Top 10: The New York Public Library’s most checked-out books of all time

Top 10: The New York Public Library’s most checked-out books of all time

To commemorate its 125th anniversary this year, the New York Public Library unveiled a list of the system’s top-10 checkouts dating back to the institution’s founding in 1895. The eclectic ranking, released on Monday, offers a peek into how the reading habits of New Yorkers have evolved over time, according to a statement from the library.

Libary experts evaluated key factors when crunching the data: historic checkouts and circulation data, overall trends, current events, popularity and length of time in print, among others. The results are riddled with both surprises and shoe-ins, with children’s literature securing top spots. (This may be due to children’s books being shorter, thereby increasing turnover.)

In a statement, New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx said the list is part of a series of new initiatives meant to celebrate the system’s milestone birthday. The institution is hosting dedicated events, including reading sessions and author talks.

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“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,” Marx said. “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.”

He added: “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 the perfect way to kick off our celebration of the library’s 125th anniversary…and it’s just the beginning.”

Without further ado, here is the full list.

“The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats (485,583 checkouts)

Securing the top spot on the ranking, “The Snowy Day” was released in 1962 and has been in the library’s catalog ever since. A quintessential read for New York kids, the illustrated story chronicles a young boy reveling in the city’s first snow day and exploring his neighborhood. At the time of its release, it was one of few children’s books that featured a Black protagonist.

“…It’s all about the story, and it is absolutely brilliantly told,” said Andrew Medlar, the director of the Library’s BookOps selection team and one of the experts who worked on the list. “It is such a relatable story, and pure magic for kids and adults alike. It’s on people’s radar screens, they remember when they first heard it, and they want to share that experience with their kids. And the artwork is just gorgeous.”

Deborah Pope, the executive director for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, noted how rewarding the ranking would have been for Keats, who died in 1983. She called it “the highest honor” the Caldecott Award winner could have received. “As a young boy, Ezra found a safe haven and inspiration in the public library,” Pope said. “Part of his legacy has been to extend the welcome of public libraries by creating books that reflect the diverse faces of the children who use the library.”

“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss (469,650 checkouts)

Is it any wonder Dr. Suess made the list? First published in 1957, “The Cat in the Hat” continues to be a perennial first checkout. It still regularly tops most-borrowed lists despite having been available for more than 50 years.

1984 by George Orwell (441,770 checkouts)

One of the few adult books to crack the ranking, the dystopian novella, released in 1949, continues to be taught in schools and remains ever-relevant. According to the library, the Orwell classic has historically seen spikes in popularity based on current events and the socio-political climate of the U.S.

“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak (436,016 checkouts)

In print since 1963, “Where the Wild Things Are” is a staple on elementary education reading lists. The story of Max is often praised for detailing how children cope with emotions, according to the library, and is brimming with creative, unique artwork.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (422,912 checkouts)

Harper Lee’s classic was an instant success upon its release in 1960 and has since been adapted into a movie and a Broadway 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,” the library noted.

“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White (337,948 checkouts)

Accessible and replete with emotionally compelling characters, “Charlotte’s Web” was first released in 1952 and quickly burrowed its way into the hearts of children, parents and educators. “No one ever forgets the story,” the library said.

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (316,404 checkouts)

Bradbury’s classic, released in 1953, remains a trenchant warning about censorship. “As with 1984, the dystopian book sees spikes in popularity based on current events and has seen a recent spike along with the popularity in dystopian fiction,” the library noted.

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (284,524 checkouts)

The only self-help book to secure a spot on the ranking, this mainstay features evergreen advice on how to improve work, life and overall happiness. While its circulation peaked years ago, it still manages to pull in a sizeable number of checkouts each year.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling (231,022 checkouts)

The newest book to nab a spot on this list, J.K. Rowling’s first installment in the Harry Potter series sparked a love of reading for a new generation. Published in 1998, checkouts of the fantasy tale spike whenever the Harry Potter universe has a new release, such as the “Fantastic Beasts” saga. “In 10 years, expect this book to climb much higher (and the other six in the series to possibly make appearances),” the library noted.

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle (189,550 checkouts)

In print since 1969, this story-hour classic is a favorite among librarians and young children. “Its bright, bold, colorful artwork (and kind of surprise ending) is intriguing and exciting to young children, who often ask to hear the story over and over,” the library said.

Honorable mention: “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown

Released in 1947, “Goodnight Moon” remains the top-selling children’s book of all time. It may have made the New York Public Library’s top-10 list, if it weren’t for the library barring it from its collection for 25 years.

“By all measures, this book should be a top checkout,” the library noted. “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 for a variety of reasons, and as such, the Library didn’t carry it…until 1972.”

Top Image: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling