NYPL New York Public Library

The New York Public Library

For information on the main branch at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, also often referred to as the New York Public Library, see The Main Branch of the New York Public Library .

The New York Public Library ( NYPL ) is the public library system in New York . With nearly 53 million items and 92 branches, the New York Public Library is the second-largest public library in the United States (after the Library of Congress ) and the fourth-largest in the world . It is a private, non-governmental, independently managed non-profit corporation, operating with both private and public funding.

The library has branches in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island boroughs, and is affiliated with academic and professional libraries in the New York metropolitan area. The other two boroughs of the city, Brooklyn and Queens, are not served by the New York City Public Library system, but by their respective borough library systems: Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library . Branch libraries are open to the general public and consist of circulating libraries . The New York Public Library also has four research libraries that are also open to the public.

The library, officially leased , as The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations , was developed in the 19th -m century, founded from a merger of grassroots libraries and public libraries of book lovers and the wealthy, relying on the philanthropy of the wealthiest Americans of their age.

The name “New York Public Library” may also refer to its main branch , which is easily recognized by the statues of lions with the names Patience and Fortitude on either side of the entrance. The branch was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and recognized as a New York City Landmark in 1967.




New York Public Library Main branch at the end of stage construction in 1908, lion statue not yet installed at the entrance

At the request of Joseph Cogswell , John Jacob Astor placed a notation in his will bequeathing $400,000 (the equivalent of $12 million in 2020) to establish a public library. After Astor’s death in 1848, a formed board of trustees complied with the terms of his will and built the Astor Library in 1854 in the East Village . The library established was a free reference library; his books were not allowed to be distributed. By 1872, Astor’s library was described in a New York Times editorial as “a chief reference and research resource,” but “it is certainly not popular, and it so badly lacks the essentials of a public library that its stores might as well be under lock and key, since they could be accessed by any mass of people.”

The New York State Legislature incorporated the Lenox Library in 1870. The library was built on Fifth Avenue, between 70th and 71st Streets, in 1877. Bibliophile and philanthropist James Lenox donated a vast collection of his Americana, works of art, manuscripts, and rare books, including the first Gutenberg Bible in the New World. In the beginning, the library charged an admission fee and did not allow physical access to any literary items.

Former New York governor and presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden believed a citywide library was needed, and upon his death in 1886 bequeathed most of his fortune-about $2.4 million (the equivalent of $69 million in 2020). “To establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.” That money remained untouched in a trust for several years until John Bigelow, a New York attorney, and Andrew Hasswell Green, both trustees of the Tilden fortune, came up with the idea of consolidating the city’s two largest libraries.

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Both the Astor and Lenox libraries were struggling financially. Although New York City already had many libraries in the 19th century, almost all were privately funded and many charged for admission or use (a notable exception was Cooper Union, which opened its free reading room to the public in 1859). Bigelow, the most prominent proponent of the plan to merge the two libraries, found support in Lewis Cass Ledyard, a member of the Tilden Council, as well as John Cadwalader of the Astor Council. Eventually, John Stuart Kennedy, president of the Lenox Board, also supported the plan. On May 23, 1895, Bigelow, Cadwalader, and George L. Reeves agreed to create the “New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. The plan was hailed as an example of private charity for the public good. On December 11, John Shaw Billings was appointed the first director of the library. The newly created library merged with the Mass Free Library of New York in February 1901.

In March, Andrew Carnegie tentatively agreed to donate $5.2 million (the equivalent of $162 million in 2020) to build sixty-five branch libraries in the city with the requirement that they be operated and maintained by the City of New York. The pre-consolidation Brooklyn and Queens public library systems declined the grants offered them and did not join the NYPL system; they felt they would not receive the same treatment as Manhattan and the Bronx. Later in 1901, Carnegie formally signed a contract with the City of New York to give its endowment to the city so that it could justify buying land to build branch libraries. The NYPL Board of Trustees hired consultants for planning and accepted their recommendation to hire a limited number of architectural firms to build the Carnegie libraries: this would ensure uniformity of appearance and minimize costs. The trustees hired McKim, Mead and White , Carrer and Hastings, and Walter Cook to design all the branch libraries.

Designing the collection

The famous New York writer Washington Irving was a close friend of Astor’s for decades and helped the philanthropist in designing the Astor Library. Irving served as president of the library’s board of trustees from 1848 until his death in 1859, shaping the library’s collection policy with his strong sensitivity to European intellectual life. The library subsequently hired nationally renowned experts to guide its collection policy; they reported directly to directors John Shaw Billings (who also developed the National Medical Library ), Edwin H. Anderson , Harry M. Lidenberg , Franklin F. Hopper , Ralph A. Beals , and Edward Frichefer (1954-1970). They emphasized competence, objectivity, and a very wide range of expertise throughout the world in acquiring, preserving, organizing, and making available to the public nearly 12 million books and 26.5 million additional items. The directors, in turn, reported to an elite board of trustees, mostly elderly, well-educated, philanthropic, predominantly Protestant white upper-class men in leadership positions in American society. They saw their role as protecting the library’s autonomy from politicians and giving it status, resources, and prudent care.

