I recently wrote about the welcome fact that in 2019, more Americans went to the library than to the movies. At a time when the 2021 US budget seeks to eliminate funding for libraries, this is wonderful news indeed. But what books do library patrons check out?
Ron Charles has explored this very question. As he reports in the Washington Post, The New York Public Library has just released the titles of the 10 most checked-out books in its 125-year history. Bestsellers may offer a snapshot of passing fads, but this remarkable list compiled from more than a century of circulation data is like a literary cardiogram of the nation’s beating heart.
The 10 most checked-out books in the New York Public Library’s history
- “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
- “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss (1957)
- “1984,” by George Orwell (1949)
- “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak (1963)
- To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee (1960)
- “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White (1952)
- “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury (1953)
- “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie (1936)
- “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling (1997)
- “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle (1969)
Interestingly, the list of books most frequently checked out of the New York Public Library is dominated by titles for children, particularly picture books. There’s a practical reason for that: Shorter books get returned more quickly, which makes greater turnover possible. But that numerical justification can’t obscure the real explanation: for generations, parents have been turning to libraries to satisfy their children’s thirst for stories.
Another outlier is Harry Potter. Given how recently it was published — relative to the library’s 125-year history — it’s magical that “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” appears at No. 9. The youngest — and longest — book on the list, “Harry Potter” is a phenomenon whose influence will be felt for generations.
I’m pleased to say I’ve read most of these! Indeed, Dale Carnegie’s book, the only non-fiction title in the list, has shaped my entire business approach with Istomedia.
How about you?