NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair for iPad is a love letter to American history and culture, and a reminder of just how powerful a tool organized information can be. Even though the app covers only a sliver of the NYPL’s vast holdings, its capacious contents will not fail to impress readers. Using the app is as absorbing as a trip to any world class museum, without the travel. Most people would never access the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair’s manuscripts and archives without Biblion. Fortunately, Biblion: World’s Fair is just the beginning. The NYPL plans to offer future installments of Biblion: the Boundless Library that cover different Library collections, exhibitions, programs, or initiatives.
The app’s menu includes a variety of sections. I recommend beginning with the introduction, which explains how to use the Exhibition Wall homescreen. The Exhibition Wall organizes the app by broad themes, which include topics such as Enter the World of Tomorrow and A Moment in Time. As the reader moves through the text relevant primary source materials keep pace with the essay. Stop and zoom in on these amazing photos, letters, and newspaper clippings. Every story within the app has multiple exit points, so the user can move on to the next story in the section, or jump to a related area.
Biblion will create a different experience for every user, and each user is likely to uncover new and remarkable stories every time he opens the app. It would be impossible to view the entire contents in one sitting. NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair is available for download in the App Store for free.
I was drawn to the story of the Fair’s symbols: the Trylon, a 700-foot obelisk, and the Perisphere, a 200-foot globe, which, as shown by the Rube Goldberg cartoon on the left, were confusing to many citizens. By the second season of the fair, the futuristic geometry gave way to a more populist approach: the phrase “Hello Folks,” appeared throughout the fairgrounds and a new mascot was unveiled, Elmer — “a composite American, proud of his country, and happy to be visiting the World’s Fair for a good time.”
Here are screenshots of graphics that show how much the Fair’s promotional materials changed in the span of one year:
What I liked: Biblion gave me access to images and primary source information that I’d never see otherwise. I enjoyed the fashion and food sections of Biblion as well as the story of the Czech Pavilion.
What I didn’t like: Biblion was a bit overwhelming at times. It would have been very helpful to insert a bookmark or favorite spots in the app that I wanted to return to. There is currently no share function in the app, however, this should be available in future versions.
To buy or not to buy: Like all things associated with public libraries, the app is free. However, users may offer a donation, so the NYPL may continue to share more of its archival treasures. Even if you think you don’t care a whit about the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, Biblion is still worth a look. The app offers an extraordinary chance to glimpse what life was like at a moment in US history when the country was poised between the Great Depression and World War II.
- App Name: NYPL Biblion: World’s Fair
- Version Reviewed: 1.0
- Category: Education
- Developer: The New York Library Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations
- Price: Free