New York Public Library Celebrates Centennial with Free App and Access to Catalogs

The 1939-1940 World’s Fair is the topic of the first issue of a digital collection that is being offered free on the iPad from the New York Public Library.  Biblion: The Boundless Library, an app that will feature access to stacks upon stacks of stories and collections kept within the iconic doors of the famed 5th Avenue locale, was launched this week as part of the library’s centennial celebration.

The World of Tomorrow is an apt description of the World's Fair as well as the Biblion app from the NYPL

Available to users are much more than simply words. Photographs, original documents, and a variety of multimedia are on tap to access the past in the ways of the present. More ‘issues’ are to come, offering users who may not be able to visit New York City an opportunity to peruse through papers and paraphernalia

Undoubtedly it is an easier experience than sifting through shelves of information, with links and additional information at your fingertips. Still, like the newspaper itself, there is a tangibility component that is lost; a touch and feel and even smell that cannot be reproduced in the digital realm.

Yet, if you can’t get physically to the stacks, than this alternative is much better. “We think it could change the way people look at libraries—technology is not hurting us but enhancing us.” said Angela Montefinise, the library’s public-relations director.

It had to be by design that the library chose the World’s Fair as the topic of the first issue to hit the iPad, otherwise it’s a fortunate coincidence. In the annals of history, the World Fair is the perfect combination of nostalgic Americana and technological innovation to appeal to casual historians who live in the digital age. “Dawn of a New Day,” the slogan of the World’s Fair, long before the ad men of the 1950’s and media saturation of today, could be the mantra of the NYPL today, though in a much less serious manner.

There are more than a few parallels between life during the World’s Fair in 1939 and life today, and the hope I’m sure is that people will be able to connect and enjoy the stories while embracing the new application.

The video below from the New York Public Library further explains and illustrates how the app works.

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One component of the user interface of the Biblion app

Bill Baron of the Forbes Magazine blog, while excited like many others that this information is available to all, is displeased with the application itself. “Sub-content is keyed to an indecipherable colored grid and studded throughout the main entries in a way that annoyingly interrupts the flow of the narrative; controls are reduced to a cryptic array of unexplained symbols at top and bottom.” Still, however clunky the first edition of the library’s foray into the app world is, it has to be easier than moving throughout the stacks. Right?

“In the middle ages, the Greek word “biblion” applied to collections of fragments of ancient texts. Today, NYPL’s digital Biblion transforms texts—ancient and modern —into a new format for new generations of readers,” said Paul LeClerc, president of the N.Y.P.L.

One step at a time, Mr. LeClerc; let us revel in the future predictions of a past technology people before pointing out the irony of using a digital tablet to read ancient scrolls.