The New York Public Library is encouraging bookworms to pass around 25,000 free copies of a new paperback it will distribute in subway stations, on park benches and in other public places.

The book celebrates the library’s vast collection — and patrons — by featuring a diverse group of celebrities, including Stephen Colbert, the Harlem Globetrotters and Yoko Ono, posing with or discussing their favorite library treasure. Its distribution is part of the library’s centennial celebration.

Starting May 19, the limited-edition paperback, “Know The Past, Find The Future,” will be dropped off at park benches and in five subway stations: Grand Central, Times Square, Columbus Circle, Bryant Park and Union Square. Copies will also be distributed in front of the landmark Fifth Avenue library building and all its branches, as well as in some bookstores.

A note inserted in the book will instruct readers to leave it in another part of the city for someone else to enjoy when they’re finished.

Colbert selected to highlight a group of J.D. Salinger letters, while Ono chose a book edited and published by composer John Cage.

The Harlem Globetrotters are pictured holding up globes in the library’s map room, and the Radio City Rockettes are photographed striking a pose in its ornate reading room.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of 100 luminaries who submitted essays for the book, chose to highlight “Johnny Tremain,” a children’s story by Esther Forbes about Paul Revere and a daring teenager messenger he said he read a hundred times growing up.

Like the character, Bloomberg writes, it taught him to “stand up for what is right, and make a difference in the world.”

Paul LeClerc, the library’s president, said the paperback “embodies the thrill of discovery happening every day, in every room at the library.”

Poet and essayist Anne Carson is pictured holding up a booklet with a poem by William Wordsworth that fits in the palm of her hands.

“The Little Maid and the Gentleman, or, We are Seven,” written in 1798, contains woodcut illustrations of trees, ships and coffins that “are astonishingly simple and beautiful,” she says.

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter focuses on the library’s collection of 40,000 menus, many produced during the golden ages of typography and illustration. He highlights a charming children’s mid-20th century menu for the New Haven Railroad that is die-cut in the shape of a circus elephant and allows “its small diners to order by jungle animal,” he writes.

Singer Rosanne Cash talks about being thrilled to find “in my library, my New York, my home,” her mother’s ancestors on a passenger list of 18th-century ships and to be able to hold the original copy of Walt Whiteman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

A voucher valued at $400 for 25 Penguin Classics books will be hidden in eight copies of the book.

An online version will be available in about a month.

The library’s official celebration of the 100th year of its Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue begins May 20.


Starting Thursday, May 19, NYPL will distribute FREE copies of the book Know the Past, Find the Future, published by Penguin Classics, to celebrate the 100th anniversary its iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42 Street.

How You Can Get a Free Copy

2,500 copies of Know the Past, Find the Future will be distributed on Thursday, May 19 starting at 10 a.m. at the MTA subway stations Times Square, Grand Central, Bryant Park, Herald Square, and Union Square. Additional copies are available at all 90 NYPL locatations.

Stop by pick up a copy, read it, and, in the spirit of library borrowing, pass it on to a friend when you are finished.

Join Jay Walder, Chairman, Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Paul LeClerc, President, The New York Public Library; and Kathryn Court, President and Publisher, Penguin Books invite you to …


With readings by Martha Plimpton, Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding), and Colum McCann.

Special guest appearance by the Harlem Globetrotters!

Vanderbilt Hall
Grand Central Terminal 6–8 p.m.

What the Book is About

NYPL’s Centennial book Know the Past, Find the Future, features 100 icons from New York City and around the world who write about their favorite item from the Library’s vast collections, ranging from the Declaration of Independence to the Hunt-Lenox globe and the original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed bear to the J.D. Salinger letters. The luminaries include artist Yoko Ono, NFL player Justin Tuck, comedian Stephen Colbert, architect Maya Lin, writer Jonathan Franzen, soprano Renée Fleming, humorist Roy Blunt, Jr., actor and author John Lithgow, choreographer Bill T. Jones, selected NYPL curators, and many others. Find out who else contributed to Know the Past, Find the Future.

More info: New York Public Library

Graydon Carter, Zadie Smith, Lou Reed, Jonathan Franzen

Humorist Roy Blount Jr. ponders the original Winnie-the-Pooh.

Choreographer Bill T. Jones listens to Jesse Fuller’s, “San Francisco Bay Blues.”

Actress Mary Louise Parker explores “The Wild Swans at Coole” by William Butler Yeats.

Photos: Beowulf Sheehan

Who’s in the Book

Laurie Anderson
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Reza Aslan
William F. Baker
Ishmael Beah
Samantha Bee
Michael R. Bloomberg
Roy Blount Jr.
Eric Bogosian
George Boziwick
Karen Burke
Ian Buruma
Gabriel Byrne
Hannah Cabell
Peter Carey
Anne Carson
Charles Carter
Graydon Carter
Rosanne Cash
Ron Chernow
David Christie
Stephen Colbert
Katherine Cordes
Kathryn Court
Elizabeth C. Denlinger
Kiran Desai
Jim Dine
Nathan Englander
Will Eno
Rebecca Federman
James Fenton
Rebecca Filner
Renée Fleming
Jonathan Franzen
Meredith Friedman
Jonathan Galassi
Anne Garner
Isaac Gewirtz
Margaret Glover
Barbara Goldsmith
Alvaro Gonzalez-Lazo
Adam Gopnik
Annette Gordon-Reed
Philip Gourevitch
Vartan Gregorian
The Harlem Globetrotters
Blake Hazard
Jonathan Hiam
A.M. Homes
Siri Hustvedt
Michael Inman
Uzodinma Iweala
Bill T. Jones
Sharon Jones
Michael Kimmelman
Lithgow David
Lowe Larissa
Zarela Martinez
Colum McCann
Patrick McGrath
Mark Morris
Yoko Ono
Eric Owens
Orhan Pamuk
Mary Louise Parker
Caryl Phillips
Jessica Pigza
Darryl Pinckney
Stephen Pinson
Martha Plimpton
José Manuel Prieto
Francine Prose
Annie Proulx
Lisa Randall
Lou Reed
David Remnick
Frank Rich
Josh Ritter
The Rockettes
Philip Roth
Oliver Sacks
Robert Silvers
Zadie Smith
St. Vincent
Wesley Stace
Vicki Steele
Tom Stoppard
Elizabeth Streb
Colm Tóibín
Calvin Trillin
The Tuck Family
Neil deGrasseTyson
Vampire Weekend
Harold Varmus
Madeleine Viljoen
Sarah Vowell
WABC-TV Eyewitness News Team
Diana Williams
Sade Baderinwa
Bill Ritter
Liz Cho
Lori Stokes
Ken Rosato
Jay Walder
Matt Knutzen
Robert Kosovsky
Nick Laird
Thomas G. Lannon
Imam Khalid Latif
Fran Lebowitz
Paul LeClerc
Maya Lin Maira
Liriano John