New York Public Library Centennial Exhibition

New York, New York

In honor of the New York Public Library’s centennial, 20 books and manuscripts, in which writers speak truth to power, were selected for display. Each writer challenged repression, intolerance, or rigid social mores at great personal risk.

Included in What Price Freedom were Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten manuscript of the Declaration of Independence, given to a pony-express rider in the knowledge that if it was discovered, his life and wealth would be jeopardized; the 1989 faxed handbill, distributed by Chinese students, calling for an anti-government hunger strike in Tiananmen Square; Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address; Nelson Mandela’s 1985 refusal to endorse the South African government in exchange for his release; a rare recording by Mahatma Gandhi; and works by Galileo and Vaclav Havel that led directly to their incarceration.

The documents were displayed in a glass ark that emerged from the stack room into Gottesman Hall. Visitors could view the manuscripts from outside the ark, which symbolized the library’s commitment to rescuing, preserving, and carrying objects into the future as a record of our civilization. Supporting the written texts were videotaped interviews with contemporary cultural figures such as Terry Anderson, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Arthur Miller, and Calvin Trillin.

Six months after it opened, the exhibition was renamed The Global Library and the ark was transformed. Visitors could now enter it and use computer terminals that linked the NYPL with state-of-the-art information-retrieval systems in London, Paris, and Berlin.

During the opening of the 1996 session of the United Nations General Assembly, What Price Freedom was used by President Clinton as the welcoming space for world leaders.

Year:
1996
Client:
New York Public Library
Size:

4,000 square feet

Awards:
  • Industrial Designers Society of America, Bronze Industrial Design Excellence Award for Museum Exhibits and Set Design

  • Graphis Design Annual, Book Design 2

© 2014, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Inc.