Best Libraries In NYC: Not Just For Books Anymore

Les Bibliotheque. Or in English, the Library. A place to broaden your mind. A place where you can travel the world without ever leaving the building. For all kinds of interests, New York City is the center of the world. So the library culture of the city needs to reflect that. And it does. 

The culture is not limited to just the public system, although the NYPL is one of the best systems in the world. There are many privately owned or operated libraries which are home to rare and prized research materials of interest to all different kinds.

Discovering the Best Libraries in NYC

Yes, Libraries aren’t just for books anymore. They are places of culture where you can explore a multitude of horizons. In the following article, learn about all the best libraries in New York City, public and private. 

New York Public Library

The flagship location of the New York Public Library system, this iconic library houses numerous collections of historical works, American and English literature, research literature, photographs, and more. The library’s Rose Main Reading Room is an iconic, grand reading hall perfect for immersing oneself in the library’s one of a kind literature.

The Morgan Library & Museum

This is the private library of industrialist titan J.P. Morgan. It’s a private collection and museum that cannot be missed. Here, you’ll find original music manuscripts, Americana such as John Steinbeck’s original manuscripts and more. The building’s stunning architecture alone makes the library worth visiting.

Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library

Jefferson Market Library is another branch of the New York Public Library system. The building is a National Historic Landmark, with impressive Gothic architecture reminiscent of a mini-castle. The building is currently undergoing improvements, and it will be exciting to see what the future brings for the library.

New York Society Library

The New York Society Library has a growing collection of nearly 300,000 volumes that reflect the locals’ interests over the years. The library has an extensive array of fiction and literature, as well as biographies, history, social sciences, the arts, travel, and books about the city.

Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

Central Library Brooklyn is certainly one of the most beautiful libraries in New York City, with its lovely modern façade, amazing interiors, imposing gold-emblazoned doors, and striking architecture. This 1941 Art Deco structure also houses an enormous modern and historical collection.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is home to the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, one of the world’s most extensive research collections in the fields of film, theater, music, dance, and records, as well as a wide range of interesting reference materials. Located within the amazingly beautiful Lincoln Center complex, this library is the ideal place for anyone looking for some worthwhile reading material or works about the performing arts.

Poets House

Downtown on Murray Street in Battery Park City, a place for poetry! The Poets House is a literary center devoted to rhymes and rhythm from iambic pentameter to swingin’ beat poetry. The space is designed to encourage creativity, whether you are studying the greats or writing your own masterpiece. 

Poets House, one of New York City’s most beautiful libraries, is the ideal place to sit back with a book while enjoying views of the Hudson River and Rockefeller Park. With more than 70,000 volumes of poetry and regular workshops, this place is a Mecca for poetry lovers and bookworms.

Pacific Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, the Pacific Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is a century-old library that boasts a Beaux-Arts architecture. It offers a wide range of books and community programs, making it a beloved local institution.

Yorkville Branch of the New York Public Library

The Yorkville Branch of the New York Public Library is a historical landmark that has served the community for over a century. With its unique architecture and extensive collection, it continues to be a vital resource for the Yorkville community.

Butler Library, Columbia University

Butler Library’s exterior resembles a European façade, catching visitors’ attention at first glance, and its interiors force them to delve deeper to appreciate every room’s decor. Located on the Morningside campus of Columbia University, it requires a guest pass to access a ton of materials in a sizable collection of more than 2 million books.

Discovering The NYPL

The NYPL is the free library system for the boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island.

The libraries of the New York City Public Library system are one of the treasures of the city, built into the fabric of city life and free to everyone. Each branch possesses a personality of its own, housed inside structures of all kinds and architectural varieties. 

They are both free-standing and tucked into building fronts. They all have their own names, often concerning the area where they are. 

There is even a branch in the subway, at the 51st and Lexington Avenue stop, on the level between the platform and the street — the Cathedral Branch — which is the smallest but possibly the mightiest of them all.

