Brief History of the New York Public Library Main Branch

The New York Public Library Main Branch is one of the most famous destinations of its type in the world today. It occupies a landmark building on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.

It’s one of four research libraries within its system, and the facility offers nine separate divisions for support. Four stories are open to the public to find and check out books, do onsite research, or find a quiet spot for studying.

The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s.

The Main Branch Was a Consolidation of Two Libraries

Andrew Carnegie donated $5.2 million to the consolidation project of the Lenox and Astor libraries in 1895. The facility would become the New York Public Library, along with a substantial bequest from Samuel Tilden.

The combined libraries in the late 19th century offered 350,000 items to the public after the merger, which was relatively small at the time. The founders wanted an imposing main branch that would offset any hesitance from using the facility, eventually leading to the site on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street.

The NY State Legislature authorized the construction of a public library on that land in May 1897.

It Took 11 Years to Construct the Main Branch

The project’s scope caused the construction time to last for more than a decade. When you see the marble work and the building’s interior design, you’ll understand why it took so long.

The contractors were painting the catalog and reading rooms in 1908, but it wasn’t until 1910 when they started installing 75 miles worth of shelving to hold all of the books.

They took advantage of the new building to plan for future acquisitions.

On May 23, 1911, the main branch opened with 15,000 guests. The event was attended by President Taft, the city’s mayor, and the governor.  The public was invited the next day to start using the collection.

Today, the New York Public Library Main Branch continues to serve its primary function while being featured in numerous shows and movies.