Using New York City Libraries

Using New York City Libraries


The main branch of the New York Public Library
The main branch of the New York Public Library

New York City Libraries

There are three separate new york city library systems that run independently from each other. The New York Public Library (NYPL) serves Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island. The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) only serves Brooklyn and the Queens Library (QL) only serves Queens.

Combined, these three systems have 209 branches total with 63 million items in their collections.

Library cards at all of the library systems are free and you will need a separate card for each system. Check online for your local branch hours as they are pretty limited. Donate to your local branch! Maybe someday they’ll have Sunday hours!

NYPL: New York Public Library

The NYPL is the second largest public library in the US with 53 million items. Their collections span from books to maps to historical documents. Many of these items can only viewed in the building but you are welcome to schedule a viewing for free.

The main branch of NYPL, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, does not allow any books to be taken out of it. Go here for beautiful architecture and use a different branch to read and take out books.

NYPL consists of 77 neighborhood branches in the three boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island. This means you can get books from any of these branches transferred to your near-by branch. That is a near endless selection of books!

BPL: Brooklyn Public Library

If NYPL’s branches aren’t enough, you can also take out from the Brooklyn Public Library‘s 58 neighborhood branches.

You do not need to live in Brooklyn to get a library card from here. But you do need to hold residence or employment in NYC. BPL library card holders can get linked to NYPL and take out books using the same card. However, books must be returned to a branch within their system. And you cannot request books from out of a library system. BPL stays within BPL.

QL: Queens Library

If you still can’t find what you need, the Queens Library system has 62 neighborhood branches. You must get a separate QL card to take out from any of these branches. You cannot take out books from any other system using this card.

Putting Books on Hold

As an avid reader, I love exploring the numerous independent bookstores NYC has to offer. Unfortunately, this can quickly become an expensive habit. I didn’t right away think of going to the library because I thought my local branch might not have what I was looking for. Then I learned about putting books on hold. And my life was changed forever.

Since there are so many branches in all of the systems, your local branch may not have the specific book you’re looking for. No worries, just get yourself to an Internet device and go the library website.

I’ll use NYPL for this example as that’s the system I frequently use. I recommend registering as soon as you get a card.

Search results & putting a book on hold on
Search results & putting a book on hold on

On their website, search for the book you want to read. At the search results, find the format you want it in. Many libraries offer e-book and audiobook versions, along with paper. Right on the search screen, it shows you which locations the book is available to take out and how many other folks are waiting for the book.

If you don’t mind the wait, click “Place A Hold.” Then select which branch you would like it sent to. Now, when a copy becomes available, it will be automatically transferred to your local branch!

Popular books have a long wait, but how can you complain about free?
Popular books have a long wait, but how can you complain about free?

Putting books on hold is fun! It’s like adding items to a shopping cart except your total is zero every time.

And with the free price tag, you do have to wait days/weeks/months sometimes for a popular or rare book. If you really want to read it so bad, no one is stopping you from buying it. Besides, I like when a book on hold suddenly becomes available to me. It’s like a little surprise birthday present!

NPYL will email you when any of the books on your hold list become available at your local branch. You will then have about two weeks to pick it up before it gets put back in circulation.

Books on hold are usually on shelves in the front of each branch with printed numbers on pieces of paper on each side. For NYPL, these are the last four numbers on your library card. BPL is different. Ask your librarian the first time if you need assistance.

You can continuously check your hold list (as I do) to see where you are on the wait list. The status will also change when a book you requested is in transit.

With my love for libraries exposed, I want to add that I do still buy books! If a book I read from the library was amazing, I will go buy it. If I want to keep a book for reference, I will go buy it. Using the library for books saves me money on books I would not want to buy. Books that I heard were good but I did not enjoy. There’s plenty of them out there.

Your local library is a great resource for a quiet place to study
Your local library is a great resource for a quiet place to study

Things Other Than Free Books

Since libraries are in desperate need of funding I wanted to highlight some other useful things libraries do other than loan out free books! All of the NYPL branches of free wi-fi. There are often tables and chairs for reading, studying, working. Some branches of tables and outlets to use as laptop workstations. These resources are all free. No coffee purchase required.

There are also classes, book groups, tax help, and more offered. Take a look at the bulletin board at your local branch to see all upcoming events.


11 Replies to “Using New York City Libraries”

  1. Note that many branches have really shitty hours if you’re employed. For example, my local library at 145th and Amsterdam is typically open from 11 to 6, and is always closed on Sundays. This makes it something of a challenge to actually grab books during the week, and unless the branch has a drop-off outside (which mine didn’t until a few months ago) to return them as well.

    (Some Queens branches have automated return systems with a fancy scanner and conveyor belt, which is great until a kid shoves garbage into it, or a homeless man shits in it.)

    On the plus side, you can renew books online to avoid a late fee if you realize that your book is due Monday, but you can’t make it to the branch until Saturday.

    1. There isn’t a local branch near your work? I always return/pick-up books on my lunch break.

      My local BPL branch, which I have only been to once because of how inconvenient it is, has an automated check-out/return and I didn’t really like it. I’d much rather them put money into better hours and Sundays than automated types of “improvements”.

  2. I’ve been here! We walked through the library and I thought it was stunning! Why can’t Edmonton have beautiful libraries like NYC!!! Looks like it’s a pretty good system too =)

  3. I have started making the switch to the online check out of books at the library.

    I am just too bad at returning the books on time, and it ends up costing me a fortune!
    With the eBooks… They just disappear after 2 weeks :)

  4. I love libraries and keep meaning to find and start using one near where I live. I’ve been super impressed at the number of free classes they offer too. It’s kind of incredible. Last time I looked up their website, they even had classes like yoga and learning different computer programs for free.

  5. thanks for writing this post!! that’s good to know (and I love Wally Lamb, and I forgot I wanted to read the hyperbole and a half book!)
    And Mel just mentioned free yoga, too!?
    I’m very excited.

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