Ultimate Neighborhood Resource (and It's Free!)
Three mornings a week, at 11:30am, the usually serene second floor of the Harry Belafonte 115th Street branch of the New York Public Library is decidedly NOT quiet. You can hear it all the way downstairs at the front entrance: singing, clapping, crying, laughing. The unmistakeable sound of a giant pile of tiny children having story time. It’s free, it’s fantastic, and it’s become an essential part of our lives since having our first (and final, sorry buddy, it’s the only-child bin for you) kid last spring. The local library was a huge part of childhood for both of us, and it’s taken having a child of our own to be reminded of how exceptional, accessible, and essential the New York Public Library system is. As real estate agents, we realized it’s an often overlooked neighborhood feature that can make a big difference in quality of life, whether you have kids or not. Here we give you an overview of the NYPL system, info about notable branches, and a taste of the programs and activities you can expect to find.
The New York Public Library is the second largest public library in the country (behind only the Library of Congress) and third in the world; the British Library is the largest (nerds). Those standings, however are based on number of catalogued items. If you go by number of visitors, the NYPL is the most-used library in the world, with 18 million folks using the system each year, more than three times as many as the next closest: the National Library of China. Take that, England, Congress, and China. Our library is a world-class research institution, but I’d argue it’s excellence is tied more to how extensively and intensively it serves the overall community of New York City, one neighborhood at a time. With 92 locations spread throughout Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island (Brooklyn and Queens have their own excellent library systems), there’s a branch near you (or near your future home), each with an impressive slate of classes, activities and events. You can use this handy site to find one just nearby: www.nypl.org/locations.
While the local branches are the heart of the system, there are a number of particularly noteworthy branches. Made famous in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, the Stephen A. Schwarzman branch is the most iconic: The sweeping front steps are flanked by the NYPL’s official lion mascots, Patience and Fortitude. This is a more research-oriented branch, but is worth visiting for the Mid-Manhattan branch (which is housed on the ground floor, and terrific gift shop, and the truly excellent Children’s Center. It also hosts many special events, like the recent Big Play Date, which we took Ollie to; we all had a blast. The Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center is a massive repository for for all things performance related: music, film, dance, theatre. It’s bot a circulating and research library, with extensive collections spanning genres and mediums. There’s also an Amy’s bread if you get hungry checking out all that Verndon/Fosse material. In our own neighborhood of Harlem, the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture is “devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences.” It’s primarily a research branch, but they have many public events an exhibitions. This summer marks their first literary festival, called Reading the African Diaspora, on Saturday, June 29th.
The New York Public Library has become a much larger part of our lives since having a kid, but it has so much to offer beyond family-friendly programming. We hope you’ll explore your local branch, and also check out some of the more iconic locations throughout the city. Right now the NYPL is running a campaign called Invest in Libraries, designed to encourage City Hall to increase funding. It’s hard to think of a better, less controversial cause than that, so please visit investinlibraries.org to sign a letter voicing your support (no donation necessary). Then head over to nypl.org and find a branch and event near you. Happy reading/writing/meeting/singing/dancing/learning.