This beautiful marble library building, located on 5th Avenue at 42nd Street, is not to be missed, even if you only visit because you want your picture with one of the lions or because you are a fan of the 1984 film “Ghostbusters”. (FYI: If you are a Ghostbusters fan, see our Top Ten Ghostbusters Locations post. In addition to housing a renowned reference library, the New York Public Library is home to treasures such as a Gutenberg Bible, a First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s “Comedies, Histories and Tragedies” from 1623 and Mary Poppins’ umbrella (Just a few of many amazing things!).
You may skip to 2:00 for highlights of the building tour.
The New York Public Library’s Schwartzman Building (sometimes called the Main Branch) is located in midtown Manhattan, just a few blocks away from both Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal and the United Nations Building. As such, the Schwartzman Building can be reached by most major subway and bus lines. We recommend using this Google map to get directions from anywhere in the city.
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The Schwartzman Building
This iconic building is a Beaux-Arts style marble building that was dedicated on May 23, 1911, with over 1 million books and 75 miles of shelving put into place for its opening day. You can see the library from the outside on both our Midtown Manhattan Tour and our Manhattan Night Tour (See our calendar for days/times.) It is an extraordinarily beautiful building, both inside and out.
If you want a more in-depth look at the library after seeing it on our tour, go back afterwards! It is quite massive and maybe a bit overwhelming to navigate on your own. Fortunately, they offer free guided tours of the building! Check out the podcast on the New York Public Library by the New York City history gurus, better known as the Bowery Boys, to learn more about this wonderful building and institution.
Taking New York City Public Library Tours
The tours, given by volunteer docents, run every day.
Monday-Saturday: 11am and 2pm
Sunday: 2pm only (Note: the library is closed on Sundays during the summer, so there are no tours.).
All tours meet at the Information Desk in the Astor Hall. Astor Hall is the main entry point on the library, and the Information Desk is off to the left, just past the left set of stairs. The tour is one hour.
Have a guide navigate you through the immense and beautiful library and show you sights such as The Rose Main Reading Room (one of the largest uninterrupted interior spaces in the whole city!), the amazing McGraw Rotunda, the Map Division Room and much more!
If you were wondering how the librarians handle requests from patrons who put in a “call slip” asking for a particular book from among the collection of over 1.5 million books, well, prior to 2016, the book was retrieved from the stacks of the Reading Room and the huge space beneath the Rose Main Reading Room. After a two year renovation, a new book retrieval system was put into place. Here’s a video of the adorable and highly efficient electric trolley system, in which books can be sent off to reading rooms upstairs in a fairly quick manner.
Some Things to Know When Visiting the Library
There will be security officers at all entrances and throughout the library. They may ask to look in your bag.
Food and drinks are not allowed inside, so finish up your snacks before you go in!
While photography is allowed, most rooms do not allow you to use a flash.
The library is wheelchair accessible, both at the entrances and throughout the building.
While they don’t allow outside food and drinks, there is a small café towards the back of Astor Hall if you need something to eat or drink while you are there.
If You Need a Little More Library…
In addition to the building tour, the library offers guided docent tours of their temporary exhibits. Current exhibits as of September 2016 include:
Like the building tours, exhibit tours run twice a day. These tours meet at the entrance to Gottesman Exhibition Hall, which is just past Astor Hall if you walk straight from the front door. Times for these tours are as follows:
Monday-Saturday: 12:30pm and 2:30pm
Sunday: 3:30pm (again, the library is closed on Sundays during the summer months.)
For the ultimate library experience, you could take the 11am building tour and the 12:30pm exhibition tour. If that is a little too much library for you, you can combine a library tour with one of our tours! For a perfect (indoor and cozy!) Sunday during the winter, you could take our 10am Grand Central Terminal Tour, have a leisurely lunch, and then head over to the library for the 2pm building tour. Or you could take the 11am library building tour before one of our 2pm Midtown Manhattan Tours! (See our calendar for days/times).