A prime example of many of the board’s decisions was the 1931 purchase of the private library of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909), uncle of the last tsar . It was one of the largest acquisitions of Russian books and photographic materials; at the time, the Soviet government had a policy of selling its cultural collections abroad for gold.

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The military made extensive use of the library’s maps and book collections from the world wars, including hiring personnel. For example, Walter Ristow, head of the maps division, was appointed head of the geographical division of the War Department’s New York Office of Military Intelligence from 1942 to 1945. Ristow and his staff discovered, copied, and loaned thousands of strategic, rare, or unique maps. military departments in need of information not available from other sources.

Research Libraries

Main Branch Building

The organizers of the New York Public Library, wanting an imposing main branch, chose a central location on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, at the top of Croton Reservoir . Dr. John Shaw Billings , the library’s first director, created the initial design that became the basis of the new building, which included a huge reading room on seven floors of bookcases, combined with a system designed to place books. in the hands of library users as quickly as possible. The architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings built the building in the Beaux-Arts style, and it opened on May 23, 1911. It was the largest marble structure at that time in the United States.

The library’s historic seal, created by sculptor Victor David Brenner in 1909, best known as the creator of the Lincoln penny . A seated personification of wisdom, though rarely used, appears on the plaques on several branches.

These two stone lions guarding the entrance were sculpted by EC Potter and carved by Piccirilli Brothers. Its main reading room at the time was the largest of its kind in the world, 77 feet (23 m) wide, 295 feet (90 m) long, with ceilings 50 feet (15 m) high. Expansion in the 1970s and 1980s added storage space under Bryant Park, directly west of the library. Between 2007 and 2011, the building underwent a $100 million capital restoration bailed out by philanthropist Stephen A. Schwartzman, after whom the branch was later renamed. Today, the branch’s main reading room is equipped with computers with access to library collections and the Internet, as well as a laptop docking station. The Fellows Program provides reserved rooms for writers and scholars chosen annually, and many have done important research and writing in the library.

The main branch also has several historic designations. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, submitted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and designated a New York Landmark in 1967.The Main Reading Room was separately made a New York Landmark designation in 2017.

Other areas of research

In the 1990s, the New York Public Library decided to move the science, technology, and business portions of its research collection to a new location. The library purchased and adapted the former B. Altman & Company building on 34th Street . In 1995, the $100 million Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of Manhattan, opened to the public on the library’s 100th anniversary. After the creation of SIBL, the central science library on 42nd Street was renamed the Library of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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Today there are four research libraries that make up the NYPL Research Library System; together they contain about 44 million items. The total number of items, including branch library collections, is 50.6 million . The 42nd Street Library for the Humanities and Social Sciences continues to be the heart of the NYPL research library system. With some 2 million volumes and 60,000 periodicals, SIBL is the nation’s largest public library devoted exclusively to science and business. NYPL’s other two research libraries are the Schomburg Center for Black Studies and Culture, located on 135th Street. Schomburg, located at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, located at Lincoln Center. In addition to their reference collections, the Performing Arts Library and SIBL also have circulating components that are administered as regular branch libraries.

Recent history

Recto of a 16th-century sheet music manuscript found on the front of Drexel 4180 , a manuscript in the Music Department of the New York Public Library.

The New York Public Library was not created by state law. From the beginning, the library was formed through a partnership between city government and private philanthropy. As of 2010, research libraries in the system are largely privately funded, and branch or circulating libraries are primarily funded by the city government. Prior to 2009, the research and branch libraries operated almost entirely as separate systems, but this year the various operations were merged. By early 2010, NYPL staffing had been reduced by about 16 percent, in part through consolidation.

In 2010, as part of the consolidation program, NYPL moved various support offices to the new Library Services Center building in Long Island City. This involved a $50 million renovation of the former warehouse . In the basement, a new $2.3 million book sorter uses barcodes on library items to sort them for delivery to 132 library branches. According to library officials, it is two-thirds the length of a soccer field, making it the largest of its kind in the world. Books in one branch and requested from another go through the sorter, the use of which reduced previous wait times by at least a day. Together with 14 library staff members, the machine can sort 7,500 items per hour (or 125 per minute). On the first floor of the Library Services Center is the ordering and cataloging office; on the second floor is the digital imaging department (formerly in the Main Branch building) and the air-cooled manuscripts and archives department; on the third floor is the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Office, which has a staff of 10 (as of 2010) but has as many as 30 employees.

NYPL maintains a force of NYPL Special Patrol Officers who provide security and protection for various libraries, and NYPL Special Investigators who oversee security operations in library facilities. These officers have the power of arrest in the line of duty granted by the New York State Penal Code . Some library branches hire security guards.

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, NYPL compiled a list of the most popular books. Topping the list was Ezr Jack Keats ” Day of the Snowman , with Cat in the Hat and Nineteen Eighty-Four Rounding out the top three.


