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Blog · New York · History of the Infamous New York Public Library
March 12, 2017

History of the Infamous New York Public Library

By Martha G
New York Public Library

You’ve probably seen it before, but how much do you know about the Main Branch of the New York Public Library? Let’s dig through the years and uncover it’s history together!

Whether it’s gracing the silver screen or hosting hundreds of literature lovers, the main branch of the New York Public Library is a piece of classic NYC. With it’s impressive architecture and central location, it is a hot spot for anyone visiting New York. But how did it get to be the landmark that it is today?

In The Beginning

The creation of the Main New York Public Library branch was meant to consolidate several pre-existing branches. Dr. John Shaw Billings is responsible for much of the building’s structure. It was Billings who decided on the ample reading space and immense size. Taking it a step further, Billings managed to convince the firm of Carnegie and Hastings to lend their talents in designing the branch as a whole. Construction would begin in 1902 and not finish until 1911! For the grand opening, thousands would turn out to see the library’s impressive collection of over 1,000,000 books.

New York Public Library
Photo Courtesy of New York Tour 1


Over the years the branch would see many changes and renovations. Compared to most sites, it achieved landmark status at a relatively young age in 1965. During the 1980’s, the collection featured in the library was so immense that more space was needed. Therefore an additional 125,000 square feet were added, taking some space from Bryant Park. Much of the extra space was added underground, requiring the park and the library to be closed to the public for some time. In 2008 the branch was renamed after Stephen A. Schwarzman. Schwarzman, an investor and philanthropist, donated over $100 million to assist with future renovations.

New York Public Library
Photo By: Ingfbruno

An Extensive Collection

Since it’s inception the Main Branch of the New York Public Library continues to boast an impressive collection. In addition to millions of books (which you can now check out online) the location is often host to art installations. With the massive Rose Reading Room (featured above) many visitors will arrive just to peruse the collection and find a nice spot to read. Also available to the public is the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room. Here, patrons can look up specific books or apply for a free library card!

In The Movies

The historic landmark main branch has been on the big screen many times over the years. It’s presence continues to permeate both literature (naturally) and film. Everyone from Truman Capote to John Carpenter have used the Main Branch in their films. Most notably (in this author’s opinion) the library makes an important appearance in the 1984 Ivan Reitman classic film Ghostbusters. You can watch a clip of that above or just watch the whole movie! (It will be worth it)

Have you ever visited the Main Branch of the New York Public Library? Tell us about it in the comments!

If you haven’t, make sure to check out one of our Full Day NYC tours and see it in person!