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NYPL Announces the 10 Most Borrowed Books in Its History

The Snowy Day, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and 1984 are among the most popular books in the library’s 125-year history.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, the most checked out book in the history of the New York Public Library (all images courtesy NYPL)

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats’s 1962 children’s story is the most borrowed book in the entire history of the New York Public Library (NYPL). That’s according to a list of top 10 check-outs, released today by the library to celebrate its 125th anniversary.

A team of experts at the library evaluated a series of key factors in determining the 10 most checked out books. Those included historic checkout, and circulation data (for all formats, including e-books), overall trends, current events, popularity, length of time in print, and presence in the library’s catalog. The list is the first of its kind since the library was founded in 1895.

Without further ado, here’s the complete list:

  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  3. 1984 by George Orwell
  4. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  8. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

But there’s a curious honorable mention: children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. According to the NYPL, the book would have been the system’s top checkout if not for a certain intervention. Apparently, the “extremely influential” NYPL children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore disliked the story so much when it was published in 1947 that the library didn’t carry it until 1972.

The 10 most checked-out books in the history of the New York Public Library

Analyzing checkout data, the NYPL’S team identified a number of factors that can contribute to a book’s popularity. For instance, they found that the shorter the book, the more turnover, or circulation it has. That explains why children’s books are often amongst the most circulated. They also concluded that in a multicultural city like NYC, if a book is offered in several languages, it earns a lot more borrows. The multitude of languages in which The Snowy Day is offered at the library contributed to its 485,583 checkout count. Prestigious awards naturally draw attention to books and generate more checkouts. So does appealing to different tastes and being on school lists for many decades.

The Snowy Day themed library card

Today’s release of the top 10 list is accompanied by a limited-edition library card and MetroCard featuring artwork from The Snowy Day, and it launches a year-long celebration of the NYPL’s 125th anniversary.

The celebration will include special author talks, public programs, the reopening of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, and the opening of the Polonsky Exhibition of the New York Public Library Treasures, a permanent, free exhibition showcasing items from the library’s research collections.

“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,” said NYPL’s President Anthony W. Marx. “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.”

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