A Guide to the Oldest Libraries of New York


New York is a city of lights, culture, and architecture. But above all, it’s a city of the world’s beautiful and historic libraries too. These libraries are famous for their classic collection. Other than this, they are also known for their gorgeous architecture and a soothing environment. They keep you away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Where New York serves us with more than 200 libraries, the oldest libraries deserve a separate mention. They are not only the oldest libraries but also have rich histories. In addition to this, they have some amazing and jaw-dropping facts. 

These facts would give you an insight into the old New York. Moreover, you will get to know about its history and culture – and what an impressive past New York as a whole and these oldest libraries, in general, went through. Let’s get started

The New York Society Library (1754)

The New York society library is the oldest one in New York. Founded in 1754, it makes itself 266 years old in the history of New York’s libraries. Civic-minded individuals of New York build the library. It also served as the home to the affluent Rogers Family. Their purpose was simple; it was all about founding a library that serves functions of usefulness. Also, it must be ornamental to the city.

For the next few decades, it kept relocating till 1935. Since then, the library is at 53 East 79 Street. 

The library is the house of 300,000 volumes. It also includes audio recordings and periodicals. In addition to these, you will find books on a broad range of subjects. It is a non-profit organization. Thus, it gets the fund from membership fees and endowments.

The Library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen (1820)

The Library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen (1820)

This library is the second oldest library in New York. It was established in 1820. Skilled craftsmen of the city founded this library 234 years ago. The original name of the library was Apprentices’ Library. It was built for the working and middle class. Its primary function is to serve as a circulating library of popular and literary fiction.

The Library is home to a vast collection of research material. Also, it has the oldest archives dating back to 1785. The library holds more than two thousand volumes in its collection. By 1865 the library already had 7,282 readers and a circulation of 135,840. Thus, making it one of the largest libraries in the United States. 

Also, The Library of General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen is enlisted in the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the library is located at 20th West 44 Street (the fifth location of the library). 

The Mercantile Library of New York (1820)

The Mercantile Library of New York (1820)

The Mercantile Library of New York is the third of the subscription libraries founded by William Woods. Also, it is one of the oldest libraries in New York. Its former name was The Mercantile Library Association of The City of New York. 

The purpose of founding the library was mainly for middle-class merchants so they can have a prominent position in business and community and young men so they can spend time being productive than being at wasting it at bars or billiard rooms.

Also known as ‘The Merc’, it had not just become the fourth largest library in the country, but also one of the largest lending libraries in the United States. If you are not familiar with The Mercantile Library of New York, then you probably know it by the name of ‘The Center for Fiction.’ It is named this because it is the only establishment that is dedicated solely to the art of fiction. Additionally, the library also takes pride in being a “home to readers and writers.” 

The organization also prizes the authors annually, which includes the annual ‘Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.’

The current location of the library is 15 Lafayette Avenue in Fort Green, Brooklyn. 

The Jefferson Market Library (1877)

The Jefferson Market Library
Jefferson Market Court in 1935, with the IRT Sixth Avenue Line in front of it. Photograph by Berenice Abbott (1935)

Not only Jefferson Market Library is one of the oldest libraries of New York, but also a National Historic Landmark. It was constructed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux between 1875 and 1877. Both of them built it in a Victorian Gothic style. From hosting a courthouse to a police court, and a fire watcher’s balcony to holding a room for prisoners, the structure has a rich history.

Eventually, by 1959, the structure was abandoned and became a home to animals and rats. However, in an effort to save the building for getting ruined, the members of the Greenwich Village Community motivated Mayor Robert F. Wagner, and he made a decision to preserve and convert the space into a public library, and thus this amazing library was born. 

The most promising aspect of the library is its architecture due to which it also serves as the beautiful sightseeing. The beautiful clock tower gives a glimpse of gothic architecture. Along with that, it provides a soothing atmosphere for reading. 

It is located at the 425 Avenues of the Americas. In short, being one of the oldest New York’s Libraries, it is yet one of the most remarkable buildings in the state. 

The Ottendorfer Library (1884)

The Ottendorfer Library (1884)

The Ottendorfer Library, being one of the oldest libraries in New York founded in 1884, is also the first free public library of the city. Also, it was a branch of the New York Public Library, which is named after the person who gifted it, Oswald Ottendorfer, the founder of the  New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung newspaper. Originally, the library had books in both German and English languages. The aim behind opening the library was to educate the residing Germans of the respective area with American culture. 

German architect William Schickel designed it in neo-Italian renaissance styles. In addition to that, he gave a combination of Queen Anne architecture to the building. Just according to the intentions of Oswald Ottendorfer, most of the events in the library are based on learning English for non-English speakers. Other events that are conducted in the library include technology classes for teens and adults, as well as book swaps. 

The library is a designated New York City landmark and is located on 135 Second Avenue in the East Village.

The Grolier Club library (1884)

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is the oldest bibliophilic club in North America. Other than this, it is one of the oldest libraries in New York. Robert Hoe, manufacturer of a printing press, along with the eight members of the society of bibliophiles, founded the library. It was named after Treasurer-General of France and a renowned French bibliophile, Jean Grolier.

The purpose of these nine men was to open a club to focus on study, collection, and appreciation of books via publication and exhibitions that are open to the general public. 

The library hosts 100,000 volumes that are all devoted to the bibliography and the “arts of the book.” Today, the library is home to 60,000 volumes of book auction catalogs. Also, it is an excellent resource of research material and numerous bibliophiles for scholars, researchers, and historians.

This amazing library is located at 47 East 60th Street, and a non-member can only go by appointment for unique research related to the art of books.

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building New York Public Library (1895)

Stephen Schwarzman Building is also known as the Main Branch of the New York Public library. Constructed in 1895, it is a landmark in Midtown Manhattan. It is also a flagship building in the New York Public Library System. Formed by the combination of two libraries (Astor and Lenox Libraries) in the late 19 century, the building contains four stories that are open to the public.

The library is home to 15 million items, which include items from medieval times to the latest publications and novels. The main branch became popular since its opening and started receiving about 4 million visitors annually by the 1920s. The Stephen Schwarzman Building New York Public library is also featured in many Hollywood films. 

The library was originally dedicated to the then-current president William Howard Taft but was officially opened to the public in May 24, 1911. It didn’t receive the current name until 2008, when Stephen A. Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group, donated $100 million to the expansion and renovation of the New York Public Library. 

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building New York Public Library is located at 476 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York 10018.


All the libraries mentioned above serve as the oldest libraries in New York. They add life to the rich socio-cultural life of NY. Also, they are the basis of extensive research and a wonderland for readers. Above all, they provide a soothing escape from the busy city life.

These oldest libraries of New York play a vital role in giving America a number of scholars, thinkers, and great researchers. 

We hope you like this guide to the oldest libraries of New York. Don’t forget to share it with your loved ones who love visiting different libraries and book reading. 

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