The New York Public Library has been on fire with its creative media moments in recent years — its annual Black Friday “deal”, limited edition library cards, and more. 2020 also marks the institution’s 125th anniversary, and in honor of that milestone, the New York Public Library just revealed its top 10 checked out books of all time since opening in 1895. In conjunction with the top 10 checkouts, the NYPL will have a limited edition “Snowy Day Library Card” and a limited edition Metrocard available in 10 subway stations across the five boroughs.
New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx says,“For 125 years, the Library has uniquely sparked, supported, and fostered a true love of reading in the people of New York City and beyond. Among our many roles, we look to connect people with the stories that capture their imaginations, take them places, stay with them over time, encourage them to keep turning pages, and greatly impact and shape their lives. 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. 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.” Without further ado, here are the top 10 books checked out of all time at the New York Public Library (text below by NYPL):
1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: 485,583 checkouts
In print and in the Library’s catalog continuously since 1962, this charming, beautifully illustrated tale of a child enjoying the simple magic that snow brings to his city is one of the Library’s top circulated books every year, across all neighborhoods we serve. The story—available in a multitude of languages—has a universal appeal and is well-known, being both a Caldecott Medal winner and one of the earliest examples of diversity in children’s books. At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the story—and how the brilliantly told tale of Peter and his wintry adventure transcends generations.
2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: 469,650 checkouts
Instantly popular and considered quite innovative when it was first published in 1957, The Cat in the Hat is always in demand at the Library. Of all the books on this list, this book is perhaps most ingrained in the zeitgeist—a perennial first checkout, or birthday party or baby shower gift. Parents remember it fondly and read it to their children, and its 236 rhyming words always delight.
3. 1984 by George Orwell: 441,770 checkouts
George Orwell’s dystopian novella has been a regular on high school reading lists almost since its publication in 1949. Its universal appeal and relatively short length make it both popular and a quick read, leading to increased checkouts. The book has also seen spikes in popularity based on the ever-changing sociopolitical climate of the United States. The recent popularity of dystopian fiction (such as The Hunger Games Trilogy, for example) has also increased interest in this classic of the genre.
4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendeak: 436,016 checkouts
It’s still creating a rumpus. The imaginative, relatable story of Max and his adventures with the Wild Things (often praised for creatively sharing how children cope with their emotions) has been in print since 1963. Over that time, it has received continuous attention and praise, including winning a Caldecott Medal, recognition on numerous library and school lists, and being adapted into a live-action film. The book’s incredible artwork helps capture the imagination of adults and kids alike, which is why, all these years later, Max still reigns.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 422,912 checkouts
The novel was an instant success when it was first published in 1960, and ever since has been a perennial favorite on high school and middle school reading lists. The Pulitzer Prize–winning book is also relatively short, contributing to more checkouts. The book—often in the news because of its serious themes—has also been made into a film and play. Sometimes dubbed “America’s novel,” there’s also a bit of cultural peer pressure around this novel, with people feeling they should read it.
6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: 337,948 checkouts
This children’s classic is the ultimate relatable story: accessible to all ages but profound, emotional, and memorable. For children, it’s a magical farm story populated with lovable characters. For adults, it digs into themes of friendship and loss in an innocent, understandable manner. In print since 1952, the (relatively short) story of the friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte has tugged at the heartstrings of generation after generation of readers. No one ever forgets the story, and it’s one that parents often like to share with their children.
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: 316,404 checkouts
Another regular on high school reading lists, the relatively short 1953 novel about destroying books continues to be one of the Library’s most popular titles every year. As with 1984, Fahrenheit 451 sees spikes in popularity based on current events, and has seen a recent spike along with the popularity in dystopian fiction. In addition to its universal appeal, author Ray Bradbury has a very loyal fan base who can be counted on for repeated checkouts.
8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: 284,524 checkouts
In constant circulation since 1936 and one of the best-selling books of all time, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People has a spectacular legacy. Everyone knows this book—it is almost always recommended for people looking to improve at work or in life, and it’s written in an accessible, common sense tone that provides not only advice but also comfort. The ultimate “self-help book,” it also has a very memorable and direct title that generates smirks, but also cuts to the point. Though its circulation peaked years ago, it still generates checkouts as new readers look for the key to friends and influence.
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: 231,022 checkouts
The only way a book published in the late 1990s could crack an all-time top checkouts list, competing with books that have been on library shelves for decades, is if it was an absolute phenomenon. Magic, if you will. Enter Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling’s epic fantasy series about a boy wizard and his fight against evil was (and remains) so enormously popular that when it was released in the U.S. in 1998, it sparked book release parties with hours-long lines, films, theme parks, toys, and more. The first book in the saga made this list, and while it has a steady stream of checkouts each year, it also spikes when new films or new editions of the book come out. In 10 years, expect this book to climb much higher (and the other six in the series to make appearances).
10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: 189,550 checkouts
This book—in print since 1969—is a favorite among librarians and teachers because of its interactive nature and unique format. The relatable story of the little caterpillar who is always hungry (and sometimes eats the wrong things) is therefore a staple for kids learning to read. Additionally, its bright, bold, colorful artwork (and kind of surprise ending) is intriguing and exciting to young children, who might ask to hear the story over and over.
11. Honorable Mention: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Helping soothe countless children to sleep since it was first published in 1947, Goodnight Moon is one of the best-selling kids books of all time. The pattern and rhythm of words creates an almost unexplainable magic, especially when read out loud, charming children with the cozy and comfortable world of the familiar. By all measures, this book should be a top checkout (in fact, it might be the top checkout) if not for an odd piece of history: extremely influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated Goodnight Moon when it first came out. As a result, the Library didn’t carry it until 1972. That lost time bumped the book off the top 10 list for now. But give it time.
Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of the New York Public Library.