The NYPL is an oasis in this city. Its 88 branches and four research centers are the few places in NYC where you can sit and stay a while and not be expected to buy anything or communicate with anyone. Plus, there are water fountains, restrooms, computers, and, obviously, free books to keep you amused and entertained. But, as much as I’m an advocate for public libraries, I also understand that a lot of the branches aren’t exactly the… hippest… places to be. So, if you’re anything like me, and you like your libraries to have more of a bookstore vibe than a third grade classroom vibe, then you might enjoy spending some time at these NYPL branches. Here are the New York Public Library’s most Instagrammable branches.
This East Village NYPL branch isn’t huge, but it’s charming. Designed to be a combination of both the Queen Anne and neo-Italian Renaissance styles, Ottendorfer makes you feel as though you’re walking through the home of your wealthy, great-great aunt. Surprisingly enough, the Ottendorfer Library, named after Oswald and Anna Ottendorfer, the owners of the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung newspaper, was actually the very first free public library in New York City. The Ottendorfers, who were also philanthropists with revolutionary ideals, thought that the residents of Kleindeutschland (Little Germany) should have a bilingual library with books that could “cultivate their minds and assist assimilation into American culture,” according to the NYPL. Today, there still are more than enough books to cultivate your mind at the Ottendorfer Library. But is there enough space? My advice is to get their early to claim your spot because patrons are waiting by the door well before it opens.
From the outside this branch doesn’t look very inviting, but once you step into the reading room you’ll feel as though you’ve found a secret island in the middle of the Bronx. I kid you not: there is a whole TREE in the middle of this library along with a huge skylight that bathes the place in natural light. Now, if this library could be any island it would be Sicily, because Belmont Library is in the heart of the Bronx’s Little Italy and they won’t let you forget it. In addition to the beach-towel-sized Italian flag hanging from the library’s balcony, there’s a sizable Italian Heritage section with every book imaginable on Italian-American history and culture. So if you want to spend some time in Italy this winter without dropping $600 on a flight, head over to Belmont Library.
SCIENCE, INDUSTRY, AND BUSINESS LIBRARY
Walking through the doors of SIBL feels like you’re entering a university library rather than a public one. The first thing you’ll notice besides the security checkpoint ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) is the shiny, wraparound wall carved with quotes from science and business bigwigs. Definitely puts you in the mood to discover the cure for cancer or make your first million. The huge, silver staircase will lead you to more workstations, as well as a wall of TV screens set to different news channels. This place really knows how to make you feel like a tycoon in training.
53RD STREET LIBRARY
The designers of this library must have drawn inspiration from MoMA down the block when they renovated this branch in 2016 because this mesh of wood, glass, and steel fits in perfectly with its sleek midtown neighbors. To be honest, the blonde wood bleachers probably occupy more space than the books do at this branch, but on the bright side, you’ll never run out of places to sit. Don’t quote me, but I’m also pretty sure this is one of the few branches you can eat inside and not get scolded by a librarian.
As you approach Riverdale Library you’ll question whether or not you’re still in New York City, much less the Bronx. The vibe at the Riverdale NYPL branch is somewhere between New England colonial cottage and Colorado ski cabin. Although the high ceilings might lead you to believe otherwise, this branch is relatively small. But since it’s not packed with patrons, you’ll have a cozy, quiet day here instead of a claustrophobic one.
Who says Staten Island doesn’t have nice things? The rows on rows on rows of glass windows at Stapleton Library would beg to differ. If you thought the NYPL mastered the modernist style at the 53rd Street branch in Midtown, you may have to pick your jaw up from Stapleton’s wood and slate floors and then rest a while on one of their chic-but-cushy couches. If this wasn’t such a hassle to get to from Brooklyn, you’d definitely find me here every weekend this winter.
STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN BUILDING, aka the Main Branch
What type of list would this be if I didn’t include the grand poobah of public libraries? Need I describe how every room, every staircase, and every light fixture is dripping in opulence? It’s no wonder why thousands of tourists flock to this library every day. But just because tourists gravitate to the Main Branch, it doesn’t mean you should keep away. If you really want to feel like you have the library all to yourself, avoid the heavily trafficked General Research Division and spend some time in the Milstein Division of U.S. History or the Dorot Jewish Division instead.
What do you think of this list? Did I capture the creme de la creme of NYPL branches? How likely are you to visit the NYPL this winter?
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