Written by Concepción de León
New York Public Library books have been circulating among New York City homes for 125 years. Now the library system, the largest of its kind in the United States, has crunched the numbers to come up with the 10 most checked-out books in its history.
Perhaps not surprisingly, more than half are books for children or young readers. No 1 is The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats’ picture book that is one of the first to depict an African American boy, which has been checked out 485,583 times. Next is Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (469,650).
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (436,016), Charlotte’s Web by EB White (337,948), JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (231,022) and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (189,550) also made the top 10.
Librarians and analysts spent over six months parsing through hundreds of titles to compile the list. They considered all book formats, including e-books and foreign-language editions.
“There was a little bit of art to the science of doing this,” said Andrew Medlar, who runs the library’s book-buying operation and led the team that worked on the list.
Because the library’s central circulation system only goes back several decades, the team used recent circulation data, best-seller lists, archives from the National Book Awards and Newbery Medals, and the library’s best-of lists to figure out what books were most beloved by patrons.
“The idea was to see what has been generally popular out in the world,” Medlar said. “We wanted to start from the love of books and the love of reading rather than the numbers.”
Books that had been in circulation longer had a clear advantage, as they had more time to rack up checkouts. “To me, it’s amazing that Harry Potter made it onto this top 10 list,” Medlar said, considering the book was published a little more than 20 years ago. The oldest book on the list, How to Win Friends and Influence People was only one slot above Harry Potter despite being around since 1936.
The list also includes an honourable mention: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.
“We know that book is incredibly popular and has a lot of checkouts,” Medlar said, but because of the tastes of Anne Carroll Moore, an influential children’s librarian at the time of the book’s publication, in 1947, Goodnight Moon was not added to the collection until 25 years later. Every other book on the list was added to the collection the year it was published.
This list kicks off the library’s programming for its 125th anniversary, which will include public events, the reopening of the circulating central library in midtown Manhattan and a special edition MetroCard and library card inspired by The Snowy Day, Medlar said.
He encouraged patrons to keep voting with their library cards. “New Yorkers created this list,” he said. “We just counted it.”
Here are the 10 most checked out books:
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (485,583 checkouts)
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (469,650)
1984 by George Orwell (441,770)
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (436,016)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (422,912)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (337,948)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (316,404)
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (284,524)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (231,022)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (189,550)
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