Guide to the Research Collections

- INTRODUCTION -- WILLIAM VERNON JACKSON
- METHODOLOGY

METHODOLOGY

With these decisions made, the methodology of preparing this compilation was devised. As was explained previously, the Brown volume furnished the point of departure, and the first task was to obtain information to supplement or modify, where necessary, Brown's statements. Rather than doing this independently for each subject, it seemed wiser and more efficient to perform several preliminary operations to secure overall data which could be used throughout the new Guide. How, for example, had the collections of the Research Libraries developed from 1940 through the mid-1960s? To answer that question efficiently involved the utilization, whenever possible, of already published material, and so a literature search for references to the library's resources published during this period was undertaken. First, complete sets of the Bulletin, the library's annual report, and those of the library's own publications dealing with holdings were assembled. Second, a careful check was made of Robert B. Downs's American Library Resources: A Bibliographical Guide and its supplement,6 based not only on the index entries under "New York Public Library," but also upon annotations (e.g., "Locates copies in 11 libraries") that suggested the possibility of the library's inclusion in publications covering several research collections. The publications cited were checked to verify the nature and extent of the description, or to see whether an item on various libraries did actually cover the New York Public Library. Although this research incidentally yielded some works which had escaped the assiduous labors of Downs and his helpers, there were few cards indeed to be marked "not in Downs." The file resulting from these efforts was duplicated, one set arranged by author and the other by subject. As another check on publications, all entries from the Public Catalog under "New York Public Library" were also copied. The establishment of this bibliography made possible the development of a Resources File, used to bring together material about the research collections. Items cut from duplicate copies of the Bulletin and the annual report, reproductions of pages from monographic studies, as well as copies of memoranda and other documents prepared for internal use (generally taken or copied from the Research Libraries' administrative files), went into folders which were arranged broadly by Dewey Decimal Classification.

These two files, bringing together for the first time material about the collections, constituted the first steps taken to prepare this Guide. (Since the library has continued to incorporate new items into both files, they have become small, specialized additions to its bibliographic instruments.) At this stage occasional conversations with division chiefs and others also provided valuable clues to additional material or subject strengths to be explored later.

A third important preliminary step was to determine the extent of the Research Libraries' holdings in various subjects. Statistics resulting from censuses taken in 1921 and 1930, and the figures published in Brown (basically adjustments of the latter year), were available. Apparently the library had made little or no attempt to maintain such statistics subsequent to 1941. Since holdings of individual subjects in research collections grow at rates which do not entirely correspond with the overall rate of increase, simply projecting growth of each subject at a uniform rate was deemed unsatisfactory. There was also the question of new areas for which statistics were wanted. In order to provide for continuity and some basis of comparison, it seemed useful to utilize figures (corresponding to most of the Billings classmarks) used in 1921, 1930, and 1941--especially for those representing subjects. But a greater breakdown of holdings in science and technology and the social sciences seemed desirable. The final decision was a compromise: figures were thus compiled for many specific subjects, but certain very broad areas (e.g., the Documents, Jewish, Orientalia, and Slavonic collections) were not broken down, because there was no solution that would not be excessively time-consuming. A sampling technique yielded figures both for volumes shelved in fixed-order location and those in the general collection and elsewhere in the library; these were later modified as direct examination of shelves, discussion with division chiefs and other staff members, or other good reasons dictated. The figures presented at the beginning of sections remain, however, careful estimates of the extent of holdings in each subject.

One final preliminary operation was undertaken. Since the reader of this Guide might well be unfamiliar with the organization of the Research Libraries in relation to the subjects of interest to him, it appeared desirable to prepare a brief general statement on each division or unit, indicating its collecting responsibilities, the special indexes and files which supplement its resources, major gifts which may have influenced the development of collections, and other pertinent matters. For divisions with responsibility for a single, specific subject it was possible to prepare this at the same time as the description of resources, but for those representing area collections (e.g., Orientalia) or responsible for several subjects (e.g., General Research and Humanities Division), such statements were prepared as a part of the preliminary operations.