Service of Borrowed Books from the New York Public Library

January 16th, 2020

Categories: Books, Children's Books, Library

NY Public Library on east 96th Street. Photo:

Visiting the New York Public Library branch on East 96th Street with my mother is one of my earliest memories. The system is 125 years old this year. As a result, it publicized statistics of most-checked out books over time which is significant because it’s the second biggest library in the country, behind the Library of Congress.


There was a distinct difference between the genres of books most borrowed by library habitués last year vs. those over time.

  • In 2019 citizens most checked out six adult fiction and four nonfiction books, leading with Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming.”
  • The most borrowed since the beginning included six children’s, three fiction and one nonfiction book. Number one is “The Snowy Day,” a children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats.
  • The range of publish dates of last year’s favorites is 2017 to 2018; over time from 1936 to 1997.

Top 10 takeouts in 125 years

  1. “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats, [1962]: 485,583 checkouts
  2. “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss [1957]: 469,650 checkouts
  3. “1984,” by George Orwell [1949]: 441,770 checkouts
  4. “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak [1963]: 436,016 checkouts
  5. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee [1960]: 422,912 checkouts
  6. “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White 1952]: 337,948 checkouts
  7. “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury [1953]: 316,404 checkouts
  8. “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie [1936]: 284,524 checkouts
  9. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling [1997]: 231,022 checkouts
  10. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle [1969]: 189,550 checkouts

Top 10 takeouts in 2019

  1. “Becoming” by Michelle Obama biography [2018]
  2. “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover [2018]
  3. “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng [2017]
  4. “A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult [2018]
  5. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens [2018]
  6. “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee [2017]
  7. “Circe” by Madeline Miller [2018]
  8. “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty [2018]
  9. “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou [2018].
  10. “Milkman” by Anna Burns [2018]

Are you sad to learn that there are no children’s books on the 2019 list? What would the reason be? Have you read any of the books on the two lists? What are some of your favorites both recently and over time?



12 Responses to “Service of Borrowed Books from the New York Public Library”

  1. Phyllis Stier Said:

    I’m wondering if the 2019 books were e-books,as many are available in digital format.Also,here in my library, we see Harry Potter, etc check out all the time
    We have multiple copies of popular children’s books. The other top check outs in the top group are books that parents sit & read to their children in the library,so they dont circulate as frequently. Eric Carle,Keats,Blume,etc all check out. I’m wondering if its also a geographical/demographic issue.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I read a few articles about these lists and I’m pretty sure that e-books were included in the 2019 list.

    As with all such stats, there are many twists and turns that impact the validity of the results. Here’s an example. Laurel Wamsley wrote “The New York Public Library Has Calculated Its Most Checked-Out Books Of All Time” on NPR’s website

    “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.

  3. Phyllis Stier Said:

    They must have a gazillion stats..what about Milne,Seuss,Dahl??..

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss [1957]: 469,650 checkouts is number 2 and “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak [1963]: 436,016 checkouts is 4 on the list in 125 years.

    My favorite Ludwig Bemelmans isn’t among the top 10…sigh.

  5. JBS Said:

    Most kids don’t read. I insisted that mine did, they earned TV time by reading. Mine discovered that they could learn all kinds of things by reading and they still read. (Personally,I go through two or three books most weeks!)

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your example as well as the reward of TV impacted your kids’ reading habits is my bet.

    Don’t little kids like a grownup to read them a story either at bedtime or anytime? Sad.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s too bad children’s books are not popular, but it’s possible they’re being replaced by TV, games, and other tech attractions. Time will tell whether this is good or not. It’s also difficult to get into the mind of a 5 to 11 year old. The older child may have outgrown what is supposedly meant for him.

    Green eggs and ham, as per Seuss, turns my stomach, so I opted for Milne, Eliot’s Book on Cats & etc. when reading to small children. They appeared to welcome such selections. That said, I like and support libraries, but prefer my choices to those of others.

  8. Nancy Farrell Said:

    My daughter read and still reads every single thing in sight–she even puts closed captioning on the TV so that she can read the dialogue as it’s being spoken. She was just born that way. We’ve always bought books for her, as she likes to read and re-read them and she always has at least one book on her birthday wish list. One year a favorite relative had a book shipped to where my daughter was visiting cousins and the family joked that the visit was over because she’d have her face buried in the book (she read it twice while she was there). We’ve attended a few book signings if a favorite author is nearby. We’ve met parents who have flown to other cities so that their children can attend a book signing. So there are young readers out there. We’ve always loved libraries, too, but tended to stay there for a few hours and not check anything out. So yes I think geography might have a lot to do with this list.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have tried to figure out how authors of children’s books write for various ages. Pretty sure I have a post here based on interviews with the Christopher Award-winning children’s book authors one year trying to capture answers.

    When looking for gifts to give friends’ children I’ve been told “no” when I suggest a book that appeared to address the child’s interest because the kids don’t read.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Reading about your daughter brings joy! Her enthusiasm for books is thrilling. It will be fascinating to know what she ends up doing. She’s already heads and shoulders over so many others in my opinion.

    NYC is an anomaly in so many ways. Here’s hoping that we can make no valid conclusions from its citizens’ take out book choices. Maybe children borrow from school libraries or their parents buy armloads full from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

  11. Nancy Farrell Said:

    We like to buy used books from libraries and churches and new books at the school book fair. I think it’s clear there is writing of some sort in her future. When my daughter was in first grade she asked for a library card for the town in which she attended school. We didn’t live in that town so I had to explain to her that we couldn’t get a library card at that library. She thought that was terribly unfair and kept talking to people about this injustice until someone told that that if her principal wrote a note saying that she attends school there then she’d be able to take books out during the school year.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Many years ago we visited a friend who had three babies. That family had just moved to a new home so my husband and I took a tour. On our way home he said, “did you notice something about their home?” I made a few guesses, none matching his observation. He said, “There wasn’t one book in the whole place–not on a chair, on a shelf, by the beds, on the floor!” Sad.

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