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Accessing the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division


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, the library 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 percentage of the sheet music collection has also been cataloged in the library 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.


The Curator will determine what may be reproduced and by what method, and what may not. 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. Researchers are not permitted to use their own photographic equipment unless special permission is obtained.


Permission to publish or quote from unpublished manuscripts, or from published items under copyright, must first be obtained from the copyright holder. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure that permission. In many instances, the Division can provide contact information for copyright holders or donors. Additionally, permission to quote from manuscripts must be obtained in all instances from the Division.