- My NYPL
Tools and Services
- Using the Library
I am a...
- Classes & Events
- Support the Library
A User’s Guide to NYPL for DIY Designers and Artisans
Design by the Book
The New York Public Library holds a wealth of unexpected sources of inspiration for artists and designers—from vintage valentines and textile patterns, to fabric samples and turn-of-the-century menus from around the world. For this online-only miniseries, Design by the Book, the Library partnered with the leading design blog Design*Sponge to invite five New York City–based artists to sift through our collections in search of inspiration. Watch as the artists, who range from a glassblower to a letterpress printer, create unique works inspired by what they found. Special guest Isaac Mizrahi joins us in Episode 2 to share his sources of inspiration. You can stream the episodes by clicking the links below; these videos are also available for download from the Library’s iTunesU site.
Design by the Book was produced by Amy Azzarito and James Murdock, of The New York Public Library Digital Experience Group, with assistance from reference librarian Jessica Pigza, in partnership with Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge. The artists are: Lorena Barrezueta; Rebecca Kutys; Mike Perry; John Pomp; and Julia Rothman. Music by Clear Tigers.
A User’s Guide to NYPL for DIY Designers and Artisans
Prepared by Jessica Pigza, General Reference Division
The New York Public Library has millions of books, magazines, images, and more—all rich sources waiting for your use in creative and unexpected ways. But NYPL can, admittedly, be a complicated institution—different locations, different hours, different types of collections, different online catalogs, and even different rules. So, in hopes of getting you up to speed as painlessly as possible, I’ve put together the following guide to using NYPL. Have fun getting started making the most of our collections in your own creative projects!
Remember this! Anytime you need help, a good place to go is Ask NYPL. You can call, chat, or email us and we’ll do what we can to put you on the right track in your hunt.
Get Your Library Card
Identify What You Need
NYPL now has one searchable catalog online with two types of materials.
—“Circulating” just means that you can borrow the item and take it home for a period of time. Each item’s record will list which NYPL location holds that item. You then have the choice of going to that location to pick up the book, or requesting that it be sent to another NYPL location that’s more convenient location for you for pickup.
—Research Library holdings. Each item’s record will list which NYPL location holds that item. Some items you find in the catalog do not circulate, so in order to use certain items you must go to that specific item’s location. There are four major Research Library locations: Black Culture; Humanities & Social Sciences; Performing Arts; and Science, Industry & Business.
You can cast the widest net in starting your hunt for materials by doing a KEYWORD search. And once you’ve found some materials that meet your needs, you might want to see what SUBJECT terms have been applied to the stuff that you like so that you can do a SUBJECT search for those terms and see what else NYPL has under these SUBJECTS. Here are just a few sample SUBJECT terms:
Here are some tips to help you to interpret and sort your results:
- Focus on materials from certain time periods. If you want to focus on materials published during specific time periods, there are two ways to do it. You can simply sort all of your results by date and then find your desired time period in the list. Or, you can use the advance search options and enter a specific date range.
- Looking for images? If what you want are pictures, not just texts, then be sure to look for books that are described as illustrated in the catalog. If you find words like ill. (for illustrations), plates, maps, charts, etc. mentioned in the “Description” line of the book’s catalog record, then that book will contain images.
- Keep an eye on the details, Once you find something in the catalog that you want to see, make a note of its author, title, call number, and location. It will make the next step— getting your hands on the item— much easier if you have these details at hand. Some Research Library special collection locations (as in rare printed materials, manuscript collections, prints and photographs, etc.) have advance arrangement requirements for access or restrictions to use. So if you aren’t sure about getting access to something, it’s better to call or email ahead and find things so that you can better plan your visit.
This really isn’t as complicated as it sounds. And if you get stuck, remember that our librarians (both in person and via ASK NYPL) will gladly help you out.
Visit Your Library
NYPL consists of 86 libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, including four world-acclaimed research libraries and a large network of neighborhood branch libraries. So there’s bound to be a library near your home or workplace. So visit us and learn more! Many NYPL locations have specific subject areas in which they collect. If you are familiar with what types of materials are found at which locations, you can make the most of your library time. Here is information on a handful of strong collections that might interest you:
- Ethnic Heritage Collections: The Library has built invaluable collections documenting the culture of African Americans, Chinese, Italians, and Puerto Ricans. If you are in search of materials on the culture, language, literature, and history of these populations, don’t forget to investigate these collections; you’ll find them housed at a variety of NYPL locations. Additionally, you’ll find plenty of cultural history materials at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (see below).
- Stephen A. Schwarzman Building: Within this building, located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, you’ll find materials related to all fields in the humanities and social sciences, including art and architecture, local history materials (such as postcards), maps, prints, photography, literature, historic children’s materials, and more. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building ’s collections page outlines the many different collections within its walls.
- The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Based at Lincoln Center, this library houses the world’s most extensive combination of circulating and non-circulating reference and research materials on music, dance, theatre, recorded sound, and other performing arts. You can learn more about their collections here.
- Picture Collection: Since its establishment in 1914, NYPL’s Picture Collection—currently housed at the Mid-Manhattan Library—has provided inspiration and visual information for a broad range of endeavors: commercial art, mass market publishing, advertising, fashion design, film, theater, and popular entertainment. The collection is filed by subject and each file’s contents are available for borrowing, with your NYPL Branches Card.
- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, is one of the world’s leading research facilities devoted to the preservation of materials on the global African and African diasporan experiences. The collections here include printed materials, manuscripts and archives, artifacts and art, moving images, and more, and its website offers an overview of their collections.
- Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL): History of science, advertising, natural history, patents, technology, and the textile industry are just a few of the many subjects you can explore at SIBL, located at 34th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. And if you are interested in turning your DIY hobby into an indie business, take advantage of their small business resources, too.
Visit NYPL Online
Whether you live in New York City, or anywhere else, The New York Public Library makes many of its collections and resources available on our Web site:
- The Digital Gallery: This resource provides free and open access to over half-a-million images digitized from the The New York Public Library’s vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more. The gallery is searchable and browsable, and collection guides act as helpful discovery guides.
- Online Exhibitions: From interviews with curators, to explorations of the Library’s Treasures, NYPL’s online exhibitions mine the collections to explore art, history, design, culture, and nature. Online exhibitions contains select images that illustrate and elaborate upon the subject at hand. You might find that one of these exhibitions gives you a jump start in the direction you desire.
- NYPL Blogs: We librarians are always finding stuff in our collections that we want to share, and we’re finding that some of the best show-and-tell platforms are the Library’s own blogs. Here you’ll see posts on a broad variety of subjects, from fashion and art to local history and the world of DIY. The blogs also give you a chance to see if there’s a librarian here who would be a good resource for your project. So check them out!
Share Your Library-Inspired Creations
Now it’s your turn! Come in and visit, explore online, or write or call us. Let us know how we can help you in your search. And then get started in your own handmade endeavors. And join our Design by the Book Group on Flickr! It’s an open group, and you can post pictures of your creations there. Be sure to include a caption explaining the part that NYPL played in your project!
Picture of the Day
Customs station at Chease, on the River Volta, opposite German Togoland (1910). NYPL Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
One of 700,000 pictures in the NYPL Digital Gallery