Though the New York Public Library comprises 92 locations all across Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, most travelers visiting New York City are drawn to the flagship location at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd — right down the road from The Knickerbocker.
Anchoring one of the most popular neighborhoods in the Big Apple, the Stephen A. Schwarzman building is an unmissable fixture in Midtown, at the crossroads of the Theater District, Bryant Park, and the city’s iconic shopping thoroughfare.
Whether you’re a bibliophile drawn to the elegant reading rooms and hallowed stacks or just casually sightseeing in the city, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the New York Public Library.
Since opening in 1911, the landmark Beaux-Arts building has welcomed millions of visitors – on its first day alone, it saw 50,000 people pass through its doors. It took a dozen years to construct the marble library, which was restored in 2011. There were 88 miles of stacks in the original building, though the library has since expanded to 125 miles of shelving. Today, the impressive institution is the second largest public library in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.
The library’s humanities, social sciences, and fine arts collections are particularly well-known, but there are plenty of literary relics, too: A first-edition copy of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” signed by JK Rowling, for example, and manuscripts from Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.
Visitors can see the library’s highlights (and a few otherwise off-limits rooms) by showing up for one of the docent-led, hour-long tours that begin at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Tours are free but are limited to the first 20 people who sign up online. There are additional tours available of the iconic Rose Main Reading Room and self-guided tours of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library, with guided tours expected to resume in Fall 2022.
Throughout the week, visitors can take advantage of free and paid programming at the New York Public Library. Though many events are held at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, there are events and activities available at branches of the library all over the city. Families, in particular, should watch out for storytimes and playdates., but there are also regular film screenings, author talks, and classes.
All year long, visitors can see free exhibitions at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library for Performing Art, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. At the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, visitors can also experience a year-round gallery of murals depicting the history of writing. Now for the first time, the library is also displaying some of the most extraordinary items from its 56 million artifacts from 125 years of collection and preservation. To visit the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures, book a free, timed ticket online.
If you’re just passing through the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building during a full day of sightseeing in New York City, there are a few things you should keep in mind. To start, only residents, students, and employees (or those paying property taxes) are eligible for a free New York Public Library card. Also, keep in mind that the water fountains don’t work, but there is a cafe and free WiFi.
DISCOVER MORE OF NEW YORK CITY
After exploring the New York Public Library, grab a lunch or light refreshments at Charlie Palmer back at The Knickerbocker, just a five-minute walk from the library’s main building. And, check out our NYC Travel Guide for more recommendations on what to do here in New York.
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