The New York Public Library Continues to Celebrate Its 125th Anniversary with the Valentine’s Day Release of 125 Books We Love and #LoveReading Campaign

The list—available in branches and online—features titles from the last 125 years, and highlights the Library’s unique role inspiring a true, lifelong love of reading

Media Contact: Angela Montefinise / angelamontefinise@nypl.org

Images and a PDF of the list here (credit for photos Jonathan Blanc / NYPL)

FEBRUARY 14, 2020—The New York Public Library is celebrating Valentine’s Day—and its 125th anniversary—with the release of 125 Books We Love, a list of titles for adults from the last 125 years chosen by the institution’s expert librarians.

The titles on the list—available at nypl.org/125 and as a printed old-fashioned check-out card in the system’s 92 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island—were chosen because they generate excitement around books and a love of reading. With 12 forms (for example, short stories or essays) and genre (for example, suspense or romance) categories, the list was built with the hope that there’s something for just about every taste.

To celebrate the list, the Library is hosting related public programs (including talks with authors featured), offering a podcast book club, and launching a social media campaign across all channels to ask the public which books made them #LoveReading. Additionally, the beloved lions that guard the 42nd Street Library—Patience and Fortitude—will be holding / reading two titles from the list beginning today: Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987) and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). 

Lists of the 125 Kids Books We Love and the 125 Teen Books We Love will be released later in the year to continue the celebration of the Library’s 125th anniversary.

“For 125 years, The New York Public Library has worked to encourage and foster a lifelong, true love of reading in people of all ages, to help them find the books that get them excited, that help them escape, that keep them turning pages, that help them learn, grow, or have fun,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. “As we mark our anniversary we want to celebrate this role, and acknowledge its continued and increasing importance in a world with so many distractions. Books can provide new perspectives, a calming presence, knowledge, or just a few hours of enjoyment. All are important, and we encourage everyone to look at the list, talk about it, debate it, and start reading. And then tell us which book made you love reading.”

List Criteria:

A team of librarians from across the organization—led by Associate Director of Readers Services Lynn Lobash, who serves on several American Library Association book committees—spent about a year discussing, debating, and deciding on this list, which includes books that: 

  • Inspire a love of reading

  • Make people  want to keep reading

  • Remind people why reading is fun, exciting, and enlightening

  • Make people miss their train stops because they can’t put them down

  • Non-readers may love

  • Survive the test of time

Which books were considered:

  • Fiction and non-fiction published after May 23, 1895 (when The New York Public Library was incorporated)

  • Titles for adults (with one exception: Harry Potter, which transcends age categories)

  • Currently available in NYPL’s collections (in print a plus)

  • Available in English

  • Only one title or series per author

All of the following elements were taken into consideration as the list was developed:

  • Literary merit

  • Checkouts/popularity over the last 125 years

  • Diverse voices (ensuring that New York City’s diverse voices are represented as best as possible)

  • The opinions/observations of longtime librarians (AKA – reading experts)

“It wasn’t easy to put together, but we are proud of this list, which we consider a blueprint or great starting point for anyone looking to find their next great read,” said Lynn Lobash, the Library’s Associate Director of Readers Services. “We built this list so just about anyone can find an entry point, something that sparks their interest, and can get reading. We know not every title will be a fit. We know there will be discussion and debate and arguments. That’s great. Part of our role for 125 years is to get people talking about books, and all of that is part of the fun.” 

“The New York Public Library has put together a list of 125 books that they love – the librarians and the people in the library. That's the criteria,” wrote author Neil Gaiman, whose book American Gods made the list, in an email announcing the list sent to NYPL patrons on February 14. “You may not love them, but they do. And that's exciting. The thing that gets people reading is love. The thing that makes people pick up books they might not otherwise try, is love. It's personal recommendations, the kind that are truly meant. So here are 125 books that they love. And somewhere on this list you will find books you've never read, but have always meant to, or have never even heard of. There are 125 chances here to change your own life, or to change someone else's, curated by the people from one of the finest libraries in the world. Read with joy. Read with love. Read!”

Ways To Participate / Public Programs:

There are several ways members of the public can participate and celebrate this list, developed by librarians over the last year:

  • Visit a local branch, pick up the list, check out at least one book, and read for at least 20 minutes a day (the Library purchased extra copies of the books on the list)

  • Share what book made you #LoveReading on social, tagging @nypl

  • The Library will host several public programs with authors on the list, including Neil Gaiman, Annie Proulx, Amor Towles, N. K. Jemisin, and Stacy Schiff. There will also be readings of Truman Capote’s work, an Earth Day celebration with a connection to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a 125th anniversary book club event with Isaac Fitzgerald, and a tribute to the late Toni Morrison, an NYPL trustee. Details and a complete list of programs can be found here.

  • Branches will also hold programs related to the books on the list. For an updated list of those programs, go to nypl.org/125/programs.

  • The Library’s podcast, The Librarian is In, launched on February 13, and will release new episodes bi-weekly. Once a month, the two hosts—librarians Frank Collerius of Jefferson Market Library and Rhonda Evans of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—will discuss books from the list. They will give advance notice of the books so listeners can participate.

