Visiting Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – New York Public Library

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, a remarkable part of the New York Public Library, is one of the most beautiful and sought-after libraries in the world for a good number of reasons.

Last updated: July 2, 2024

3 days in New York City Itinerary | Roads and Destinations
A visitor’s guide to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – the New York Public Library

How to Visit Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – New York Public Library

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, an opulent part of the New York Public Library, intrigued me at once. I first read about it years ago. Where and when? I don’t remember now, and it’s not that important anyway. 

Like many incredible places in New York City and elsewhere in the world, both natural and man-made, over the years the Stephen Schwarzman Building became one of the well-known sites I knew only from third-party experiences. Familiar to some extent, and yet so unknown. A place of interest, but never insane obsession. Or at least not until our recent 3-day trip to New York

Now strolling down the streets of the city, I couldn’t put the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and the entire New York Public Library out of my mind. Being so close to the iconic book sanctuary, I couldn’t even bear a thought of not stepping inside it. 

In fact, I was willing to sacrifice some other attractions in the city for a chance to finally visit the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, a legendary section of the renowned New York Public Library. 

So when Saturday was slowly coming to an end, I rushed Roshan to the coveted structure snuggled on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan. Putting off this little excursion until the following day wouldn’t work as the museum-library was closed on Sundays. 

Stephen A Schwarzman Building - New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is a part of the New York Public Library

A VISITOR’S GUIDE TO THE STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN BUILDING – NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

Around 4 in the afternoon that on an overcast day in NYC felt like 6 or 7 in the evening, we finally walked through a massive door into a spacious hall of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and stopped almost instantly, held back by a long line at the checkpoint. 

I wasn’t expecting it. My backpack with my travel essentials – a camera, phone, notebook, and a few pens – wasn’t even half full. But somehow it held the line even longer when my turn came to show the security all my belongings. Once cleared, we proceeded to the center of the large Astor Hall, contemplating where to go first.

The Best Time to Visit Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Could we possibly see all divisions of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Buildings in an hour or two before the library would close? No. The time wasn’t on our side. Or to be exact, for visitors like us, evening wasn’t the best time to admire the splendid reading rooms and view expansive book collections of the New York Public Library. 

All reading rooms inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building are reserved for research and quiet study. No visitors allowed most of the time. Yet if you make it to the library in the morning or early afternoon, your chances of stepping inside some of the reading rooms, including the Rose Main Reading Room, increase tenfold.

Tour the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

In fact, by showing up early, you not only can view the world’s favorite reading room, but also learn about history, architecture, and massive collections housed inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. 

Hours: Two times a day, at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, the library offers free docent-led tours. The tours are held from Monday through Saturday and include a trip to the Rose Main Reading Room. 

Each tour lasts 60 minutes and is limited to 20 people. You must reserve your ticket online prior to visiting the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. 

TIP: Only authorized tours led by New York Public Library’s staff are permitted inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. No other “best” Stephen A. Schwarzman Building tours sold on the Internet or somewhere in the city are legit.

Rose Main Reading Room Tours

You can skip the hour-long tour and visit only the Rose Main Reading Room from Monday through Saturday. Similar to Stephen Schwarzman Building tours, the 15-minute reading room tours are free.

You can sign up for the tour in the McGraw Rotunda, a spacious hall with elaborately painted murals on walls and ceiling and access to the Rose Main Reading Room nestled on the third floor. Registration begins 30 minutes prior to the tour and is limited to the first 25 people. 

Hours: The tours are offered at 11:20 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:00 pm.

New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
Astor Hall | Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Visiting Rose Main Reading Room

Almost a month after our trip to New York City, I stumbled upon a short paragraph on the official Stephen A. Schwarzman Building website that grabbed my attention. According to the website, the Rose Main Reading Room is open for a visiting hour from 10:00 am to 11:00 am, Monday through Saturday. No tour or prior reservation is necessary.

I don’t think this information would alter our afternoon visit to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in any way, but I still wish I knew it before. 

Visiting Polonsky Exhibition

Still oblivious to limited visiting hours on that cloudy Saturday, we started our self-guided tour through the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building with the Polonsky Exhibition, located on the first floor. The collection that spans some 4,000 years, consists of various manuscripts, letters, artworks, and images, all protected behind a thick glass shield or inside glass cages.

Free Tours: You can spend as much time as you need to see the historic exhibits and read through inscriptions and signage. Alternatively, join the 45-minute Polonsky Exhibition tour. The tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 12:30 am and 3:30 pm. 

The room filled with all sorts of artifacts exceeded all expectations: grand, inspiring, and educational. Yet we longed to see that famous reading room. An excursion that failed miserably as in the late afternoon the historic room was at disposal of scholars, researchers, and studiers only. 

We were left with only two things to admire as a consolation jaunt: a massive chandelier that adorned the stairwell and the colorful walls and ceiling of the McGraw Rotunda. The things that strangely reminded us of lavish rooms of the Palace of Versailles and elaborate frescos of the Vatican City

Things to Know before Visiting Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – The New York Public Library

Keep Quiet

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is a working research library. So be sure to maintain a proper environment. Don’t run, scream or talk loudly. Silence your phone and, if you can, take any phone calls outside or away from reading rooms. 

No Food or Drink

Drinking or eating inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is not allowed. Eat before your visit or step outside if you want to grab a bite. Food trucks are located within a walking distance from the library. Behind the iconic building you will find Bryant Park with plenty of picnic tables for visitors to use.

No Flash Photography

Mute your camera and turn off camera flash while taking pictures inside the library. You are free to photograph architecture and some of the reading rooms. Yet make sure to leave Schwarzman Building’s staff and other visitors out of your pictures. 

Library Hours

  • Monday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
  • Tuesday – Wednesday: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
  • Thursday through Saturday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
  • Sunday: closed

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is normally closed on the days marked as public and federal holidays. 

Address

476 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10018

 New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
Stepping inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Stephen A Schwarzman Building - New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
Stunning architectural masterpiece
Stephen A Schwarzman Building - New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
The first floor of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Stephen A Schwarzman Building - New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
McGraw Rotunda
Stephen A Schwarzman Building - New York Public Library | Roads and Destinations
Chandelier that reminded us of the Palace of Versailles

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