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What Price Freedom?, New York Public Library Centennial Celebration

New York, New York

New York Public Library_1

What Price Freedom was created in honor of the New York Public Library’s Centennial. Twenty important books and manuscripts, in which writers speak truth to power, were selected for display. Each writer selected challenged repression, intolerance, or rigid social mores at great personal risk.

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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.

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New York Public Library_4


The documents were displayed in a glass ark that emerged from the stack room of the Library. 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 and political figures.

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.

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During the opening of the 1996 session of the United Nations General Assembly, What Price Freedom was used by the United States government and then President William J. Clinton as a welcoming space for world leaders.

Year 1996

Size 4,000 square feet