Best place to read about New York history in blissful quiet New York 2007 - New York Society Library
53 E. 79th St.
New York, NY 10075
Though New York's first free public library was the Astor Library, the mammoth red-brick, faux-Venetian gothic pile on Lafayette that now houses the Public Theater, the city's first circulating library is the still-grand old New York Society Library, which opened its doors to the public in 1754. Today, the facility houses some 275,000 volumes and the current and back issues of all sorts of local, national, and international periodicals. Its first-floor reference collection is open to all for reading and research, though circulation and other services are reserved for members (see nysoclib.org for membership details; tours are encouraged). Scholars come from all over the world to access the collection's gems, including a cache of 18th-century Italian-language books amassed by Lorenzo da Ponte (Mozart's librettist, who later taught at Columbia College) and an excellent collection of early works on science, metaphysics, alchemy, mythology, and religion; members cherish the NYSL for its trove of 19th-century novels and biographies (original editions still in circulation), its elegant upstairs reading rooms, and its air of quiet, civilized, intellectual pursuits.