About Us

Frequently Asked Questions

General

History

Building

Readers

Children

Researchers

Events

Exhibitions


General

What is a subscription library?

A subscription library (also called a membership library) is a library that relies on subscription fees and donations for support.

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How is the New York Society Library funded?

Like most membership libraries, the New York Society Library relies on subscriptions, contributions from individuals and foundations, and bequests as well as its endowment.

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How is it different than the public library?

Public libraries, including the New York Public Library, are funded from public and private sources. Residents of the community with a public library are usually able to check out materials free of charge. The New York Society Library relies on subscriptions, contributions, and bequests as well as its endowment. The Library is open to all for reading and reference, though one must be a member to use the stacks and reading rooms or check out books.

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Why do people join the Library?

The reasons people join the Library are as varied as the people themselves. Many people join for the books and the beautiful spaces in which to read them. They like that the stacks are open and browsable and that the collection is extensive. Others join for the lectures and reading groups. Families enjoy that we have books and materials for all ages and tastes. Many scholars join to take advantage of the Hornblower Room, the electronic resources, and the writers' services.

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May anyone join?

Anyone 18 years old or over may become a member by submitting a completed membership form and paying the subscription fee.

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What types of membership are available?

There are three membership types available. A household membership allows everyone living in the same household to use the Library. Individual memberships are available to people living in a one-person household. Educational memberships are available to teachers/full-time college students with active ID. Other members of the household are not included in an educational membership.

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Do I have to be a member to use the Library?

Anyone is welcome to use the Library in the Reference Room on the first floor. We will retrieve any items you wish to read. Also, many of our special events are open to everyone. To access the stacks, reading rooms, and designated programs, you must be a member.

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If I don't live in the city, may I still join the Library?

Anyone may join the Library, regardless of their primary residence. Our Electronic Resources page offers everything members can use remotely, from databases to e-books. You might also want to investigate our books-by-mail service, which allows you to check out and return print books without having to visit the Library.

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Is the Library wheelchair accessible?

Yes. The Library has a lift to bring wheelchair users into the building and an elevator to bring them to the other floors of the building. The stacks are not wheelchair accessible.

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History

When were you founded?

The Library was founded in 1754 by the New York Society, a civic-minded group which felt that a well-stocked collection of books would help the city to prosper.

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Were you always located here?

The building at 53 E. 79th Street is the Library's fifth home. In 1754, the collection was housed in a room at City Hall on Wall Street. The Library moved to Nassau Street in 1795, Broadway (at Leonard Street) in 1840, University Place in 1856, and East 79th Street in 1937.

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What does the 'Society' in your name refer to?

To modern ears, the word society has class implications, though none were intended by the founders. In this case, 'society' means a voluntary association of individuals for common ends. So the society was comprised of anyone who wanted to use the Library's resources. The Library has always been free to all for reading and reference—these readers comprise the society.

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Have you had famous members?

The Library has been used by the famous and non-famous alike. George Washington and John Jay were among the earliest users. Herman Melville and Willa Cather used the Library extensively. More recently, the Library has played host to writers such as David Halberstam and Wendy Wasserstein.

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Building

Whose house was this originally?

The house at 53 East 79th Street originally belonged to John and Catherine Rogers and their family. More information about the building can be found here.

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Who were the architects?

The Rogers family commissioned the firm of Trowbridge and Livingston to build the house. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers bought two properties—53 & 55 East 79th Street—and combined them to create their home.

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When did it become the home of the Library?

The Library bought the residence in 1936, with the aid of a generous bequest from Sarah Parker Goodhue. We moved to our current location on the Upper East Side in 1937.

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Who is the Whitridge Room named for? The Hornblower Room? The Peluso Family Exhibition Gallery?

Arnold Whitridge was a distinguished historian who served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1966-1979. The room was named in his honor following his death in 1989.

The Hornblower Room was named for George Marshall Hornblower following a generous gift made from a trust he created by his daughter, trustee Jenny Hornblower Lawrence. Mr. Hornblower was a noted lawyer and writer.

Ada Peluso and Romano I. Peluso made a generous gift to the Library in 2008 to honor their parents, Ignazio and Assunta Sommella Peluso. Ignazio Peluso was an Italian Diplomat, eventually serving as Chief Chancellor of the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations. Assunta Peluso was a PhD in Economics. Ada Peluso, a PhD in Mathematics, taught at Hunter College for more than 40 years. Romano I. Peluso, now retired, was a senior vice president and corporate trust manager for Law Debenture Trust Company.

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Readers

What kind of books do you have in the collection?

