Javitz laughed in the face of books’ preciousness as she tore out images to fill her collection, and perhaps it is in part due to her rebellious, visual-driven nature that she was so well-loved by artists. Andy Warhol once crafted her a holiday card with an image of children playing and the inscription “Happy December r j.”
Warhol frequented the collection often, and even found inspiration there for his iconic “Coca-Cola” paintings, having consulted the “Advertising – Soft Drinks” folder. He checked out an image and kept it until his death in 1987, when it was discovered among his belongings.
Today, the Picture Collection is cared for and replenished by the hands of four librarians and two assistants. One of them is Jay Vissers, who joined the NYPL nearly 30 years ago. When he was first hired to work at a branch in the Bronx, he was given a tour of the NYPL’s main departments, including the Picture Collection. “When I saw what was done in the Picture Collection and what it was, I wanted work there,” he recently recalled. With his mind made up, he patiently waited 10 years for a position to open up in the department; when it did, he got the job, and has been sourcing new images and assisting patrons ever since.
“One thing that’s interesting about working here is that when you put something in the Picture Collection, it’s probably going to stay there,” Vissers explained. “Most circulating libraries are like a fruit stand: They have to have bananas and oranges; it doesn’t matter which ones, as long as they have bananas and oranges. The books on the shelf will be different when you come back 20 years later. Whereas in the Picture Collection, you add things for good. You’re making something grow.”