Explore New York City

Beyond the Books: A Guide to the New York Public Libraries

Every year, the NYPL puts on thousands of programs, events and exhibitions for the public—a majority which are free to attend. Here's where to start with all those events.

The New York Public Library spans 92 locations across Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. With over 51 million items between the circulating and research collections, the NYPL has plenty of information to go around. But these resources aren't just for locals.

Every year, the NYPL puts on thousands of programs, events and exhibitions for the public—a majority which are free to attend. The libraries themselves are also just neat places to look around. Some of these buildings are historic landmarks while others are home to beautiful gardens or interesting architecture. There's no need for a library card to check out these NYC treasures. 


Stephen A. Schwarzman Building: With the regal marble lions—Patience and Fortitude—keeping watch out front, this building is probably what comes to mind when one thinks of the New York Public Library. A central reference library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is home to rare books, manuscripts and archives of the history of New York and the United States.

It is also a hub for many exciting programs and events. Visitors can take self-guided audio tours or docent-led walking tours of the building, which houses artwork and a revolving series of exhibitions that cover a spectrum of topics from "Sesame Street" to the history of women in printmaking. On Wednesdays, guests can take part in the free Books at Noon series that features Q&A sessions with acclaimed authors.

There is also a ticketed event series; LIVE from the NYPL. Started in 2005, LIVE brings guest artists, authors, public figures, filmmakers and other culture-influencers to share their experiences with attendees. Past speakers/entertainers include Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Jay-Z, Joan Didion and Jonathan Franzen, among many others. 

Fifth Avenue is not just for shopping. The Mid-Manhattan Library stands on the corner of Fifth Ave. and 40th St. (Courtesy NYPL)

Mid-Manhattan Library: This branch of the NYPL has the largest circulating collection in all of Manhattan and is the place to be if you love sharing your excitement for reading. The second Friday of every month is Open Book Night—an opportunity to meet other readers and share book recommendations based on that night's theme. This library holds free film screenings on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and there are writing workshops and musical performances. The first floor Corner Room is the gathering spot for trivia nights, hosted by Chris Vaccari. The Art and Picture Collections is a series of exhibits displayed througout the library that feature works meant to evoke personal experiences from viewers. 

Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL): This public business library is a haven for people who are involved in start-ups or established businesses or any entity in between. Whether a part of a small business or a large one, the SIBL has resources to find the information and data you need to succeed. Free events cover topics from social media to sales pitches and feeling fulfilled at your job to jumpstarting a new career. This branch offered over 320 programs and events in 2015 is planning on having an equally informative 2016.

Grand Central Library: Located north of Grand Central Terminal, this branch of the NYPL offers a variety of events and programming. Public speaking workshops are offered on the first and third Tuesday of each month. There is an adult coloring group that meets up to have fun and be creative, as well as a monthly meditation program that allows people to further connect their mind, body and spirit. There are programs for families with small children and teens like an interactive music series.

This performing arts library is nestled among the performance venues of Lincoln Center. (Courtesy NYPL)

Upper West Side

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center: Home of one of the world's most extensive collections of reference, archival and circulating material regarding the performing arts, this branch of the NYPL is the place to find sheet music, press materials, photos, video recordings and more. Events are geared toward the arts as well—most are free, but some required tickets. There are weekly jazz concerts, a variety of film series screenings, classical music performances, concerts featuring songs from Broadway composers and master classes with professionals from the performing arts community. 

Upper East Side

96th Street Library: Andrew Carnegie donated the funds to build this branch of the NYPL back in 1905. This library has free film screenings every Thursday and also offers free monthly recitals from the New York Opera Forum. These live performances with piano accompaniment allow classically trained performers to put on concert versions of operas in their original languages.

In addition to being a research facility, the Schomburg Center is also home to the Langston Hughes Auditorium and Atrium, as well as the American Negro Theatre. (Courtesy NYPL)


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: This research unit of the NYPL is a leading institution devoted to African and African-American experiences throughout history and culture. This facility focuses on the preservation of materials and is the home of rare books, manuscripts and archival documents including music and rare prints. The Arts and Artifacts Division has over 20,000 items—paintings, sculptures, textiles and more—many from the Harlem Renaissance Era. The Photographs and Print Division has over half a million images ranging from the slave era through contemporary public figures. The Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division has film—documentaries, early footage, classics—and recordings of radio programs, interviews and oral histories in its collection. Events and programming for people of all ages offer further insight to the significant impact of African history and culture on the community and the world. Music concerts, dance performances, guest lecturers, film screenings, poetry readings and more are open to the public.

Flatiron District

Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library: Established in 1895 by Richard Randall Ferry, the New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind found its home at its present location and was renamed in 1991. Programs and events are geared toward topics of interest for people with visual impairments, but are helpful for sighted people too. There is a weekly craft group that uses tactile materials, a book discussion group to talk about favorite reads, Braille study groups, support groups and various performances ranging from comedy to music to magic.

The Jefferson Market Library is just a few short blocks away from Washington Square Park. (Courtesy NYPL)

West Village

Jefferson Market Library: Errected in the late 1870s, this NYC landmark used to be a courthouse and, in a poll of architects in the 1880s, was voted one of the 10 most beautiful buildings in America. As a courthouse, this building saw trials regarding homicide and prostitution before being converted to a library in 1967. The building itself features a a spiral staircase, stained glass windows and a clock tower, while the outside property holds a gorgeous community garden with benches so you can enjoy the flowers up close when the weather cooperates. Programs include free film screenings, panel discussions, NYPL arcade gatherings—described as "a book club, but for video games"—and book discussions.


Mulberry Street Library: Built on the site of a former chocolate factory, this library hosts educational and entertaining programs for people of all ages. Book discussions, music programs, belly dancing, Zen for Busy People and film screenings are among the free offerings you can participate in. Art exhibits and installations are on display throughout the library.