Education: A Library's Lure & Lore

There once was a girl named Mary.

The lions didn't roar when she walked

by the Library.

—Ogden Nash

Guarding the great white building on Fifth Avenue, the two stone lions that roar only at virgins are probably the friendliest beasts in the Manhattan jungle. Last week the New York Public Library was 50 years old and, it happily boasted, "used by more persons for more purposes than any other library in the world."

The nation's biggest public library is actually a private triumph—the work of three rich, generous New Yorkers who never saw the final result. In 1848 immigrant Fur Tycoon John Jacob Astor...

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