The most gorgeous NYC libraries

You don’t have to like reading to geek out over the most gorgeous NYC libraries, from the NYPL to Jefferson Market

 Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/ sarahtarno

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/sarahtarno

You need to visit the most gorgeous NYC libraries, whether you were a childhood bookworm or one of the kids who only set foot in the library to use the bathroom. Because you have to admit: libraries are some of the most beautiful NYC buildings to visit. Gotham has no shortage of great architecture, but our libraries make for some of the most interesting lesser-known NYC attractions. One of the best things to do in Manhattan is visit the New York Public Library, which ranks as one of the most famous book dens in the world. But there are plenty more lesser known—yet equally jaw-dropping—libraries worth getting to know. From Jefferson Market to the Morgan Library, these are the most gorgeous libraries in NYC.

The most gorgeous NYC libraries

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New York Public Library

The century-old main branch of the NYPL is about as regal a setting for reading—either on your laptop or those old dusty things called books—as you’ll find in the city. Two massive Tennessee-marble lions, dubbed Patience and Fortitude, flank the main portal and have become the institution’s mascots. Once inside, check out the cavernous Rose Main Reading Room, spanning almost 300 feet and outfitted with chandeliers and stunning ceiling murals. Though it’s a classy setting in most instances, it’s also where Bill Murray uttered, “Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?” and “Back off, man, I’m a scientist” in Ghostbusters. Free guided tours (at 11am and 2pm) stop at Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, which offers free internet access. Lectures, author readings and special exhibitions are definitely worth checking out.

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The Morgan Library & Museum

This Madison Avenue institution began as the private library of financier J. Pierpont Morgan and is his artistic gift to the city. Building on the collection Morgan amassed in his lifetime, the museum houses first-rate works on paper, including drawings by Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso; three Gutenberg Bibles; a copy of Frankensteinannotated by Mary Shelley; manuscripts by Dickens, Poe, Twain, Steinbeck and Wilde; sheet music handwritten by Beethoven and Mozart; and an original edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that’s displayed every yuletide. In 2006, a massive renovation and expansion orchestrated by Renzo Piano brought more natural light into the building and doubled the available exhibition space. A theater, Gilder Lehrman Hall, regularly hosts recitals and concerts.

 

  • This museum is what a book lover's dreams are made of. While the Morgan Museum and Library host several small curated galleries (including one currently on the work of Emily Dickinson) the real show stopper is the reading room and study. Walls of shelves go from floor to high ceiling, every book is simply gorgeous and an obvious collector's item. It's a true feast for the eyes and not to be missed. There is an admission fee most days, but even on the free nights, the museum is rarely overpacked. 

  • Very interesting and well-curated library/museum. The small size helps you to focus and not be overwhelmed. The original documents are spectacular, and the guides are all very knowledgeable and polite. There are many spaces for quiet, independent work - but I have always found rotating exhibits, the standing collection, the gift shop and cafe have absorbed the time I wanted to spend. A great excursion that's not too far out of the way, and generally not too packed, so it feels like your own.

One of the most exquisite, interesting buildings and museums in New York City, in my opinion. A glimpse into some of the oldest of New York wealth and the lavish collections of a multi-millionaire. The space is entirely peaceful and rarely overcrowded. The perfect way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. 

 

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New York Public Library, Jefferson Market Branch

While the building was first a courthouse, the Jefferson Market Library has been an important part of the Greenwich Village community for more than four decades. Arched stained glass windows are some of the major architectural draws, along with carved doorways, a public garden, and a variety of mural-size artwork. Also, it looks like a freakin’ Victorian castle, so there’s that.

Though the city's made up of five boroughs, it has just three public library systems. The largest—the NYPL—runs all libraries in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. Hours at the branches vary wildly, but all have a dedicated section of children's books, and many a separate room for the use of kids up to fifth grade. Storytimes, craft and cultural projects, and poetry writing workshops are just some of the offerings on tap; check the website (nypl.org) for detailed information on each branch.

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New York Society Library

Founded in 1754, the New York Society Library is the oldest book lender in the city. Today, it holds 300,000 volumes, as well as exhibits and public events in its Italianate townhouse on the Upper East Side.

 

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New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Whether you’re looking for some worthwhile literature on your favorite ballroom dancer or would rather gawk at beautiful people—all while hanging out in a sleek, modern space—this library will not disappoint. Housed within the Lincoln Center complex, naturally, this branch of the NYPL is known specifically for the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, one of the world’s largest collections with works about the performing arts.

Located in Lincoln Center, this branch of the New York Public Library frequently hosts exhibitions—recent collections examined the legacy of the New York Choral Society and the National Endowment for the Arts Nationals Fellows—along with events and lectures. It also includes the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, one of the world's largest archives devoted entirely to the performing arts.

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Poets House

What better place to get some inspiration than this poetry mecca touting views of Rockefeller Park and the Hudson River? Founded in 1985 by poet laureate Stanley Kuntz, the whimsical, sunlit book den is fitted with quirky decor like a canoe-shape bookcase, an old-fashioned birdcage and antique school desks. And with some 70,000 volumes to peruse, there’s no doubt you’ll get your poetry fix here. The best part? It’s free and open to the public. There’s even a Children’s Room for the youngest sonneteers.

Reopened in early 2010, the Poets House Children's Room is a sunlit getaway, with views of Rockefeller Park and the Hudson River. The whimsical space is outfitted with furnishings like a canoe-shaped bookcase, an old-fashioned birdcage and antique school desks painted mustard yellow. Other accents include five manual typewriters (conveniently loaded with sheets of paper); a sturdy card catalog, now obsolete thanks to digital databases, holds bric-a-brac like wooden eggs, shark teeth and pressed leaves—all meant to spark youngsters’ poetic imaginations. The inviting space holds frequent programs for children.

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New York Public Library, Yorkville Branch

A bona fide historical landmark—it’s been added to both the National and State Registers of Historic Places—this Palladian-inspired, James Brown Lord–designed building is one of Manhattan’s most elegant. Opened officially in December of 1902, it was the first of the Carnegie-funded branches of the New York Public Library. Architecturally, it boasts a limestone facade with soaring arched windows and Ionic columns.

Though the city's made up of five boroughs, it has just three public library systems. The largest—the NYPL—runs all libraries in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. Hours at the branches vary, but all have a dedicated section of children's books, and many a separate room for the use of kids up to fifth grade. Storytimes, craft and cultural projects, and poetry writing workshops are just some of the offerings on tap; check the website (nypl.org) for detailed information on each branch.