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Accessing the Collections


General Introduction

Nearly 60% of the Division's manuscript collections have been cataloged in The New York Public Library's online public access catalog. Finding aids to approximately 20% of the collections containing the dates and size of the collection, biographical or historical sketch, a description of the contents, and box and folder list, are also available online. Those finding aids not online can be emailed or mailed in advance of a research visit. A subject listing of our collections may be found here.

A percentage of the sheet music collection has also been cataloged in the catalog. However, the entire collection can be accessed via a manual card file and an electronic database in the Division which provides access points via composer, lyricist, song title and first line. The Division also maintains manual card files for playbills, broadsides, play scripts, screenplays, and for the Literary and Scholarly Typescripts Collection.

In 1942 the Center published The Calendar of Manuscripts in the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, which includes item-level descriptions for the John Edward Bruce Papers, the Alexander Crummell Sermons and Letters Collection, the Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, the Slavery and Abolition Collection and the West Indian (Haiti) Collection. The Calendar is available in most major research libraries.

Manuscript collections on microfilm are available for use in the General Research and Reference Division of the Schomburg Center, not in the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division which is opened fewer hours. The microfilm can also be borrowed via interlibrary loan. Because some collections are stored off site, researchers are advised to contact the Division in advance of their visit to determine availability. 24 to 48 hours advance notice is required for materials stored off site.

Reading Room Policies and Procedures

Registration is required to use the materials in the Division. Each researcher must fill out the registration form and show traceable identification. An admission card will be issued for long-term research use (renewable every six months).

All researchers are required to store coats, briefcases, books, back packs, computer cases, and large purses in the coat check room located in the lobby. In addition, lockers are available in the Division. Clear plastic bags are available from the coat check to store personal items. Special paper is made available for note taking (personal index cards are allowed; pads of all sizes are not). Pencils only can be used for note taking. Laptops are allowed, however scanners are not. Researchers are permitted to take photographs for their personal use. Cameras must be set  on 'mute' so as to  not disturb others. 


The Curator will determine what may or may not be reproduced and by what method (photocopies, scans or self-mediated photography). Please note that only 30% of a collection can be reproduced. Reproductions are not permitted if prohibited by the terms of the gift, if making such reproductions would cause damage to the item, or if special problems are involved. Photocopying will be done by a member of the staff. 


The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/The New York Public Library does not hold the copyright to all of the original materials in its collections. It is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain permission to publish from appropriate copyright owners. In many instances, the Division can provide contact information for copyright holders or donors. Two excellent resources for locating copyright holders for authors and artists is the WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders), maintained by the Harry Ransom Center, and the copyright Office's website ( These resources also include useful information on copyright and finding copyright holders. As a courtesy the Division asks that researchers making substantial use of its collections notify the Division of their publication plans, even when not quoting directly or when quoting from material for which the Library does not hold copyright.

Permission must be obtained from the Division to publish or quote from original materials for which the Library owns copyright. The permission request letter should include:

  • Type of publication (book, article, chapter)
  • Proposed title (include title of book, if this is only a chapter in an anthology or edited book)
  • Name of publisher
  • Expected date of publication
  • Indicate if it is a scholarly or commercial publication.

In addition to a description of the document(s) being quoted, permission requests must include the name of the collection and, when applicable, the box, folder (identified by number or title), and microfilm reel that contain the document(s). If using correspondence, also list the date(s). Indicate if the material is to be quoted, cited or reproduced.

Use the following format to cite the materials:

First citation: [Item and date], Box #, Folder # (or: f. #), Name of Papers/Collection, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.                                                                                   
Second citation: [Item and date], abbreviated collection name, Box #, Folder #.

The Library’s Photographic Services and Permissions office handles permission requests for still images of documents.