New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Library, created in 1886, is one of the leading library systems in the United States, and indeed the world. It consists of four research libraries and 80 neighborhood branches, serving almost two million cardholders. The most famous of the library's buildings is the Main Research Library on Fifth Avenue, noted for its expansive main reading room and the two carved lions guarding its entrance.

New York Public Library


The New York Public Library System, as it exists today, was formed in 1886 by combining the Astor Library, donated by financier John Jacob Astor, and the Lenox Library, a small research library housed in what now is the Frick Museum, with the $2.4 million bequest of Samuel J. Tilden to create a New York Library. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie added $5.2 million to the project in 1901 to create the branch libraries. The main research library was opened in 1911.

Today, the New York Public Library system has 80 neighborhood branches in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. (Queens and Brooklyn have their own systems.) In addition to the Main Research Library, there are three other research facilities: the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the Science and Business Library.

The Main Research Library

The New York Library's Main Research Library at Fifth Avenue and 40th Street is a classic Beaux-Arts edifice, opened in 1911. Designed by the architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, it contains over 75 miles of open shelves. The building is particularly known for its main reading room - Room 315. This cavernous room is 78 feet by 297 feet and has 52-foot ceilings. Many a student, writer, and researcher have taken advantage of this free resource. In fact, during the Great Depression, many out-of-work New Yorkers gave themselves the equivalent of a college education by accessing the materials available from the main reading room.

Another highlight of the Main Research Library, and today the logo of the library system, are the two lions that sit on either side of the main entrance. Created of pink Tennessee marble by Edward Clark Potter, they have come to symbolize the library. The lions have had many nicknames over the years. New Yorkers dubbed them "Astor" and "Lennox" for the two library benefactors, when the library opened. Later, Mayor LaGuardia called them "Patience" and "Fortitude" during the Depression. Today, they are often referred to as "Uptown" and "Downtown."

The Main Research Library's extensive collection rivals that of the British Museum in London, the Bibliotheque National in Paris, and Washington's Library of Congress. It includes several important manuscripts, two of which are a Gutenberg Bible and Thomas Jefferson's copy of the "Declaration of Independence."

The New York Library in Popular Culture

The New York Library's Main Research Library has appeared in numerous books, television shows, and films over the years. Among them are the films, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "the Wiz," "Ghostbusters," and "Spiderman"; the books, "Duplicate Keys" by Jane Smiley and "Go Tell it on the Mountain" by James Baldwin; and the television series "Seinfeld."

Ask a Question

One unique services of the New York Public Library system is its telephone reference system, established in 1968. Ten researchers, with degrees ranging from child psychology to English literature, are available to answer questions every day between 9am and 6pm. According to the rules, each question must be answered within 5 minutes. Researchers may not call the inquirer back.

Today, people may ask questions via e-mail as well as via telephone. Researchers may take up to 35 minutes to respond to an e-mail question. Library researchers will not answer contest, crossword, or homework questions, or questions or an open-ended philosophical nature.

Visiting the New York Library

The main reading room is open to all visitors. Those who live, work, pay taxes, or study in New York City may obtain a free New York Public Library card. Non-residents may obtain a card by paying a $100 fee. Non-residents may also apply for a free "Access" card, which gives access to the library system's research materials, but not the circulating items.

More than 15 million people visit the New York library each year and over 1.86 million have New York Library cards. The collection continues to grow at approximately 10,000 items per week.

Location: All over New York City

Click here to visit New York Public Library official website.