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The Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints — the forerunner to today’s Schomburg Center — opened in 1925 as a special collection of the 135th Street Branch library to meet the needs of a changing community. The Division first won international acclaim in 1926 when the personal collection of the distinguished Puerto Rican-born Black scholar and bibliophile, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, was added to the Division. His collection included more than 5,000 books; 3,000 manuscripts; 2,000 etchings and paintings; and several thousand pamphlets. Schomburg served as curator of the Division from 1932 until his death in 1938. In 1940, the Division was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints in honor of its founder. In 1972, the Schomburg Collection was designated as one of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library and became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The expansion of the Schomburg Center in 1991 created spaces for exhibition galleries; the renovated American Negro Theatre; and the 340-seat Langston Hughes Auditorium, in which concerts, forums, lectures, performances, and other special events have taken place. Today, the Schomburg Center contains over 10,000,000 items and provides services and programs for constituents from the United States and abroad.

The Center provides access to and professional reference assistance in the use of its collections to the scholarly community and the general public through five research divisions, each managing materials in specific formats but with broad subject focus. The Center's collections include art objects, audio and video tapes, books, manuscripts, motion picture films, newspapers, periodicals, photographs, prints, recorded music discs, and sheet music.

The Schomburg Center facilitates access to these holdings through mail and telephone reference services, participation in national computerized databases, and publication of bibliographies and other finding aids.

Library materials at the Schomburg Center are housed in five collection divisions, according to format:

The Schomburg Center promotes the study of the histories and cultures of peoples of African descent and interprets its collections through exhibitions, publications, and educational, scholarly and cultural programs.

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