Our circulating collection reflects the reading and intellectual interests of the members since 1754. Strengths of the collection are British and American fiction, biography, history, literary criticism, the social sciences, the arts, exploration and travel, and books relating to New York City. There is an impressive Children's Library collection as well. The Library's special collections number more than 10,000 volumes.

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Do you order new books?

We do. The Library attempts to purchase important titles in many areas of knowledge and interest. Approximately 5000 volumes are added to the collection each year. Many of the new acquisitions are purchased at the suggestion of our members. Suggest a purchase.

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How many books may I check out at a time?

Household members may have 20 books out at any time. Single members and Educational members may have 10 books at a time.

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Is your catalog online? May I browse it if I'm not a member?

Yes. You'll find it on our homepage or at library.nysoclib.org. Anyone, member or non-member, is welcome to search the catalog.

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Do you have newspapers and periodicals?

We do. The Library subscribes to several daily newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and New York Post. If you're interested in seeing what periodicals we carry, you can browse the list of periodicals.

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Children

Does the Library have a children's section?

We have a terrific children's library located on the Library's third floor. Families will find books for kids of all ages, from early readers to chapter books as well as an extensive non-fiction collection. Search the Children's Library Catalog.

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What kinds of events and programming are available for children at the NYSL?

Events for children and families include music and movement for babies and toddlers, stories and crafts for preschool and early elementary kids, and writing workshops and parent/child book groups for preteens.

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Researchers

What resources are available to researchers?

Anyone is welcome to ask questions at the reference desk. You will find a librarian at the reference desk between 11 AM - 4 PM, Monday - Saturday. The Library subscribes to a variety of  electronic databases which allow our members access to online reference sources and databases. Researchers interested in the Library's Special Collections are encouraged to contact the Special Collections staff.

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Are there spaces where I can set up a laptop? Is there Wi-fi?

Members may use laptops in every space in the Library except the Members' Room on the Second Floor. You would probably be most comfortable on the 5th Floor in the Hornblower Room or one of the Individual Study Rooms, which were designed specifically for laptop users. Wireless internet access is available throughout the building, with the exception of the Members' Room and Reference Room.

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How can I access periodicals and books you don't own?

The Library offers Interlibrary Loan for materials not available for circulation at the New York Public Library.

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Are there meeting spaces available?

Unfortunately, the Library does not have spaces for meetings or group work.

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Events

What kind of events does the Library offer?

The Library offers diverse events for adults, children, and writers. Adult events include lectures by noted authors, musical and theatrical presentations, small-scale college-style seminars and informal reading groups, and technology workshops. Events for children and families include music and movement for babies and toddlers, stories and crafts for preschool and early elementary children, and writing workshops and parent/child reading groups for preteens. The Writing Life programming for writers offers a daytime talk series of experts from the writing and publishing world on topics of importance to writers, plus periodic workshops and ongoing monthly small writing groups as well as evening readings and salons.

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Do I have to be a member to attend events?

Most evening events are open both to members and nonmembers. Due to space constraints, seminars, reading groups, and technology workshops are for members only.

Most children's events are for members only; some are open to members and their nonmember guests.

Daytime Writing Life events are for members only. Live from the Library and other evening events are open to the public.

In all cases, registration is required in advance. Please see individual event listings for more information.

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Do the events always take place at the Library?

Most evening events for adults, children, and writers take place in the main reading room on the Second Floor, the Members' Room. Seminars, reading groups, daytime children's events, and events for member writers take place in the Whitridge Room on the Third Floor. For some major events, musical events, and co-sponsored events, an offsite space convenient to the Library neighborhood is used. Please see individual listings for details.

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How do I register and pay for events?

By Phone (Adult/Writer Events)

Call the Events Office at 212-288-6900 x230.

By Email (Adult/Writer Events)

Send a detailed message including your membership name or full name, the events of your interest, and the number in your party to events@nysoclib.org.

Online for Members

Click "register" on the event of your interest and follow the onscreen instructions. You must log in to the website to use this feature. Nonmembers must register by phone or email.

For All Children's Events

Call the Children's Library at 212-288-6900 x234 or e-mail children@nysoclib.org.

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Does the Library rent its spaces?

The Library makes its second-floor main reading room, the Members' Room, available for rental to individuals and organizations when it is not in use by readers or for Library events. With a capacity of about 75, it is an ideal space for a one-time book party, lecture, or moderately sized cocktail party. The Members' Room is the only room available for rental. The Library cannot accommodate film or photo shoots. See here for more information.

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Exhibitions

May anybody visit the exhibition?

Everyone is welcome to visit the Peluso Family Exhibition Gallery. If you're not a member, we'll ask you to sign our guest book at the circulation desk.

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Is there a fee?

We are pleased to be able to offer our exhibition free of charge.

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