By Jessica Allen
Thanks to a generous donation from Andrew Carnegie in the early 20th century, the city of New York built some 30 local libraries, helping make sure that books could be a part of your life regardless of where you lived or how much you earned. Today, New York has more than 90 branch libraries, some with truly terrific rooms specially designed for kids. As if that weren’t enough, the city’s museums have great educational centers, some of which also focus on kids. Read on for our six favorite libraries for kids.
53rd Street Library
18 West 53rd St.
New York, NY 10019
Much was made of the 53rd Street Library when it reopened, after extensive renovations, in 2016. Critics loudly lamented the lack of books—while it’s true that the 28,000-square-foot library emphasizes digital media over stacks of dusty tomes, there are still plenty of pages to be read. The Children’s Room caters to young ’uns aged 0 to 11, with appropriately sized tables and chairs, while older kids will appreciate the special Teen Zone. Diverse programming, from homework help to movie screenings, takes advantage of the library’s friendly public space.
Children’s Center at 42nd Street
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10018
Kids come first at the Children’s Center, part of the New York Public Library’s flagship in Midtown. The Stephen A. Schwarzman building is itself a gorgeous monument to knowledge and language. At the center, a dozen librarians are on hand to help you and your little ones find the perfect book from the city’s largest collection of children’s books. Or you can browse the amazing artifacts on display, including the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends (yes, really). And, for the record: those stone lions flanking the entrance are called Patience and Fortitude. Now you know!
Children’s Library Discovery Center
89-11 Merrick Blvd.
Jamaica, New York, NY 11432
Got a reluctant reader? Antsy scientist? Student in need of a study buddy? Bring them to the Children’s Library Discovery Center, two magnificent floors designed to awe and inspire kids aged 3 to 12. You’ll enter into a huge interactive map of Queens, then move on to one of several hands-on discovery stations devoted to such topics as astronomy and electricity. Upcoming programs give children the chance to make their own tie-dye T-shirts, learn the ancient art of origami, undertake age-appropriate science experiments, and / or participate in various book clubs.
Children’s Reading Room
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028
Frequent visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art no doubt already know that the secret to a speedy entrance is to enter at the basement level (near 81st Street). You’ll also be that much closer to the museum’s outstanding Nolen Library. At the Children’s Reading Room, you’ll find more than 500 picture books, along with board games, art-based computer games and chapter books, many in languages other than English. While museum admission isn’t required, one of the great joys of reading here is learning about a work or artistic style from a book, then going to see it for realsies in the galleries upstairs.
Park Slope Library
431 Sixth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215
The Park Slope Library is truly lovely, inhabiting as it does an early 20th-century building replete with fireplaces, stained glass, and elegant columns. What’s in it for kids, you ask? Children will love attending story time in the library’s amphitheater, playing with its Imagination Playground foam blocks, or just roaming around the grass. Bonus: several children’s book writers and illustrators make their home in Brooklyn, including Jacqueline Woodson, Sophie Blackall, Mike Curato, Brian Selznick, and Matt de la Peña, so you never know who you might bump into.
The Uni Project
New York, NY
Unlike the other spots on this list, this library roams around. Literally. Since 2011, the nonprofit Uni Project has served some 30,000 souls in over 60 NYC neighborhoods—indeed, the model of a “portable reading room” has proven so successful that the project has expanded in both scope and geography. All of the organization’s activities are designed to help participants, especially low- or moderate-income kids and families, “embrace the art of learning” via movable, stackable stations. Check the calendar to see when these folks might be popping up in a public park or square near you.