Photo: Max Touhey

On June 1, 2021, The New York Public Library officially opened its completely-transformed central circulating library, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL). One challenging year later—with the pandemic still greatly impacting the City, particularly in late 2021 with the Omicron surge—the building has become a part of the New York City landscape, serving New Yorkers with a wide range of collections, programs, services, and more. 

Year one statistics (through May 31, 2022) include:

  • 650,000 visits 
  • 810,000 items circulated
  • 4,600 programs with an attendance of 50,000
  • 157,000 computer sessions

Many of these numbers represent increases over 2019, when the branch was operating out of a temporary location at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street during the renovation. And considering the challenges of COVID-19—limited browsing and programs, decreased traffic in midtown, and general concern about spikes in cases, especially during Omicron—these numbers are above expectation.

“We are so proud that we were able to open the incredible Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library on June 1, 2021, giving our recovering city the ultimate gift: the best central circulating branch in the world, in the heart of midtown Manhattan,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. “From the minute we saw it, we knew the building was an impeccably designed, architectural masterpiece: the welcoming, inspiring, beautiful public library that New Yorkers have long needed and deserved. Since it opened, New Yorkers have embraced the space and all it has to offer—and that is a lot—visiting in extremely high numbers considering our current environment, and making it the bustling hub of activity and learning we always imagined. On any given day, every floor is buzzing with people reading, browsing, working, using computers, engaging in programs, learning, growing, and opening doors of opportunity. It is inspiring to watch this library fast become a beloved part of New York City’s landscape, a center where New Yorkers can come together following such a difficult period of isolation. The work inside is strengthening our communities every day and helping New York start a positive next chapter. And it’s just the beginning.”  

To celebrate the anniversary of the renovated building’s opening, the Library’s Children’s Center held a birthday party for SNFL on May 31, with snacks, book giveaways, birthday- and building-related crafts (such as a “wizard’s hat” craft, as the triangular top of the building is known as a wizard’s hat), and a storytime featuring Macmillan book Where Is Our Library—written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Stevie Lewis—which is about the building.

The library on 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, formerly named the Mid-Manhattan Library, was renovated, and completely transformed with generous support from New York City and a landmark $55 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF)—the second largest one-time individual gift in The New York Public Library’s 127-year history. The building’s modern interior and overall inspiring design is by Dutch architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo architects, a “library whisperer” who also designed the renovation of the Martin Luther King Library in Washington DC, among others, along with the unique expertise of renowned New York City-based firm Beyer Blinder Belle.

The transformative $200 million renovation of the Library’s central circulating library—455 Fifth Avenue, a building constructed in 1914-15 as the Arnold Constable & Co department store and occupied by the Library beginning in the 1970s—includes eight floors of important amenities that serve all ages. Key elements of the 180,000-square-foot library include:

  • Capacity for approximately 400,000 books and other browsable materials, the largest capacity for circulating materials in The New York Public Library system, which serves the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island
  • Double the seats as Mid-Manhattan, and 20,000 additional square feet.
  • A “Long Room”—the central element and most significant architectural intervention in the transformed branch—offering five levels of open, browsable book stacks fronting on a dramatic, 42-foot high atrium, as well as two connected floors of classrooms, education and programming spaces, meeting rooms, and consultation rooms. The Long Room was Houben’s innovative solution to the issue of holding hundreds of thousands of books and other materials while also offering inspiring, open, light-filled space full of seating.
  • The only free, publicly-accessible rooftop terrace in Midtown. 
  • The 21,000-square-foot Thomas Yoseloff Business Center (named for the grandfather of NYPL Trustee Anthony Yoseloff), offering patrons access to electronic resources (such as Bloomberg Terminals), comprehensive print materials, and in-person programs, classes, 1-on-1 sessions, and offerings in the fields of personal finance and investing, small business resources, business and financial research, and career services. 
  • The 20,000-square-foot Pasculano Learning Center—the Library’s largest adult learning center—which provides a seamless continuum of educational opportunities to support lifelong learning (including technology training, ESOL and citizenship classes, and so on).
  • A new 26,000-square-foot floor of separate spaces entirely for kids and for teens; there were no dedicated spaces for children or young adults in the former Mid-Manhattan Library. 
    • The children’s side of the floor—located on the lower level of the building, which was formerly closed to the public and used for storage, space-inefficient book sorting equipment, and mechanical equipment—includes child-sized furniture and shelving, computers, books, programming spaces, reading nooks (for any children, but specifically designed as quiet spaces for children with unique needs), and a book sorter that allows kids to return their books through a slot and watch as a conveyor belt sorts them into appropriate bins to be returned to the shelves.
    • The teen side represents The New York Public Library’s flagship teen center, serving a population hit particularly hard by the isolation of the pandemic. It includes a curated selection of books, a computer lab outfitted with media production software and hardware such as the Adobe Creative Suite and 3D printers, exclusive teen only study rooms, a variety of seating, and a one of a kind, state-of-the-art recording studio. Of particular note, the Teen Center offers programs responsive to the needs of teens, ranging from job search and college readiness assistance, to “adulting” classes to other recreational programs just for fun. The first four months it was open, the teen center offered 141 programs and events with over 800 attendees. On any given weekday afternoon, there are up to 50 teenagers in the space,
  • Approximately 44,000-square-feet of open, general public library space, including double the previous seating, computers, shelves, and more, on the Library’s second through fourth floors, holding the majority of the library’s circulating collection for adults, named the Marron Family Circulating Collections in honor of long-serving NYPL trustee, and former Chairperson of the Board, Catherine Marron and her family and their lifetime of leadership giving. 
  • Several pieces of public artwork, including a 85 by 17 puzzle-like composition on the ceiling of the Long Room created by artist Hayal Pozanti to celebrate the evolution of the written word. Her distinctive, colorful shapes correspond to the 31 characters of an invented alphabet the artist calls Instant Paradise. Developed through a process involving encryption and intuition, these complex geometric forms correlate to 12 milestones in the history of the written word – from the development of clay tablets and papyrus through to Braille, and the advent of electronic ink.

The renovated branch is central to the Library’s plan to create a world-class learning center in the middle of Midtown, uniting in one central campus the Library’s full spectrum of resources—from the Library’s renowned historical collections cherished by scholars from around the world to its much-needed circulating materials, programs, and events for all ages.

About The New York Public Library

For 127 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support. 

Photo: Max Touhey