The New York Public Library: Year in Impact (March 2020–March 2021)

The year 2020 was meant to be filled with long-planned celebrations of the 125th anniversary of The New York Public Library’s founding. While this was not possible in the manner we expected, one of the consequences of the pandemic was that the Library marked this milestone by reaffirming our core objective to serve all New Yorkers no matter the challenge. As we moved first to being an entirely online organization, and then into hybrid service models, we demonstrated our irreplaceable role in supporting all New Yorkers while cementing our position as a resource for New Yorkers in turbulent times.

Here are the ways in which the Library responded to the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, month by month, to ensure that access to our collections and services was sustained at the highest levels possible. Read on for a breakdown of the year in numbers. (Download this timeline in an accessible PDF format.)


Image version of The New York Public Library: Year in Impact (March 2020–March 2021) PDF

By the Numbers

To keep patrons safe during the early days of the pandemic, when infection rates were high in New York City, the Library’s 92 locations temporarily closed between March 14 and July 13. During that time, we saw:

  • 227% one-day increase in sign-ups for the Library’s free e-reader app, SimplyE, after it featured in Time Out New York on March 18. By the end of March, daily SimplyE sign-ups had increased 400%.
  • 240% rise in online program attendance from April into May, holding steady in June.
  • 53K attendees at virtual programs hosted in April, May, and June.
  • 2 million e-checkouts.

On July 13, the Library began its gradual, safe reopening, enabling us to reach many more patrons. The impact was immediate:

  • 40K holds were placed in the first two weeks of Grab-and-Go service.
  • 7K New Yorkers who’d had no checkouts since March 14 had resumed borrowing at Grab-and-Go locations by the end of July.

The Library made many of its services available online during the pandemic, vastly expanding access for patrons, including researchers and job seekers. By the end of 2020, we had seen:

During the course of 2020 and beyond, the Library saw a significant rise in new readers, as well as notable shifts towards digital access of our materials:

  • 127% of the Library’s target for reaching new readers in 2020 was reached. Those readers included:
  • 94.2K new e-book readers
  • 27.1K new print readers
  • 6K new e-book and print readers
  • 70K e-books were checked out by readers in the virtual book club—presented in partnership with WNYC—between April 2020 and January 2021.
  • 323K patrons borrowed electronic and physical materials in the year following March 13, 2020, when our temporary closure was first announced.


Looking Ahead

This past year has presented unprecedented challenges, and staff across the Library have risen to the moment with innovation, improvisation, and lots of hard work. As we look to the uncertain year ahead, we will continue to serve the evolving needs of our communities with a focus on public health and equity of service.