NYPL’s Culture Pass (or Fail?)


You can get your own Culture Pass at the New York Public Library (Celia Patterson/The Observer).


Do you love museums but have a tight budget? The New York Public Library (NYPL) recently introduced its new Culture Pass service, which allows NYPL cardholders to reserve free passes to various local museums and cultural sites.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, the Culture Pass is not a pass or card in the same sense as a library card is. You do not apply for it once and then present it at any participating location. Its use takes planning; the service requires you to reserve passes for each individual visit. You may be able to reserve same-day admission to a smaller museum, but larger, well-known museums might require a reservation a few months in advance. You can have up to two pending reservations at once.

To make a reservation, visit the Culture Pass website and enter your library card number and PIN. A list of all participating locations will appear. If you want to visit a specific place, you can find it on the list and see what its soonest available dates are. If you have a specific day free and are flexible regarding where to go, you can click the calendar icon, choose your day and the list will be narrowed down to which museums have available passes.

The availability of passes varies by museum. If the museum you want to visit is out of passes altogether, you’ll have to wait until the next month for new ones to be released. One pass will admit two to four people and can be printed out or presented on your phone.

Each cardholder can make one reservation per specific museum per year, though there are a few exceptions; the Fraunces Tavern Museum allows one reservation per month, and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian allows unlimited reservations since admission is already free.

The Museum of Arts and Design here at Columbus Circle is among the participating locations, as is the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West and West 79th Street, just a 20-block walk or seven-minute subway ride from campus. You could take a scenic stroll across the park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection or the Guggenheim. Those interested in cultural sites can use the pass to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage or the Museum of Chinese in America and explore SoHo or the Battery, respectively, while at it. These are only a small portion of the 40 available attractions, which together give the curious soul plenty of opportunities to discover a wide breadth of history, art and culture based in the city.

The service is also available to cardholders at the Queens Library and Brooklyn Public Library.

Those without a library card can easily obtain one (also for free) via the library’s websites. There’s no better time than now to get a card as it not only lets you read about history and culture, but lets you see it for yourself. Although it takes a little work, the Culture Pass can be an opportunity to discover a new place or history you would not have otherwise thought to explore. Discovering even some of what these sites have to offer could normally be expensive. Now you won’t have to worry if the hit to your wallet is worth the experience.