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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/sarahtarno

The most gorgeous libraries in NYC

You don’t have to like reading to geek out over the most gorgeous libraries in NYC, from the NYPL to Jefferson Market

By Dan Q Dao and John Marshall

Whether you're a bookworm or an architechture addict, you're certain to fall in love with the most stunning NYC libraries. Because you have to admit: Libraries are some of the most beautiful NYC buildings to visit. Gotham has no shortage of great architecture, but our libraries make for some of the most interesting lesser-known NYC attractions. One of the best things to do in Manhattan is visit the New York Public Library, which ranks as one of the most famous book dens in the world. But there are plenty more lesser known—yet equally jaw-dropping—libraries worth getting to know. From Jefferson Market to the Morgan Library, these are the most gorgeous libraries in NYC.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to New York attractions

The most gorgeous NYC libraries

Photograph: Courtesy Max Touhey Photography

1. New York Public Library

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Midtown West

This iconic location, proudly guarded by regal-looking marble lions, is among the city's most ornate public spaces. The pièce de résistance is of course the Rose Reading Room—who wouldn’t be inspired by all those crystal chandeliers? But if you’re here for the books, you won’t be disappointed either: There are some 50 million items spread out across these stacks.

The New York Academy of Medicine
The New York Academy of Medicine
Photograph: Courtesy The New York Academy of Medicine

2. New York Academy of Medicine

Things to do Talks and lectures East Harlem

Established in 1847 and opened to the public in 1878, this library holds an exhaustive catalog of medical journals, documents and other ephemera. The library subscribes to more than 1,000 journals, and there are more than 800,000 volumes in the main collection. Check out its historical collections, which contain items like an amputation kit and documentation about an 18th-century smallpox outbreak in the U.K.

Visits are by appointment, but there are free drop-in hours on the first Monday of every month at noon.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Car Los

3. The Morgan Library & Museum

Museums History Murray Hill

Originally the private library of none other than John Pierpont Morgan—yup that J.P. Morgan—this lavish edifice was first dedicated to bookish pursuits in 1910. In 2006, a massive renovation by the famed Renzo Piano brought more natural light into the building and doubled the size of the exhibition space. Today, a museum welcomes visitors to see collections of original Michelangelo drawings and Steinbeck manuscripts and a theater, Gilder Lehrman Hall, regularly hosts recitals and concerts.

the center for fiction
the center for fiction
Photograph: Courtesy Michelle Rose

4. The Center for Fiction

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Fort Greene

Formerly located in Manhattan's Mercantile Library, the Center for Fiction recently opened a new location in Downtown Brooklyn that brings the old-world charm of literature together with more modern digs with a bar/cafe, a bookstore, writing space, and yes, a library. While membership is required to take advantage of its co-working spaces and upstairs library, the public is free to check out the ground-floor where a portion of its library sits as well as its bookstore, bar-cafe and event space. Members can out books and get discounts on reading groups, writing workshops, events, and bookstore, and more. It's a beautifully quiet space for literature lovers to sit and read.    

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Steve Guttman NYC

5. New York Public Library, Jefferson Market Branch

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Greenwich Village

This former courthouse building has been an important part of the Greenwich Village community for more than four decades. Arched stained glass windows are some of the major architectural draws, along with carved doorways, a public garden, and a variety of mural-size artwork. Also, it looks like a freakin’ Victorian castle, so there’s that.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Caitlin C.

6. New York Society Library

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Upper East Side

The townhouse-set New York Society Library includes some cozy reading rooms that are open to the public—but you have to be a member check out a book. (After all, it is called a society). But the Upper East Side location deserves a spot on this list regardless: It’s the oldest book lender in the city, opened in 1754, and holds some 300,000 volumes.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/kyle rw

7. Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Prospect Heights

Designed to physically resemble an open book, this 1941 Art Deco building is arguably Brooklyn’s most popular library. Overlooking Grand Army Plaza, this branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system also boasts an outdoor performance space for concerts and other events. Among the library's strongest suits is its first-floor Youth Wing, with designated spaces for toddlers and teens to discover a love of reading.

8. New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Upper West Side

Whether you’re looking for some worthwhile literature on your favorite ballroom dancer or would rather gawk at beautiful people—all while hanging out in a sleek, modern space—this library will not disappoint. Housed within the Lincoln Center complex, naturally, this branch of the NYPL is known specifically for the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, one of the world’s largest collections with works about the performing arts.

Poets House, 101 TTD
Poets House, 101 TTD
Photograph: Courtesy Poets House

9. Poets House

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Battery Park City

What better place to get some inspiration than this poetry mecca touting views of Rockefeller Park and the Hudson River? Founded in 1985 by poet laureate Stanley Kuntz, the whimsical, sunlit book den is fitted with quirky decor like a canoe-shape bookcase, an old-fashioned birdcage and antique school desks. And with some 70,000 volumes to peruse, there’s no doubt you’ll get your poetry fix here. The best part? It’s free and open to the public. There’s even a Children’s Room for the youngest sonneteers.

Brooklyn Public Library, Pacific Branch
Brooklyn Public Library, Pacific Branch
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Reading Tom

10. Brooklyn Public Library, Pacific Branch

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Park Slope

Opened in 1904, this library isn’t the largest even in Brooklyn, but it has an antiquated charm that makes it worth a stop if you’re a local or happen to be in the area. Architecture buffs will get a kick out of the century-old beaux arts building, which was thankfully saved from demolition in 2013 by City Council. It’s also notable for being the first Carnegie library in Brooklyn.

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