The original Reading Room began in August of 1935 as a public response to the Depression Era job losses in New York. Many people did not have anywhere to go during the day, and no prospects for jobs. The New York Public Library opened the 'Open Air Library' to give these out-of-work businessmen and intellectuals a place to go where they did not need money, a valid address, a library card, or any identification to enjoy the reading materials.
The 1935 Reading Room consisted of several benches, a few book and magazine cases, and a table with a beach umbrella for the five librarians who ran it. It operated every day except Sunday from mid-morning until mid-evening. Most of the books were from the New York Public Library’s circulation, but all magazines and trade publications were donated by publishers or individuals. When it rained the books and periodicals were quickly put in a large water-proof chest and readers and librarians took cover. No cards were required – patrons were simply asked to sign in and out. The Reading Room was closed in 1944 due to an increase in jobs and World War II.
The Bryant Park Corporation has repeated history by recreating the Bryant Park Reading Room. It is modeled after the original with the additions of custom-designed carts for an extensive and eclectic selection of books, periodicals and newspapers; readings and programs at lunchtime, after work and for kids; movable furniture to create a more intimate environment; and kid-sized carts and furniture for children to use. The programming, publications, and environment of the Reading Room are available to everyone for free, without any need of cards or identification.