A few years ago, I went on a fabulous book-related trip to New York City. I trekked all over town and went to every imaginable bookstore. But the best place I visited was the Central Children's Room at the Donnell Library Center, a branch of the New York Public Library.
First, it took me a little while to get there. I had heard for years that there was a wonderful flagship children's library in Manhattan. For some reason, although I researched every other part of my trip exhaustively, I never looked up where exactly this magical library was located. I just assumed that it was inside the 42nd street library, the famous one with the stone lions.
I don't remember exactly where my hotel was, but I think it was on 63nd Street or so. I trudged approximately 20 blocks to the 42nd street library and hauled myself up the steps and to the information desk. This was an adult research library, I was told. For the children's library, I had to go back to 53rd street (which I had just walked past). I retraced my steps ten blocks back, and finally found the Donnell Library Center.
By the time I arrived in the children's room, I was pretty tired... not just from my 30 block adventure, but from walking around New York City during the rest of my trip. I saw some stuffed animals in a glass case, and didn't think much of them. As I was walking past them, I saw an open guest book with notes and signatures. Clearly, a school visit had recently taken place, and the book was filled with notes from students. One said how much the visitor had liked the library's Winnie-the-Pooh toys.
Winnie-the-Pooh? Wait a minute. I knew that the original bear that Christopher Robin Milne had owned was currently residing in a library. But they were right here? In front of me? And I had WALKED past them? I spun around to look at the glass case again and my mouth fell open. There they were. A worn Pooh, a patched Eeyore, a cute Tigger, a tiny Roo, a white Rabbit and a stately Kanga.
Now fully awake with all earlier fatigue forgotten, I started to explore the amazing place I was in. I found a large rare book room, brimming with old and historic children's books... the kind of thing one would expect to find in a research library, not a public library. I finally dragged myself away (I had an appointment to get to) and hurriedly went through the other side of the children's room. I saw books that had just been published. I saw wonderful old classics. I saw an incredibly long row of Harry Potter books 1-5 (books 6 and 7 hadn't been published at the time)... stretching across a shelf. And, most importantly, I saw a room filled with parents, books, and kids. I had to leave all too soon. I said goodbye to Pooh and his friends and left... hoping I'd see them again.
It's been a few years and I haven't gotten back there yet. But this past November I read an article in the New York Times that the Donnell Library was sold to developers and a new hotel will be built on the site. The new building will feature a much smaller library... but the fate of the central children's room is currently up in the air.
If you live in New York or nearby, or are planning a trip in that direction, make sure you stop by this special place before it closes in May 2008.
This post is part of the Wizards Wireless series of library and bookstore profiles. If you'd be willing to write a post about a library with a great children's department or a terrific independent bookstore that specializes in children's books, I'd love to feature it on my blog. See this post for more details about my search for guest bloggers.