May 23, 2022

Lists: New York City’s Three Public Library Systems Release Most Borrowed Books of 2020

From a Joint Announcement:

In a year that brought profound change, New Yorkers relied on books offering perspective, comfort, and hope, according to the top checkouts of 2020, released today by the City’s three library systems.

Brooklyn Public Library, The New York Public Library (which serves the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island), and Queens Public Library have each released their top 10 checkouts of 2020, and the City’s most borrowed books reflect the historic challenges that have impacted New Yorkers during 2020, including a global pandemic, unprecedented isolation, issues of social justice, and a country divided. 

The top checkout in Brooklyn was How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. The top title in The New York Public Library system was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. The most borrowed book in Queens was The Guardians by John Grisham. Well-loved titles Becoming by Michelle Obama, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and Educated by Tara Westover were popular selections by patrons from across the City and appeared on all three lists.

The top titles were primarily borrowed digitally, as physical library branches were temporarily closed from March to July to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. All three systems invested in strengthening e-book offerings to continue serving New Yorkers during this difficult chapter.

Source: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL

The New York Public Library system, for example, saw over 100,000 first-time users of its e-reader SimplyE from March 16 (the date it temporarily closed) through November. 

In addition to investing in actual copies of e-books, the library systems offered reading recommendation lists, virtual public programs, and other offerings to support New Yorkers throughout the year that impacted the list. For example:

  • Several books on all three lists were featured on The New York Public Library’s Black Liberation Reading List, curated by its Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem with the goal of celebrating and fostering a better understanding of the Black experience. 
  • The New York Public Library’s top title and several others on the list–The Vanishing Half, The Glass Hotel, and The Nickel Boys (also on the Black Liberation Reading List) — were part of its virtual book club with WNYC, which brought New Yorkers “together” around reading even during a period of unprecedented isolation. 
  • Brooklyn Public Library’s Justice Initiative Book Club, Know Your Rights workshops and 28th Amendment Project generated reading and conversation in every part of the borough about reckoning with the past and creating a more just and equitable future.
  • BPL’s BookMatch Service, now in its sixth year, provides personalized, completely custom and algorithm-free book lists for individual patrons, as well as suggested reading lists on current topics, including race relations, viruses, germs and pandemics, voting rights, and even a list for quarantining.
  • QPL this year introduced a new app that allows users to not only sign up for e-cards, and hold, reserve, and renew materials, but also read, listen to, and watch content without leaving the app, and driving more people to its e-collection.


Throughout 2020, the three library systems suspended late fines for books; the systems have decided to extend fine-free borrowing through at least June 2021.

The top checkouts in 2020 for each system (including e-book checkouts as well as physical checkouts when branches began to reopen in July for grab-and-go service) are:  

Brooklyn Public Library:

  1. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  2. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo 
  3. Normal People: A Novel by Sally Rooney
  4. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  6. Educated by Tara Westover
  7. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  8. The Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  9. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The New York Public Library (which includes the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island):

  1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 
  2. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  3. The Glass Hotel: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel
  4. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  5. The Dutch House: A Novel by Ann Patchett
  6. The Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  7. Educated by Tara Westover
  8. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  9. Normal People: A Novel by Sally Rooney
  10. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Queens Public Library: 

  1. The Guardians by John Grisham
  2. Moral Compass by Danielle Steel
  3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  4. Lost by James Patterson and James O. Born
  5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  6. A Minute to Midnight by David Baldacci
  7. Educated by Tara Westover
  8. Criss Cross by James Patterson
  9. Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng
  10. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

“New Yorkers always read for a multitude of different reasons. This year, with their City in crisis, it’s clear based on the top checkouts that they leaned on books in a variety of ways to get them through our City’s most difficult chapter in recent memory,” said Lynn Lobash, NYPL’s Assistant Director of Read Services. “Some longed for an escape through great literature or inspiring memoirs. Others wanted to become more informed about current events, particularly issues around social justice that sparked global protests and heated discussion. Still others wanted to read alongside thousands of fellow New Yorkers to feel a connection, a sense of togetherness while we were apart. Books and stories are so powerful, and this year, we hope the most borrowed titles made a positive impact on a City coping with so much.”

In addition to the most borrowed books overall, The New York Public Library system also released the top titles in a number of genres, including the top checkout for kids, teens, and Spanish-language books:

  • Children: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (also the top children’s title at the Queens and Brooklyn Public Libraries in 2020, and featured on NYPL’s Top Checkouts of All Time list, released in January to mark the system’s 125th anniversary)
  • Teens: American Royals by Katharine McGee
  • Classics: 1984 by George Orwell
  • Comics and Graphic Novels: The Handmaid’s Tale (Graphic novel) by Margaret Atwood
  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Horror: If it Bleeds by Stephen King
  • Mystery and Detective: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel 
  • Romance: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • Spanish Language: Tierra Americana (American Dirt) by Jeanine Cummins

The number one teen title on QPL’s list is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins.


Direct to NYPL List

Direct to Brooklyn Library List

Direct to Queens Library List

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.