NYPL reveals its 10 most borrowed books of all time

January 13, 2020

Photo credit: Jonathan Blanc/NYPL

Brooklyn-born author Ezra Jack Keats’ beloved children’s story The Snowy Day is the most checked out book of all time at the New York Public Library. In celebration of its 125th anniversary, the library on Monday released a list of the 10 most borrowed books at its 92 branches since its founding in 1895. A team of experts at NYPL put together the list by looking at checkout and circulation data, overall trends, current events, popularity, and length of time in print, and presence in the catalog.

The Snowy Day, in the library’s catalog since 1962, follows a young boy experiencing his first snowfall in the city. Written and illustrated by Keats, the book won the Caldecott Medal in 1963, becoming the first picture book with an African American main character to win the award.

“It is such a relatable story and pure magic for kids and adults alike,” Andrew Medlar, director of the library’s BookOps selection team, said in a press release. “It’s on people’s radar screens, they remember when they first heard it, and they want to share that experience with their kids.”

Out of the top 10 most checked out books, six are children’s books. According to the NYPL, the shorter length of these books explains why they are often the most circulated.

The top 10 most borrowed books of all time:

1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (485,583 checkouts)

2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (469,650 checkouts)

3. 1984 by George Orwell (441,770 checkouts)

4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (436,016 checkouts)

5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (422,912 checkouts)

6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (337,948 checkouts)

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (316,404 checkouts)

8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (284,524 checkouts)

9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (231,022 checkouts)

10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (189,550 checkouts)

The library also notes that Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon should be included on the list, but “extremely influential” children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated the story so much when it was published in 1947 that the NYPL did not carry it until 1972.

“The books on this list have transcended generations and, much like the Library itself, are as relevant today as they were when they first arrived,” NYPL President Anthony W. Marx said in a press release. “This list tells us something about New Yorkers over the last 125 years—what moves them, what excites them, what stands the test of time. It’s a perfect way to kick off our celebration of the Library’s 125th anniversary . . . and it’s just the beginning.”

Starting Monday, the library is offering a limited-edition library card featuring the cover of The Snowy Day. The MTA is also rolling out a special MetroCard honoring the book at 10 stations across the city, including at Grand Central, Penn Station, 42nd Street-Bryant Park, 59th Street Columbus Circle, St. George Terminal, Broadway-Lafayette, 125th Street, Jay Street Metro Tech, and Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Ave.

Plus, NYPL branches will be holding programs and storytime for The Snowy Day in January and February. And as the library continues to honor its 125th anniversary, there will be many events and programming throughout the year, including the launch of several book lists (like “125 Books We Love” from the last 125 years), author talks and after-hours events, new exhibitions, branch openings, expanded bookmobile service, parties hosted in May to celebrate its 125th birthday on May 23, and more.


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