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The NYPL's transformed Central Circulating Library and public rooftop is officially open

See how beautiful the new library is!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

There's a new must-see rooftop in town and it isn't on top of a hotel—it's at the New York Public Library. 

The former Mid-Manhattan Library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue, now named The Central Circulating Library, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, just fully opened to the public today, Tuesday, June 1 and it's quite striking.

Its rooftop now has a green copper-clad-like structure—a "wizard's hat," according to the NYPL—that houses its mechanical equipment. Putting the equipment in this penthouse level made room for an L-shaped roof terrace with views of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, an indoor cafe, and glass-enclosed programming room on the seventh floor. This rooftop area is slated to open to the public in the near future.

RECOMMENDED: You can now download over 300,000 books from the NYPL for free

NYPL Central Circulating Branch
Photograph: John Bartelstone / Courtesy the NYPL

Other amazing highlights at the shiny new library include the "Long Room" at the heart of the building—a dramatic atrium that shows off five levels of book stacks across three floors, which draws the eyes up to a beautiful puzzle-like mural, "Instant Paradise," by Hayal Pozanti on the ceiling inspired by neoclassical paintings.

“This beautiful piece provides a further connection between the two libraries,” said architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo, which lead the design with Beyer Blinder Belle. “It is so bold, so different, but still closely tied with the concept of inspirational, public art across Fifth Avenue. People will spend many hours in this building, reading and learning. To look up and see something that prompts you to think, to learn. It adds so much."

All of this is made even more beautiful with a flood of natural light coming from new windows and cutouts in the floors.

NYPL Central Circulating Branch
Photograph: John Bartelstone / Courtesy the NYPL

The library had been closed since 2017 for the major $200 million renovation, which also brought about a dedicated children’s and teen center, and a business and career services center.

Its opening was delayed last year from May to July, but only the first floor was opened to the public for grab-and-go book checkouts. Now, the lower level through the fourth floor, including the Long Room, is open for limited growing and by-appointment computer use.

When state guidelines allow, the library will hold programs and classes for children and teens, career services, English language and literacy classes, media and technology training, a multimedia studio and more.

NYPL Central Circulating Branch
Photograph: John Bartelstone / Courtesy NYPL

The library first occupied in the building in the 1970s in a space originally designed for the Arnold Constable & Company department store, which was, at one point, the oldest department store in America, operating for over 150 years. It primarily served wealthy shoppers like the wives of Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Even after some renovation in the early days, the NYPL considered closing it down in the 2010s, but then announced a major renovation in 2014.

The renovation was funded by the city and The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has funded libraries worldwide. 

NYPL Central Circulating Branch
Photograph: John Bartelstone / Courtesy the NYPL
NYPL Central Circulating Branch
Photograph: John Bartelstone / Courtesy the NYPL

"The public was always attached to the Mid-Manhattan Library, even though over the years it had become a tired space,” said Elizabeth Leber, managing partner at Beyer Blinder Belle. “The building had good bones and stood the test of time for more than 100 years, but it hadn’t been renovated since 1978, and there were challenges making it feel welcoming and manageable."

Leber says more than 75 percent of the structure and envelope was retained, pleasing preservationists and lovers of NYC and public libraries, but the renovation was necessary to give it new life and help it last another 100 years.

The Central Circulating Library, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library is now open Monday to Thursday, 10am to 8pm and Friday and Saturday, 10am to 6pm, at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Exploring SNFL: A Library Transformed from The New York Public Library on Vimeo.

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