Culture Pass: Why We’re Excited About the NYPL’s Latest Creative Collaboration

By Asia Hunt, Junior Strategist


It’s officially time to renew your library card.

With so much of New York culture specifically and unapologetically catered towards the tourism industry, NYC residents are often left (or jaded) out of the loop when it comes to catching what the city has to offer. But the launch of Culture Pass, a new partnership introduced this week between the New York Public Library system and 33 museums across the city is giving locals a new sense of cultural agency in a city run on sightseeing.


There is something violently cynical about being a New York creative. The stress of living with such constant stimulation leaves little time or space for experiences that are singularly immersive. For me, going to museums and reading books are some of the only ways I can concentrate my attention in this city. It cuts the clutter and exposes us to new ideas, which seems especially appropriate for the vast number of New Yorkers who claim to have quite literally “seen everything.”

For years, the library has been a strange sort of refuge to me. It’s often cluttered and full of weird smells, but there are small pockets of space I find calming to occupy. The same goes for museums (the Asian wing of the Met is almost never crowded, and you can get lost in the labyrinth of rooms inside the pagoda). Like in NYC as a whole, it’s important to carve out space for yourself—places where you can feel safe and creative. But this can often take a lot of effort, not only navigating the hoards of tourists but also affording the somewhat steep admission prices museums like the Guggenheim often demand for access. Museums are a succinct way to find and make your own space, to explore and find inspiration where you might not expect it—but only if you can afford them.


This importance proves not to be lost on the NYPL, whose Culture Pass gives everyone with a library pass the opportunity to more easily find refuge and seek inspiration in a city that can often suck it away.

On paper, Culture Pass offers a chance for some of the most historical NYC institutions to give back to the community that fosters them––and to the people who often do not have the means to take advantage of their city. From a strategic standpoint, the venture is also an incredibly smart way of flexing the library’s ongoing efforts to modernize and mobilize their identity in the sea of chaotic culture that defines the city and its residents.


The NYPL has already proven successful in two other brand-pivoting, digital-first collaborations: Overdrive, an ebook and audiobook app run by Rakuten; and Kanopy, a video streaming service that’s brought over 30,000 films to library members. With this latest partnership, the library system has gone experiential, essentially equating itself to all of the city’s historic institutions and creating the ultimate New York brand. Partnering with more IRL cultural activities also helps the library renew its relevance and fabricates the perception that it is more than just books on a shelf.

While Culture Pass’ official statement about the new program cites the promotion of inclusivity and engagement for underserved communities, it is also a keen branding opportunity for further solidifying the NYPL as a cultural institution of its own (while boosting library membership rates and garnering some serious goodwill PR). More than a decade after media pundits started declaring the death of the library system in a post-internet society, the NYPL proves it is actually more tuned in and strategically savvy than ever.