NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair

I remember reading about the 1939-40 World’s Fair for a science project back in junior high school. It was history for me back then and seems like ancient history now, but it was significant for so many reasons. One of those reasons, to me at least, proved to be one of the most valuable, but first, a bit of background.

Ten years before the World’s Fair opened in New York City, the major economic powers imploded. The 1929 Stock Market Crash was a major event, but was just one of many events that lead to and caused a persistent economic upheaval that was felt for decades afterwards.

New York City, at that time, had a huge workforce, but few jobs. (Kind of like it is today) Large companies were struggling to keep their already reduced workforce employed, and those that had jobs had to make each penny count. It was a tough time for most, to add to the misery, a war was brewing in Europe and Asia.

The world needed a distraction, something that would galvanize the imagination of people all across the globe, giving birth to positive, productive, hopeful, and most of all, peaceful ideas.

There were many previous fairs and exhibitions, each held in various locations, and each following a basic theme. The 1939 New York World’s Fair focused on innovation as they might be used in the future. It was called “Building the World of Tomorrow” and it was a showcase of leading edge technologies that focused on how those technologies would affect the average Joe or Jane.

Television was new, telephones were tools of the rich, and commercial air travel, in the U.S. at least, was starting to move away from being a novelty towards being a viable industry. It was these and many other technologies that drew an estimated forty five million attendees during the Fair’s year long stint.

Building the World of Tomorrow was what inspired me and likely hordes of SciFi fans, scientists, astronauts, roboticists, computer wizards, writers, theologians, and so many more. The world of tomorrow held promise of a different, if not better life. It seemed that anything was possible. Indeed, after emerging from the previous ten years of economic gloom, and with the specter of global conflict looming, anything was possible.

The New York Public Library has a vast collection on a mind boggling variety of subjects, each collected into “stacks.” One of those stacks is the storehouse for everything the library has concerning the 1939-40 World’s Fair and there are literally thousands of fair-related materials available to the public. And now the library has digitized the contents of the 1939 World’s Fair and is presenting the results to the public in an app that is absolutely beautiful.


Biblion: The Boundless Library is a media reader that’s designed to give you a tour of the digitized data from the stacks, and the iPad app presents the first edition of a a new collection. The first issue is called NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair.

Biblion:World's Fair

It’s the interface that makes Biblion unique. The primary subject, in this case, the 1939-40 World’s Fair, is divided into headings. You’ll find an Introduction, Enter the World of Tomorrow, A Moment in Time, Beacon of Idealism, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Fashion, Food, and Famous Faces, and From the Stacks.

Biblion:World's Fair

The headings are presented as groups floating in a void. Touch one and it expands to reveal its contents. There are several subtopics under each heading, each containing stories and media. These you can move around via a ‘rolling carousel’, in fact, you can view the entire collection this way as well. In this view, you can also elect to see just the photos, documents, or any of the audio/visual presentations, or you can use the many links to other sources for more information. When you come into the app it will randomly pick and present a photo and a list of suggested headings for you to explore.

Biblion:World's Fair

Touch a subtopic and you are deposited at the topic’s beginning. Swipe to the left to move through the stories and pictures. There’s an index along the bottom of the screen that’ll let you move to a particular section quickly.

The stories are first rate, giving detail and anecdotes about a particular topic. Each photo comes with an index number and caption, and many even include whatever was written on the back of the photo(!).

Biblion:World's Fair

There are drawings, plans, interviews, and statistics of every phase of the Fair’s existence and information about the social, political, and economic climate of the the world at that time. The New York Public Library has done an amazing jobs in capturing this data and then presenting in a way that’s so totally immersive and fascinating.

The Library’s website says that this is the first issue of Biblion, and that other issues will, “…open up another of the Library’s collections, services, or programs by providing exclusive content in an innovative frame.” If future issues are like this one then we are in for a treat.

Biblion:World's Fair

I’m looking forward to the next issue. In the meantime, there is so much to see, read, and hear in NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair that it’ll take up all my free time for the next several weeks.

If you have an iPad then you MUST check out NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair. It’s fascinating. It’s fun. It’s free!

OK, that’s a wrap for this week. More free Fair info below with direct links.