Central Library's Secret Room – Rochester, New York - Atlas Obscura

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Central Library's Secret Room

A room hidden behind a swinging shelf in the children's section. 


It is not unusual in the children’s section of a library for children to open books to find what secrets they hold. Opening shelves in search of secrets is a little less common, but it happens at the Central Library Building in Rochester, New York. The library’s secret room is not the first of its kind in the city. The library was previously housed across the street in the Rundel Memorial Library Building, which had its secret room until it was renovated. When the new building was constructed in the 1990s, it was considered unthinkable to not have a secret room. The new hidden portal has a wider door, to make it wheelchair accessible, though adults still have to duck to get in.

Just as it was in the Rundel building, the new secret room is a reading room filled with dolls. Now numbering over 200, the collection started as a school project overseen by its namesake, principal George W. Cooper. In 1934, Cooper’s school offered to exchange Shirley Temple dolls with schools and organizations in the 69 then-existing countries of the world for dolls dressed in each country’s native clothing. They received about 180 dolls made of various materials like wood and paper mache, often with hand-sewn garments.

The collection was donated to the library in 1940. As the world has grown, so has the collection. In addition to the doll collection, the secret room also has a quilt of “Rochester Images,” made by 4th and 5th-grade history students in the late ’90s. The room is used for events and, as intended, it is a catalyst that sparks inquisitive minds on a journey for hidden knowledge and buried secrets. Update as of August 2021: The secret room is temporarily closed for renovations, check with the library first before heading out.

Update as of April 2024: The room is open, but the doll collection has been relocated within the library.

Know Before You Go

On the second floor of the library in the children's section, there is a fully functioning bookshelf that swings open to reveal a secret room filled with an impressive collection of dolls from around the world.

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