Shhhhh! The New York Society Library might just be one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
Located in a beautiful townhouse at 53 E. 79th St. (near Madison Ave), the members-only library is New York’s oldest. For an annual fee of $270 per person ($350 for a family), members can check out books — there are more than 300,000 in the open stacks and a lively children’s section on its own separate floor — or reserve elegant study rooms in which to quietly work, lounge and read. There are also regular events and exhibits, including the current Black Literature Matters exhibition, open until May 1, 2022. (During non-pandemic times, there’s also daily afternoon tea and cookies in the catalog room.)
The Library was founded in 1754; the Founding Fathers were members, though George Washington might have been a less-than-ideal patron. The library’s charging ledger states that President Washington took out volume 12 of the House of Commons Debates in 1789 but there is no record of “either volume being returned, or the president … being fined.”
Alexander Hamilton, meanwhile, checked out two novels: “The Amours of Count Palviano” and “Eleanora.”
The Library has only closed twice in its history: During the American Revolutionary War, and briefly last spring at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been open in some form since June 2020, and is continuing the process of a full return for the fall.
Recently the library celebrated the 25th anniversary of its New York City Book Awards, which celebrates books that “evoke the spirit or enhance appreciation of New York City.”
“When the NYPL was closed, people ended up discovering the New York Society Library,” says Head Librarian Carolyn Waters, noting that despite the “society” in its name, the library is welcome to all New Yorkers interested in membership. (There are currently around 2,600 members.)
To become a New York Society Library member or to learn more, visit https://www.nysoclib.org/
Living | New York Post