The Three Best Branches in Manhattan

  1. Bryant Park – the main library at Bryant Park is a magnificent building inside and out. Two famous stone lions by the names of Patience and Fortitude greet you at the entrance and one of the benefits of being located in Bryant Park is the open air reading room. 
  2. Grand Central Library – Located near the famous terminal of the same name, this branch offers a convenient location for many residents. Like many other NYPL branches, Grand Central offers all kinds of extra literary services, like workshops, computer access and even English as a Second Language, or ESL, classes. Free, to boot. Maybe one of the last free things in the city. And it hosts a Book Club. 
  3. Mid-Manhattan Branch – Located at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, this branch houses five floors of books and dvds on every subject imaginable and in many, many languages! A real jewel of the system. It also houses one of the last remaining “circulating collections” in the world. 

Even More Interesting Public Libraries

Some public libraries are found inside notable landmarks of the city and focus on specific subjects of interest.

They include the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library, found at Lincoln Center at Lincoln Square in upper midtown West. Also, on the Upper West Side, near Central Park, you can visit the Natural History Research Library, inside the massive and spellbinding Museum of Natural History.

In Midtown West also rests the Rose Library branch, renowned for its comfortable and pleasant Reading Room. 

Another great public library on the Upper West Side is the St. Agnes branch, which offers many, many courses for adults, children and teens, including a citizenship study group and YA novel study. 

The New York Public Library Branches: The Steven A. Schwarzman building

The Main Library branch is called by the name of Steven Schwarzmann. A hop, skip and a jump across the street from the aforementioned Mid-Manhattan Branch, it is considered the Central branch of the NYPL system. It was renamed for the philanthropist after his one hundred million donation financed a large scale renovation in 2011. 

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is one of the most iconic structures in New York City and serves as the main branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). It is located on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets in Manhattan.

Here are some key details about the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building:

  1. Historical Significance: The building was opened to the public in 1911 and has since been an integral part of New York City’s cultural and intellectual landscape. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
  2. Architecture: The building is renowned for its Beaux-Arts architecture. It was designed by the architectural firm Carrère and Hastings. The exterior is made of Vermont marble and the entrance features two iconic stone lions named Patience and Fortitude.
  3. Interior: The interior of the building is just as impressive as the exterior. It houses the famous Rose Main Reading Room, which is one of the largest uncolumned interior spaces in the world. The room is 78 feet wide, 297 feet long, and its ceiling rises 51 feet above the floor.
  4. Collections: The Schwarzman Building is home to vast research collections in the humanities and social sciences, as well as a circulating children’s collection. It also houses several special collections including rare books, manuscripts, maps, and photographs.
  5. Renovation: The building was renamed after Stephen A. Schwarzman, the philanthropist who funded a large-scale renovation. The renovation, which was completed in 2011, included the creation of a state-of-the-art book delivery system.
  6. Programs and Services: The Schwarzman Building hosts a variety of programs and services for the public, including exhibitions, educational programs, and classes. It also provides free access to a vast array of resources and facilities, including computers and internet access.

More Library Branches

The Mulberry Street Branch is located downtown in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. It occupies three floors of a former chocolate factory. Appropriately, it offers many children’s activities. Definitely the family branch! Also downtown is the Braille library, formally known as the Andrew Haiskell branch, where materials like talking books are offered for the hearing impaired, and braille editions for the blind. 

The Roosevelt Island branch is technically a Manhattan branch but offers easy and quick access from Queens. In The Bronx, the best branch is the Kingsbridge Library. 

Important Notes

Important to note about the NYPL is that you can always find a branch in close proximity to say, a doctor’s appointment or a meeting in a particular vicinity. And you can return items to any branch – you don’t have to trek to the branch you borrowed the materials from. 

The system has inter-library agreements so you can reserve a book from any branch, simply by asking one of the helpful librarians who are always ready to assist you. So it’s very, very convenient. The only fees are for irresponsibly not returning your items on time, and that’s on you!

Best Libraries In NYC Outer Boroughs: Queens and Brooklyn

The remaining two boroughs, Queens and Brooklyn, have their own independent library systems modeled on the NYPL system.

For example, the Astoria neighborhood of Queens has three branches alone, which offer both convenience and a wider selection of books and DVDs. The Elmhurst Branch is usually cited as the best branch in the borough of Queens. 

Brooklyn, a borough with its own inimitable and renowned style, offers an eclectic mix at it’s libraries. The Central Library is Brooklyn’s Home Library and houses the Brooklyn Collection, the largest collection of materials about Brooklyn’s rich cultural heritage and unique flavor.

