Wednesday, January 22, 2020

125 New York Library Years--and the Books Checked Out the Most

Children in the Bronx visit a New York Public Library bookmobile in the 1950s.
The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The library system has 92 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. As part of its celebration, it recently announced the top 10 all-time books with the highest circulation. The story about which books have been checked out most is not as straightforward as it might seem.

First of all, most of the top ten are children's books because they are shorter and are checked out more frequently (and finished more quickly). The number one book checked out in the library's history is The Snowy Day, a children's book written by Ezra Jack Keats. A 1963 Caldecott Award recipient, it has been checked out 485,583 times. A Wall Street Journal article mentions that the book has remarkable diversity, having a main character that is black and a longevity that has spanned generations.

As an aside, Margaret Wise Brown's children's book Goodnight Moon was not on the list. Here's why, according to a National Public Radio story.
"The library also awarded an 'honorable mention' to Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. That book might have been a contender for the all-time top spot, but NYPL children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore so disliked the 1947 book that the library didn't carry it until 1972. That late entry kept the book off the top 10 list — for now."
 Two dystopian novels are on the list, Orwell's 1984 and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. The only non-fiction book on the list was Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

First edition cover
One of the greatest novels I've ever read is on the list: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. There aren't many recent works on the list because time in circulation is a significant factor. However, R.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone made number 9 on the list.

It would be interesting to find out more history about the NYPL's books and this list. For instance, was Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ever banned by the library, and for how long? This is a novel that has alway been controversial, one that I taught as a classroom teacher, and even wrote an essay about: "Is Huck Finn an Archetypal Hero?" I think it would also be interesting for the library to issue a list of the top 10 novels, if possible.

The Snowy Day was the first picture book with an African American protagonist to win a major children’s award.
[Martin, Michelle H. (2004). Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children's Picture Books, 1845-2002.]

Here is the list of the top 10 books checked out in the history of the New York Public Library.
  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: 485,583 checkouts
  2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: 469,650 checkouts
  3. 1984 by George Orwell: 441,770 checkouts
  4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: 436,016 checkouts
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: 422,912 checkouts
  6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: 337,948 checkouts
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: 316,404 checkouts
  8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: 284,524 checkouts
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling: 231,022 checkouts
  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: 189,550 checkouts
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