In February 2013, the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries announced the merger of their technical services departments. The new department is called BookOps. The proposed merger is expected to save $2 million for the Brooklyn Public Library and $1.5 million for the New York Public Library. While not currently part of the merger, the Queens Public Library is expected to eventually share some resources with other city libraries. As of 2011, circulation in the New York City Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library systems was up 59%. Located in Long Island City , BookOps was created as a way to save money and improve customer service for patrons. BookOps services include a selection team that “acquires, describes, prepares, and delivers new items for the circulating collections of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and the New York Public Library, as well as the general collections of the NYPL Research Libraries.” The selection team includes the acquisitions department, the cataloging department, the collections processing department, and the logistics department. Prior to the opening of this facility, all of the aforementioned departments were housed in different locations with no accountability between them, and it sometimes took up to two weeks to get items to their destination. Now BookOps has all the departments in one building, and in 2015 nearly eight million items were sorted. There are many rooms in the building, including a room dedicated to the care of damaged books.

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Consolidations and changes in collections have contributed to ongoing controversy and debate since 2004, when David Ferriero was named Andrew W. Mellon director and chief executive officer of research libraries. NYPL hired consultants Booz Allen Hamilton to survey the institution, and Ferriero endorsed the survey report as a big step “in the process of rethinking the library.” The consolidation program led to the elimination of such entities as the Asian and Middle Eastern Division (formerly called the Eastern Division) and the Slavic and Baltic Divisions.

A number of innovations in recent years have been criticized. In 2004, NYPL announced its participation in the Google Books library project . Under an agreement between Google and major international libraries, selected collections of public domain books would be fully scanned and made available online for free to all. Negotiations between the two partners required each of them to make suggestions about how libraries might expand in the future. Under the terms of the agreement, the data cannot be scanned or collected by any other search engine; no downloading or distribution is allowed. Partners and the broader research library community may share content.

The sale of the freestanding former Donnell Library downtown has sparked controversy. Donnell’s removal was a result of the dissolution of the children’s, youth and foreign language collections. The Donnell Media Center was also dismantled, with much of its collection transferred to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts as a backup film and video collection, with parts of the collection reallocated. The site was repurposed as a luxury hotel.

Several experienced librarians have retired, and the number of age-level professionals in the districts has been reduced.

The New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is not, as many might think, a single building with an enormous book depository, but an extensive network of libraries spanning Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. Brooklyn and Queens have their own library systems. All in all the New York library unites 87 departments of different directions with the total fund of more than 53 million items, among which more than 20 million are represented by books. Since the middle of the nineteenth century there was already a large Astor Library on Fifth Avenue in New York City, which was kept in company by the Lennox Library since 1870. However, the idea of a citywide library was extremely pressing, and former New York Governor Samuel Tilden left a legacy of $2.4 million to the project. The idea eventually came to fruition in 1901, when the Astor and Lennox libraries, which were experiencing tremendous financial difficulties, and Tilden’s legacy, for which attorney John Bigelow was responsible, were merged into one organization. The famous steelworker and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie generously splurged on the library project, allocating as little as $5.2 million to create numerous library branches throughout the city. It is worth noting that the creation of the New York Library was entirely a private initiative, not coming from the government. And today the library is a private non-profit organization, existing on donations from various companies and structures, as well as directly from the state.

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As for the main building gracing Fifth Avenue in the block between 40th and 42nd Streets, it opened in 1911 and is also known as the “Schwartzman Building. It is one of the 4 research libraries that make up the New York Library system, and at the same time one of Manhattan’s major architectural gems. Built of brick and marble, the library building is “guarded” on its sides by two lions by sculptor Edward Potter, one named Lord Astor and the other Lady Lennox, in honor of the library’s founders. The foundation stone of the future library was laid in 1902. Construction proceeded at a rather slow pace, though without obvious downtime. It cost a total of $9 million and was completed by 1911, when the New York Public Library officially opened on May 23. The initial collection included about 1 million books, and the first one received by a reader was the Russian philosopher Nikolai Groth’s “Moral Ideals of Our Time,” about Tolstoy and Nietzsche. In the 20th century the collection logically expanded, reaching such a size that in the 70s they had to build underground vaults going towards Bryant Park. The library’s greatest pride is the Rose Main Reading Room (Room 315), a truly gigantic 90.5-meter long and 23.8-meter wide room. The ceiling is 15.8 meters high. Along the walls on the lower level and on the balcony stretches rows of myriad reference books. The reading room is illuminated by massive chandeliers and natural light streaming in through the room’s gigantic windows. Visitors here work with publications issued to them from the book depository, which then can’t be taken with them. The room has wi-fi and outlets for charging laptops, and easy access to the library’s electronic catalogs. By the way, during the Great Depression, the library was very popular with ordinary people who were trying to expand their knowledge that would help them improve their daily lives.

The main building of the New York Public Library, declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1965, is now often the site of interesting and important events. In 2011, for example, it was the site of talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Palestinian leader Abbas. It is worth noting that since 2008 the library is officially called the Stephen Schwartzman Building, in honor of the American businessman who donated $100 million for the restoration work.

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