Special Library in Focus: The New-York Historical Society Library
While I was in the neighborhood (visiting the library of the American Museum of Natural History - AMNH), I serendipitously noticed that the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) was next door. After visiting the AMNH, I decided to check out the library of the historical society. I was happy to discover that it is open to the public free Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and on Saturdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m, and they have a wealth of resources! In addition to their physical library, they also have many electronic resources. The New-York Historical Society Library and Museum was founded in 1804, and it is the oldest museum in the City of New York.
Physical library: Visitors need to check their coats and bags on the main floor in order to gain access to the library. Pencils and loose paper are provided in order for readers to take notes. The library is on the second floor.
Most of their materials are in closed stacks, so readers must page materials for the staff to retrieve. There were books in display cases, which I was told were more for show. In the main reading room, they have atlases, six computers with New-York Historical Society Library databases and access to the internet. They had some print journals on display, including American Heritage, The American Historical Review, The Journal of American History, and The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. It was very quiet in the library. They still have a card catalog that they use when the computers are down and the electronic catalog cannot be accessed. Staff and patrons also use the card catalog to access many records that Bobcat, their online catalog, does not contain.
Recent Renovation of the Library: I was informed by our presenter (she gave a presentation to NYPL staff) that the library had been renovated in the summer of 2011. It was reopened in November. The library got new curtains and carpeting. The stained glass windows were removed piece-by-piece for cleaning to let the lights shine through more clearly. The library also got a new paint job, and they are working on getting new chandeliers. There is a gorgeous spiral staircase leading to the peripheral balcony of the library. The library also has Ionic Greek columns, which give it a very stately experience. Our presenter informed us that the space is often rented out for weddings and other special events. It is a very attractive, ritzy-looking library, so I can understand why people would want that space for their wedding or other special event.
Library Presentation: Our presenter was from the Manuscripts department, and she was very knowledgeable about the collections of NYHS and New York City history. She showed us several items which she had pulled from the collection, and she talked about the history behind the items. The NYHS collection consists of Manuscripts, General Collections, and Print Room.
Plan of the city and environs of New York as they were in 1742-1744 (By David Grim), 1813 (General Collections): The map was drawn in 1813, and it shows the locations of buildings, such as churches, City Hall, and slaughterhouses.
American Historical Manuscripts Collection (AHMC) - Whitman, Walt (Letters from Whitman to soldier's families.), 1862-1863: She also showed us letters from Walt Whitman to the families of fallen soldiers. Whitman believed that the form letter that informed families of loved ones' deaths was cold, so he wrote letters to the families, some of whom wrote him back.
BV Petitions (Petition to President Lincoln in support of forming African American troops during Civil War), around 1862 (Manuscripts): Hundreds of citizens of NYC signed a petition in early 1862 to promote the enlistment of African Americans in the army. This did occur; however, it was not implemented until after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted.
Lucky Strike advertisement, 1920s (Print Room): The advertisement for the cigarettes features a beautiful woman with a bloated, overweight shadow. The idea was to communicate that cigarettes could help as a weight-loss aide. (We did not, however, get to see a picture of the young woman's lungs.)
AHMC - Ticker Tape (Last piece of ticker tape on eve of Stock Market Crash), 1929 (Manuscripts): Our presenter showed us the last piece of ticker tape used on October 29, 1929. Ticker tape was used to communicate stock market information over telegraph lines.
- AMHC - Harris, Clara (Letter detailing Lincoln's assassin (Manuscripts)
- Naval History Society Collection (NHSC) - Point Lookout (Illustrated journal of POW during Civil War), 1864 (Manuscripts)
- 7th Regiment Collection (Photo Album), 1889 (Manuscripts)
- Alexander Family Papers (Fabric samples of Mary Alexander), 1740s-1750s (Manuscripts)
- AHMC - Harris, Clara (Letter detailing Lincoln's assassination), 1865 (Manuscripts)
- AHMC - Yankee Stadium (Souvenir program on opening day), 1923 (Manuscripts)
- BV Larned, Simon (Account Books), 1782 (Manuscripts)
- New York Foundling Hospital (NYFH) - (Notes left on babies) - 1879 (Manuscripts)
- The Revolution (Newspaper of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton), 1868 (General Collections)
- Pabst Blue Ribbon advertisement, 1890s (Print Room)
Childhood trip to Gettysburg: Listening to our presenter reminded me of going to historical museums during my childhood and seeing historic re-enactors (they have these at NYHS as well). In fact, our eighth-grade class took a trip together to go see the Gettysburg Museum, which was fascinating. My history teacher loved to take all of her eighth-graders to Gettysburg.
Electronic library: The NYHS has an extensive website that includes a blog and catalog, which is posted weekly. The library does a fair amount of e-reference for military historians and genealogists who cannot physically come to the library. In addition, scholars, students, authors, media representatives and staff from other cultural institutions send reference requests to NYHS. It is also good to do research on their website prior to arriving at the library, because researchers can request materials in advance.
- Special Libraries Open to the Public: I am fascinated by special libraries and the number of specialized libraries in New York City that are open to the public. I was very glad to see all of the interesting historical documents that are housed in the NYHS Library. The New York City directories are among the most accessed materials in the general collections. Researchers are curious to know which building was where during a particular historical period. Also, genealogists visit the library to find out information about their relatives.
- New York History databases
- New York History journals
- Bronx County Historical Society
- Gotham Center for New York History
- Historic Houses of New York City
- Books on New York City history
- Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History & Genealogy (at the Schwarzman Building, "the library with the lions")
- Bronx History Collection at the Bronx Library Center
- Edgar Allan Poe cottage (near the Bronx Library Center)