borges will be shown alongside 4,300-year-old Sumerian cuneiform, which are among the earliest known writings in the world.

"[The exhibit shows] a breadth of vision in which all knowledge is considered worthy of preservation has allowed the library to function as nothing less than the memory bank of humanity," curator Thomas Mellins said.

The artifacts are divided into four sections: Observation, Contemplation, Society and Creativity. Items in each section are juxtaposed to show the vastness of human history shown in the exhibit.

A draft of the Declaration of Independence, for example, will be placed next to a pamphlet produced by one of the first gay rights organizations.

In an unintended juxtaposition, the exhibit is opening while the library faces drastic budget cuts.

"Even as we celebrate the Library's Centennial, we find ourselves facing the harshest budget cut in its 100-year history — $40 million — if the proposed City budget is ratified," said the library in a statement. "Some neighborhood libraries could disappear altogether while others would be open just four days a week."

The exhibit is free to the public and runs through the end of the year. For more information, visit www.nypl.org/findthefuture/100.

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