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For the library’s 125th anniversary, librarians decided to try to figure out what its all-time most-borrowed books were, but it was no easy task. In a post about the top 10 most borrowed books, the library explained that they’d considered “historic checkout and circulation data, overall trends, current events, popularity, length of time in print, and presence in the Library catalog.”
They also looked at whether books had won awards, which increases demand, or spent years on local schools‘ reading lists. Another factor in circulation trends in New York is that books available in multiple languages tend to be borrowed more often.
So, which book did they determine had been borrowed the most over the years? The beloved children’s book “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats is the most circulated book in the New York Public Library. It’s been checked out 485,583 times.
Written by Keats in 1962, the story is heartwarmingly simple: It tells the story of a young boy as he explores his city after a snowfall, and then returns to his warm house and his mother’s loving embrace.
For decades this book has been a childhood favorite, but what makes this book so popular, especially in New York? It is in part because “The Snowy Day” was one of the first children’s picture books to depict an urban landscape and star a black child as the main character. This differentiated the beautiful collage picture book from the majority of children’s books, many of which featured rural or suburban settings and white children.
“The story — available in a multitude of languages — has a universal appeal and is well-known, being both a Caldecott Medal winner and one of the earliest examples of diversity in children’s books,” explains the New York Public Library’s website, in which the staff lists the most circulated books from their stacks.
The library tweeted a video of the complete top 10 list:
For 125 years, New Yorkers have been borrowing books from The New York Public Library. Our Top 10 Checkouts of All Time have books for all ages. Which titles have you read? #NYPL125 https://t.co/FynYavZY6I pic.twitter.com/pjPQncEJP3
— NY Public Library (@nypl) January 14, 2020
Quite a few children’s books are on the top 10 list because shorter books have higher turnovers for checkout, the library explained. For example, Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” has over 469,650 checkouts, “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White, has over 337,948, and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first in J.K. Rowling’s series about the boy wizard, has over 231,022 checkouts.
And here is a funny tidbit: The library gave “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown an honorable mention, noting that the book likely would have won the most checkouts of all time, had not the librarian at the time of the book’s release hated the book and kept it off the shelves for years.
Luckily, that librarian didn’t take issue with Keats’ masterpiece!