New York City Public Libraries with Great Play Spaces and Children's Rooms

Clifford the Big Red Dog greets visitors to the Children's Center at the Stavros Niarochos Library on Fifth Avenue. Photo by Jody Mercier
Clifford the Big Red Dog greets visitors to the Children's Center at the Stavros Niarochos Library on Fifth Avenue. Photo by Jody Mercier
5/6/24 - By Allison Steinberg

When it comes to bad weather days, the best option to entertain kids just might be a trip to your local New York City public library. Your kid can never finish reading all the books available, and many public libraries in New York City also have action-packed children’s rooms and activities. Even better: A trip to these NYC public libraries is completely FREE, plus you can flex your library card to get FREE admission to more than 40 other institutions around NYC.

So, next time you need a rainy day diversion, venture beyond your own local NYC public library to visit one of these local library branches that house the best FREE children’s play spaces in New York City.

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New York Public Library Play Spaces in Manhattan

1. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library – Midtown East

The children's space at the iconic central library has relocated across Fifth Avenue to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, where it's just as wonderful as it was at the 42nd Street location. The giant plushies of Clifford and Josephine the giraffe have made the move with the Children's Center, along with the huge collection of books for kids and young adults. The new space is colorful and inviting, with a massive rainbow couch to relax in. The new location also has a new teen center, adorned with stylish art and tons of space to sit and do homework or read some of the library's manga or graphic novels. Make sure to save time to head upstairs to the open-air reading room on the seventh floor!

2. 53rd Street Public Library – Midtown West

Just half a mile up from the main library in Manhattan is the 53rd Street library. Renovated in 2016, this branch is a perfect place for kids of all ages. The children’s room is great for cozying up at a table and reading a stack of new books or playing a game, while the teen zone has access to digital media for the older crowd. All this is housed in an absolutely stunning building with so much history in its architecture. When the kiddos are done exploring the books, don't miss out on exploring the beautiful building they're housed in.

3. Harlem Library – Harlem

The Harlem Library branch, which first opened its doors in 1826, has had many long decades of practice catering to kids. There’s a separate children’s room on the second floor with toys and games where kids can entertain themselves for hours and plenty of events for when they’re done. There are toddler story time and family movie events, and plenty of events for older kids from STEAM to sign language learning to video game clubs. A newly opened teen center has even more to offer, including computers and tech, art supplies, and a 3-D printer.

Brooklyn Public Libraries with Great Children's Centers

4. Adams Street Library – Dumbo

This library opened in 2021, marking the first new Brooklyn Public Library branch in 40 years. The space features a more modern take on the library experience, with a bold design, inside and out. The library's shelves, lighting fixtures, and windows sport slick rounded edges, making the whole space feel like something out of an old sci-fi movie. You reach the children's room through a doorway that looks more like the entrance to a futuristic fort. The orange-hued interior has ample space for the littlest readers to crawl around and explore, while the older kids can sit on a bunny-eared chair or on a little elephant seat as they read or browse the computers.

5. Brooklyn Heights Library – Brooklyn Heights

This brand-new library opened in 2022 and, at a whopping 26,000 square feet, it's the largest library in Brooklyn. Of course, this also means that the space for kids is absolutely humongous, with a mix of new and old designs, bright colors, and a literal little house front door facade separating it from the rest of the library. The soft flooring and huge red couches make this a perfect space to hang out, and a large classroom space can hold up to 30 kids for arts and crafts, read-alongs, and movie nights.

6. Central Library – Prospect Heights

This grandiose main library sits on Grand Army Plaza opposite the entrance to Prospect Park. The branch has an amazing focus on children, from an entire designated wing in the building to extensive programs for all ages, including a learning series and one of the first (and most popular) drag queen story hours. Though the library—including its children's center—is undergoing a years-long renovation lasting until 2027, the upgrades will bring even more kid-friendly features, including more spots to hang out, interactive shelving displays, a tech center, and reading nooks. There are also plans to add a teen center with recording pods for aspiring musicians and podcasters.

7. Park Slope Library – Park Slope

Of course, the neighborhood that many famous children’s authors call home also has a great library for kids. The Park Slope Library doesn’t disappoint, with a fully-stocked kids' space that takes up almost half of the first floor, plus an outdoor amphitheater that hosts seasonal fun events for all ages, including the more traditional readings and story times, and classes like coloring and chess club. Plus, the building is incredibly historic and beautiful.

