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New York City Sights

New York Public Library (NYPL) Main Branch: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

  • 5th Ave. Map It
  • Building/Architectural Site

Updated 02/24/2014

Fodor's Review

In 2011 the "Library with the Lions" celebrated its centennial as a masterpiece of beaux arts design and one of the great research institutions in the world, with more than 6 million books, 12 million manuscripts, and 3 million pictures. The party ended in 2012 when the board of this National Historic Landmark approved a controversial $300 million plan to convert the 5th Avenue flagship into the world's largest combined research and circulating library—a plan that will

create two floors of storage space under adjacent Bryant Park, create additional public space and computer terminals, and eventually fold two other Manhattan branches under its roof. The plan met with much debate, discussion, and a few lawsuits so the board and its design team are reevaluating options and revisiting the design. When and if construction commences on the project, the library will close for two years, so enjoy the beautiful architecture and peaceful escape from Midtown's bustle while you can—check the website for details. The marble staircase at the library's grand 5th Avenue entrance is an excellent perch for people-watching, before or after you explore the opulent interior.

The library's bronze front doors open into Astor Hall, which leads to several special exhibit galleries and, to the left, a stunning periodicals room with wall paintings of New York publishing houses. Ascend the sweeping double staircase to a second-floor balconied corridor overlooking the hall, with panels highlighting the library's development. Make sure to continue up to the magisterial Rose Main Reading Room —297 feet long (almost two full north–south city blocks), 78 feet wide, and just over 51 feet high; walk through to best appreciate the rows of oak tables and the extraordinary ceiling. Several additional third-floor galleries show rotating exhibits on print and photography (past exhibits have included old New York restaurant menus and a 1455 Gutenberg Bible). Free one-hour tours leave Monday–Saturday at 11 and 2, and Sunday at 2 from Astor Hall. Women's bathrooms are on the ground floor and third floor, and there's a men's bathroom on the third floor.

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Sight Information


5th Ave., between E. 40th and E. 42nd Sts., New York, New York, 10018, United States

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212-930–0800-for exhibit information


Sight Details:

  • Mon. and Thurs.–Sat. 10–6, Sun. 1–5, Tues. and Wed. 10–8; exhibitions until 6

Updated 02/24/2014


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Fodorite Reviews

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Apr 26, 2010

New York Public Library (NYPL) Humanities and Social Sciences Library Review

Do make the time for one of the (free!) guided tours - it's the best way to grasp and appreciate the astounding history of the building and its collections (it's shockingly easy to stroll into the Rose Reading room, unknowingly right past a displayed Gutenberg Bible, and you have to be guided to peep in the window of the room containing a desk that belonged to Dickens...) and the hour long tour gives you the tools you need to explore in depth on your

own. Make sure you reach out and touch those marble walls... it makes it real! If you miss the tour (or prefer to guide yourself) this little book available in the library's shop can recreate it for you: The library also offers free coat and bag check, so don't lug your backpack on the tour! Finally, don't miss the opportunity to pop your head into the Mid-Manhattan library directly across the street, one of the library's many circulating branches, bursting with books, DVDs, and magazines (and - TRAVEL TIP - free internet access).

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Dec 14, 2008

Fine building

A gorgeous building inside and out, with attractive frescoes, plenty of intriguing architectural detail, and a nice clutch of paintings in an upstairs gallery across from the Main Reading Room entrance. Well worth a walk by and a pop-in.

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May 15, 2007

Even if you hate libraries and books!

This is a MUST SEE! The building is stunning, the frescos are gorgous, and the ceilings are breathtaking... You might even be lucky enough to see a show of street entertainers outside...

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