This year, the New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary. With 53 million items and 92 locations across Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, the NYPL is the largest municipal library in the world. It’s also the steward of some of New York’s greatest landmarks, reflecting a century and a quarter of Gotham’s history, and in some cases even more.
The roots of this library system can be found in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Noho. The main antecedents of the NYPL which formed the foundation of today’s system— the Astor Library, the Lenox Library, and the New York Free Circulating Library – all began in these neighborhoods just below 14th Street. As a result, this is where New York’s oldest public library buildings and the oldest building housing an NYPL branch are located — the latter ironically having been where great works of literature were banned and censored before it became a library.