Your Destination Guide to New York City

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New York Public Library

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

© Urban Angle

A search for the New York Public Library reveals four research libraries and 87 branches in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. During a short trip to the city, one could never explore the entire system, serving 15 million annually and expanding by 10,000 items weekly. So why not start with the library's flagship building?

The Beaux Arts-style building that houses the New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library, or "Main Branch," was first envisioned by New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden. Upon his death in 1886, Tilden bequeathed $2.4 million "to establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York." The building's 7.5-ton cornerstone was laid in May 1902. Constructed by Carrere and Hastings architectural firm, the first New York Public Library was dedicated and opened in May 1911 — $9 million and 530,000 cubic feet of marble later. At the time, it was the largest marble structure ever built in the United States.

Enter the Main Reading Room to sample the library's grand interior. At 297 feet long and 78 feet wide, the room features massive arched windows with two tiers of bookshelves lining the perimeter below. Chandeliers hang from the 52-foot ceilings, sculpted in bas-relief and painted with clouds. Two neat columns of long wooden tables equipped with brass lamps span the room's length. During the winter of 1929 to 1930, the library's most active period in history, it was common to see 800 to 1,000 people crowding the Main Reading Room and researching ways to better their lives amidst the Great Depression.

Take a tour to learn more about the library's history, construction, 18 collections and 15 million items — from manuscripts, novels, and poetry, to baseball cards, comics and children's books. The library also offers temporary and ongoing exhibitions and a variety of classes, lectures, and special programs — all free to the public.

Attraction Information

  • Hours:
  • Monday and Thursday through Saturday: 11am to 6pm
  • Tuesday and Wednesday: 11am to 7:30pm
  • Sunday: 1pm to 5pm
  • Admission:
  • Free
  • Subway Stop:
  • B, D, F, V trains to 42nd Street, Bryant Park
  • 7 train to Fifth Avenue
  • Contact:
  • Location: Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY
  • Phone: 917-275-6975
  • Website:
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