The Library’s 125th Anniversary

The New York Public Library was founded on May 23, 1895, with the goal of making knowledge, information, and opportunity available to all New Yorkers, regardless of background or circumstance. Former New York governor Samuel J. Tilden left the bulk of his fortune to "establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York." With that funding, the two prominent private libraries in New York at the time —the Astor and Lenox libraries—were merged to create The New York Public Library. 

Today, The New York Public Library system—serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island—has 92 locations, including world-class research libraries, and sees over 16 million visits per year. It continues to aspire to its original mission, not just offering books and other materials as always, but offering e-books via its own reading app SimplyE, paid databases, ESOL and citizenship classes, technology training, job search assistance, workforce development, financial literacy courses, and much more. 

The celebration of the anniversary this year will focus on appreciating and reaffirming the Library’s values of trust, inclusion, respect, and free and open access to information and knowledge, as well as its unique role supporting a true love of reading. The celebration will include special author talks, book lists, public programs, the much-anticipated reopening of the system’s completely renovated central circulating library, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), and the opening of the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library Treasures, a permanent, free exhibition showcasing items from the Library’s robust research collections. 

On January 13, the Library launched its celebration with the release of its top 10 checkouts of all-time, topped by classic children’s story The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The Library released a special edition library card and MetroCard to celebrate the top book; it also launched its partnership with the Parks Department with an appearance at the annual Winter Jam festival in Central Park, presented by NYC Parks, the Olympic Regional Development Authority, I Love NY, and I Ski NY. The Library was a sponsor of the February 1 event, giving away 800 copies of The Snowy Day, signing hundreds up for library cards, and doing story times throughout the day.

On January 31, the Library also officially opened its brand new Macomb’s Bridge Library in East Harlem, which is nearly 5 times as large as the former 675-square-foot branch, built into a studio apartment in a NYCHA building. The excited community packed the new branch for the opening.

Other highlights of the 125th anniversary year:

  • Book of the Day Emails: To further encourage reading, the Library began 2020 by challenging New Yorkers to read for at least 20 minutes a day. To help, the Library launched “Book of the Day” emails, with daily recommendations. Thousands of signed up already; sign up at nypl.org/bookoftheday.

  • Opening of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL): The Library’s central circulating library on 40th Street and Fifth Avenue is currently undergoing a complete renovation, giving the people of New York City the branch that they have long needed and deserved. The library’s transformational renovation was supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and designed by architects Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle. It will officially open on Friday, May 15.

  • Anniversary Week Celebrations: The Library will host parties in its branches and hold a weekend celebration from May 10 to May 17 to celebrate the 125th anniversary. More information will soon be available at nypl.org/125, but highlights of the celebration include:

    • Babies take the 42nd Street Library on Friday, May 15 for the second annual Big Playdate for kids 0-4 and their caregivers. The event celebrates the power of play with sensory activities, constructive play, and other activities that strengthen important early literacy skills. 

    • Center for Architecture panel discussion with Mecanoo’s Francine Houben about the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) and the future of library design for NYCxDesign, an annual week-long event celebrating the city’s architecture and design. The Library is a partner for the event this year.

    • Public programs / classes

  • The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library Treasures: A permanent exhibition featuring items from the Library’s research collections—such as a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand—will open in November. The free exhibition will showcase the importance of preserving and protecting the world’s knowledge, and making that truth accessible to any member of the public.

  • Gala: The Library will hold a special gala in October at its 42nd Street library to mark the 125th anniversary and honor this year’s Library Lions. 

  • Exhibition on the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage: An exhibition honoring the ratification of the 19th Amendment will open at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building on August 7, 2020. With displays in areas throughout the building, the exhibition will highlight the deep connections between the historical suffrage movement and the issues women continue to grapple with today.

  • Renovations of Carnegie Libraries: With funding from New York City, the Library will begin renovations on five of the 29 original Carnegie libraries still in operation, preserving their historic features while increasing public space and ensuring they are able to best serve the public now and in the future. Renovations of the Melrose and Hunts Point Libraries in the Bronx, the 125th and Fort Washington Libraries in Manhattan, and the Port Richmond Library in Staten Island are expected to begin in the summer.

  • Opening of new Roosevelt Island Library: Later this year, a brand new, much-larger Roosevelt Island branch will open, replacing the current, small but might library.

  • Expanded Bookmobile Service: Two new Bookmobiles will hit the streets in 2020, serving communities whose libraries are closed for renovations and bringing books to schools, senior centers, and more.

  • The Census: The New York Public Library will partner with New York City to ensure an accurate count in the 2020 Census, particularly in hard-to-count communities (as public libraries are trusted, welcoming institutions). This is a role public libraries have played since their inception: to help all New Yorkers participate in civic society.

  • NYC Parks Partnership: New York Public Library librarians and staff will be in recreation centers, parks and other NYC Parks locations in 2020 conducting story times and sharing a love of reading. 

About The New York Public Library

For 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.