8. Greenpoint Library – Greenpoint

With an environmental focus, the Greenpoint Library includes a second-floor outdoor garden and reading deck that's full of public programming for kids with a greenthump. Inside, the sun-drenched building, there are distinct areas for kids and teens and a programming calendar that caters to all ages.

Top Queens Public Library Spaces for Children

9. Children’s Library Discovery Center – Jamaica

Editor's note: The CLDC is undergoing renovations through July 2024. Plan to visit when it reopens.
This unique and awe-inspiring public library has a discovery center aimed at kids ages 3-12. Part library, part science museum, the space has hands-on exhibits designed to get kids curious about the world around them, including a giant, interactive map of Queens, 3-D models of planets, animals, atoms, and other scientific topics, and a real-life freshwater aquarium! In addition to being surrounded by science, kids will find so much to do and see here, from computers paired with adorable flower cushions to an upside-down "waterfall" with marine life mobiles and fish cutouts swimming around overhead. And if that isn't enough, there are also kid-friendly computers aimed to teach kids digital literacy from an early age.

10. Kew Gardens Hills Library – Flushing

From the outside, you might not realize this is a library, thanks to the super modern geometric design of the building that includes a green roof. Inside is even more impressive—in contrast to the angular exterior, the children's room is all circles and rounded corners. The room sports a cheery bright green and yellow color palette and enough space to allow the littles to get their wiggles out between reading sessions.

11. Hunters Point Library – Long Island City

We love this modern Queen Public Library branch that opened to fanfare in 2019. Its children’s room is well-stocked with toys and books, along with dedicated children’s reading areas. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that there are sweeping water views of the Manhattan skyline to take in as you peruse. The bamboo walls and giant windows help to create a much-needed serene space for visitors. Enjoy inventive programming like art and origami workshops for teens, toddler story times, and "crafternoons" for tweens.

New York Public Library's in the Bronx for Kids

12. Belmont Library – Belmont

This slice of history (close to really good slices of pizza) in the “Little Italy” section of the Bronx is worth checking out with kids. The Belmont Library, also known as the Enrico Fermi Cultural Center, has an amazing collection of art and unique programs for kids. From card and board game events to coloring time, Lego challenges, movies, and graffiti and manga art studio time, the Belmont Library and its dedicated children’s space make this the perfect escape from a boring afternoon at home. Bonus: The branch sports a palm tree smack dab in its interior.

13. Kingsbridge Library – Kingsbridge

You might be tempted not to stay outside this library, thanks to its beautiful outdoor garden. But once you step inside, you'll find the spacious and brightly lit interior just as inviting. Although the children’s room is located below street level, a moat-like space outside the building allows the windows to extend down and let in plenty of natural light to make the space feel welcoming. The floor is soft, and bean bag chairs and crisp colors add to the charm.

Staten Island Public Library Branches with Great Children's Spaces

14. Charleston Library – Charleston

The Charleston Library is one of the newest NYPL branches, and it's the first net-zero energy library in NYC. The children's room has age-appropriate books and magazines available at kid-height, cozy reading nooks, a magnet letter wall, play tables, and plenty of colorful round seats. The room also features a stroller parking area, a story time spot, computers, and bathrooms. The library is also equipped with a teen room, complete with computers and a lounge for hanging out.

15. St. George Library Center – St. George

This spacious library has plenty of room for your family to spread out and take advantage of the large collection of books and activities. The designated children’s space offers toys, games, and cool educational activities, including bilingual events and a homework club. This branch's newly expanded teen center is a digital haven, complete with digital media tools, art and design supplies, and even a 3-D printer.

16. Mariners Harbor Library – Mariners Harbor

This stunning, decade-old, 10,000-square-foot library resembles a greenhouse with its huge floor-to-ceiling windows spanning nearly the entire perimeter of the single-floor building. It doesn’t have a distinct children’s room, but it does have a kid’s section, separated by bookshelves (in fact, there are no separate rooms in the library; it's all one, big open space). There is a children’s-only bathroom and lots of fun perks like a photo booth, a terrace for nicer weather, and plenty of programs from story time to homework help and arts and crafts.

Originally published in 2019. Yuliya Geikhman contributed additional reporting. 

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