Library Visit: Bobst Library at NYU

Earlier this week I was walking around Willa Cather’s old neighborhood in Manhattan, The Village. Cather’s apartment was at 60 Washington Square South. She lived there from 1906-1909. The building is long gone and in its place are modern New York University (NYU) buildings.

NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library as seen from Washington Square Park (
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library viewed from Washington Square Park

When I saw that the building at 70 Washington Square South is a library, of course I couldn’t resist going in. The Elmer Holmes Bobst Library is considered the flagship library of NYU’s 10-library system. It’s a red sandstone building that faces Washington Square Park.

NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
The library is 12 stories high and 425,000 square feet. The humans provide some scale.

The Bobst Library opened on September 12, 1973. It was designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster.

NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
The torch of learning.
NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library ( Circulation
Looking towards circulation, which is to the left when you walk in.

I was pleasantly surprised by the interior’s metal design which creates warmth and an almost magical visual dimension. It also adds a playful light — as you glance around, sometimes it looks like lightening bugs or a rippling creek is in your peripheral vision.

This metal feature was not part of the original design and has tragic origins. It was added after a third student committed suicide by jumping to his death. The metal is a “digitally inspired veil” that was designed to make viewers think of digital pixels (source).

NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library statue of Bobst (

Elmer Holmes Bobst donated $11.5 million towards the library’s building. He made his money primarily in pharmaceuticals.

Floor - NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
The floor is like an Escher image. I couldn’t look down and walk at the same time.
NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library atrium (
Looking toward the front entry.
NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library - Reference Desk (
The Reference Department
NYU Press Display - NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
Some NYU Press titles on display.
Cather on the shelf - NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
On the 8th floor: Cather on the shelf! You know I had to scope out their holdings.
Cather close up - NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
Cather close-up.
8th floor North Reading Room - NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
Students at work in the North Reading Room on the 8th floor. They have a great view overlooking Washington Square Park and of the city beyond that.
Looking down from the 8th floor - NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
Looking down from the 8th floor.
NYU Elmer Holmes Bobst Library  (
Heading out.
Washington Square Arch (
The famous Washington Square arch as seen from inside the park.

I didn’t have too much time to browse around as I was meeting a friend for an early dinner, but it was a nice surprise to visit this academic library. This library is not open to the public but I was able to get a temporary pass from the information desk.

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
New York University
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY
Go Violets!


  1. When I studied in that library in the early 80s I loved the access to the stacks and the serendipity of exploring the collection. I also remember thinking that the way it was designed was just too tempting as a suicide spot. Or perhaps for the setting for a murder story. Did s/he jump or was s/he pushed? I didn’t know that there had actually been deaths there. How terrible. I’m glad they have found a way to prevent them without spoiling the airy sense of the open library. Your photographs make it look very attractive.

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