It is one of 65 libraries built in the early twentieth century with funds contributed by Andrew Carnegie. The nucleus of the collection came from the reading room of the Columbus Catholic Club, a social and educational club for young men. In 1901, the club's library was incorporated into the Cathedral Free Circulating Library, and in 1905, as the city's library movement developed, it became part of the New York Public Library.
The Columbus Branch reopened in 2005 after the first complete restoration and modernization of the elegant Renaissance Revival, Indiana limestone building since the 1960s. From the 1970s until its closure in 2004, the library operated on only one floor. The renovation retained many of the building's historic elements, including the original iron-railed staircase and the oak-paneled entrance vestibule. The major changes include: complete redesign and reconfiguration of the interior public service areas, restoration of the second floor as a dedicated children's and teen space, and an elevator serving all floors. The branch also added a NYPL TechConnect computer lab on the lower level, which provides free weekday computer classes conducted by trained professionals.
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