New York Society Library – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura

New York Society Library

New York's oldest and possibly grandest keeper of books. 


The New York Society Library occupies a 5-story Italianate mansion in the Upper East Side, replete with wood panelled readings rooms and winding staircases. New Yorkers have devoured books at the Society Library since 1754, the oldest cultural institution in the city. 

An act of civic duty motivated the group of six locals who founded the New York Society Library, the first public library in the city. It opened in humble surroundings: a single room in the old City Hall. 

During the Revolution, British soldiers looted books and brought the library to its knees. Men robbed the place of many of its possessions; books torn up and stuffed down rifle barrels and some even sold for bottles of rum. Some time passed before the Society Library reopened.

The library returned to its original home in City Hall and at a time when New York was the nation’s capital, became the first Library of Congress. By 1795 the 5,000 strong collection moved to 33 Nassau Street. Society Library continued to move uptown before it settled in 1937 in 53 East 79th Street. 

Its present home is a registered New York City Landmark. The original charter granted by King George III still hangs inside the luxurious property. Society Library boasts a collection of nearly 300,000 volumes.  

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July 28, 2016

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