The Brooklyn Public Library doesn’t stop at just reading about music. They encourage you to create your own by also lending musical instruments – an essential need of the community.

Brooklyn is also a progressive community. So if you want to read some comic books, that oft-scoffed at by the literati illustrated medium, head over to Carroll Gardens where you can find Loot. Not an NYPL branch. More like a club. It’s an independent, subscription-based comic book lending library. 

They won’t make fun of you for trying to have a little fun with pictures. They acknowledge that comic books have matured into a highly-evolved art form. They offer classes for kids in the art form as well.

Educational Libraries

You could reasonably argue that all libraries are educational, but hey, so are the streets of New York City itself. However, some of the renowned educational institutions of New York City offer their own collections of informative materials. 

Columbia University Library is the heart of the intellectual bodies that make up the Columbia ecosystem. The Library often hosts collections geared toward current events of interest. 

NYU has a massive library. It’s the six-story tall Elmer Holmes Bobst building in Washington Square, in the general vicinity of NYU’s scattered campus. It houses a center for music and media and often features special collections also. It’s part of a larger NYU library network that includes a Law Library. 

The world famous Museum of Metropolitan Art also has an archive library intended for research and learning. It includes exhibitions as well as Latino and Latin American Art. 

Building A Prettier Library

Some libraries in New York City are worth visiting to take a gander at the magnificent architecture of the design.

The Academy of Medicine is one of them. The Academy was founded in 1847 and opened its doors to the public in 1878. It is probably the most significant historical archive of public health, informing the future through the heritage of the past. Many of the collections offer historical insight into scientific and medical outbreaks and breakthroughs of recent centuries. 

Jefferson Market in the Greenwich Village neighborhood on the Lower West Side is part of the NYPL system. It used to be a courthouse building and jumps out like a medieval castle amongst it’s otherwise urban surroundings. 

Independent Libraries

Finally, there are many independent libraries worth noting which are found throughout the city and outlying boroughs. This is because the world’s best and brightest come to New York City, and the materials they leave behind often end up in these libraries. 

Here is a quick overview of the venerable independent institutions worth checking out. 

  • Morgan Library is named for JP Morgan, one of the most legendary philanthropists in American History. It was originally his private library and now you can see Michaelangelo paintings and read original John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens manuscripts there. 
  • Frick Art Library is primarily a museum known for its extensive collection and focus on Dutch painters. But it also has a library extension with a comprehensive collection of books about art for the scholarly mind.
  • The Smithsonian Design Library is as dazzling as it’s sister namesake, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Sponsored by Hewitt-Cooper, you must make an appointment to visit this Library, where you can find in-depth materials on the art of design. 
  • The New York Society Library is New York’s oldest library, offering peace and quiet and cozy reading. It’s a members club, but guests are welcome. Be sure to check the requirements before heading over. Find out how this library feels like a spy movie!
  • The Center For Fiction’s new location in Brooklyn is a charming combination of coffee house, library and book shop all rolled into one. Membership gives you the privilege of raiding the lending library. 

One last place worth mentioning is in the unofficial sixth borough known as Harlem. The comfortingly-named Grandma’s Place is a great place to take the kids. The owner, a former teacher, has handpicked every book to promote active learning and creativity in children.

So much more to say about all these places and many, many others, but better you go see for yourself. Explore the wide world of libraries in New York City, and they will transport you to a whole new and even wider world than you could have ever known existed. 


What is the most iconic library in NYC?

The most iconic library in New York City is arguably the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, often simply referred to as the “Main Branch”. Located on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, this library is known for its majestic architecture and the two stone lions, named Patience and Fortitude, that guard its entrance.

Is New York Public Library worth seeing?

Yes, the New York Public Library is definitely worth seeing. Not only does it house an extensive collection of books and other resources, but its architecture and historical significance make it a must-visit destination. The library’s Rose Main Reading Room is particularly famous for its grandeur. The library also hosts a variety of events and exhibitions throughout the year.

Are libraries free in NYC?

Yes, public libraries in New York City, including the New York Public Library system (which serves Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library system, and the Queens Public Library system, are free to use. This includes borrowing books and using library facilities. Some special programs, classes, or events may have fees, but many are also offered for free.