Guide to the Research Collections



This division is responsible for the selection of general reference works, for the major part of the book collections housed in the stacks, more than one-half the total book holdings of the Research Libraries, and for periodicals of a general nature and in the Roman and Greek alphabets (see chapter 4). It selects material in these alphabets for such fields as bibliography, biography, European history, geography, literature, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, philology, and religion. It is also responsible for the collections of sports and games, and shorthand.

The division provides general reference service to readers personally and by telephone and letter, maintaining a small collection of books in Room 315 of the Central Building for ready reference which includes almanacs, directories in various fields, indexes and catalogs of books and periodicals, current book-trade lists, and various compilations in fields such as literature, education, and business. The division also administers the Main Reading Room reference collection of 32,500 volumes.


In addition to general reference work, a major function of the General Research and Humanities Division is to interpret the massive Public Catalog. Included here are cards for all book and booklike materials in the Roman alphabet and in Greek with the following exceptions: there are no cards for manuscripts, phonorecords, prints and drawings, music scores, sheet music, maps, and moving picture stills; there are no cards here for materials in the Berg Collection or the Arents Collections, and only a partial record of Spencer Collection holdings (these materials must be located through the appropriate subject or special collections of the Research Libraries, with the exception of nonmusical phonorecords, which are listed in a supplementary catalog located in the General Research and Humanities Division). Although the most complete record of newspaper holdings is to be found in the card catalog of the Newspaper Collection, a separate catalog for newspapers is kept at the Information Desk in Room 315; retrospective and current newspaper series are now being added to the Public Catalog. The Research Libraries holdings in the Cyrillic script and in the Oriental languages and Hebrew or Yiddish are recorded in the division catalogs of the Slavonic Division, the Oriental Division, and the Jewish Division, respectively.

The Public Catalog is a dictionary catalog containing author, title, and subject entries for materials acquired up to 1971. From the library's earliest years, entries have also been prepared which index articles in periodicals and learned journals; ordinarily only subject cards for such articles are made. Since these index entries are largely for material not covered by published indexes, they form an immensely valuable feature of the catalog.

The General Research and Humanities Division keeps at hand the book catalogs of the Manuscripts and Archives, Map, Slavonic, and Oriental Divisions, and those of the Schomburg Center and the Berg and Arents Tobacco Collections, the book catalogs of the drama and World War I collections, as well as the Dictionary Catalog of The Research Libraries for post-1970 acquisitions.1 All printed book catalogs of the collections of the Research Libraries are intended to be located in this division for use in conjunction with the Public Catalog. Near the Public Catalog, too, are kept recent indexes of the New York Times and many of the H.W. Wilson periodical indexes, as well as sets of Cumulative Book Index, the book catalogs of the Library of Congress, including The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints, the British Museum General Catalogue of Printed Books, and other standard bibliographic tools.


Located on the shelves of the North and South Halls of the Main Reading Room is the library's principal reference collection; the 32,500 volumes shelved here may be consulted without filing call slips. The collection, which supplements and extends the general collections housed in the stacks, is intended to supply a balanced group of the important sources for general topics found by experience to be most used by readers. Limited holdings of standard or general works in each of the fields for which there is also a subject collection are also present for the convenience of readers who use the Research Libraries when the subject division are not open.

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The Main Reading Room contains reference works--dictionaries of the major languages of the world, encyclopedias representing the important countries of the world, and compendiums covering subjects most in demand. Also included are standard histories, biographies, and works on subjects generally in demand but not covered by any of the special reference divisions of the library. As far as possible, books in these collections are in English, although there is a good representation of foreign encyclopedias and dictionaries, and of works in foreign languages offering better presentations of their subjects than those available in English.

Since the Main Reading Room collection attempts fuller coverage of those subjects not strongly represented in the reference collections of other divisions of the Research Libraries, the following subjects receive minimal coverage: art and architecture; economics and finance; Jewish literature; local history and genealogy (there is no representation for these subjects); music; Orientalia; science and technology; Slavonic literature.

The following notes describe reference collection holdings in certain important areas.


The collection is strong in this field. It contains many standard bibliographical works, most of the national bibliographies, and subject lists. Book catalogs of important collections in other libraries are also available. Associated bibliographical collections include reference materials located in the Preparation Services and bibliographies in the Rare Book Division; both are represented by cards in the Public Catalog, and may be requested by call slip.


This rich collection includes both collective and individual biographies. Other units in the Research Libraries have biographical materials related to their fields.

Book Arts

A working collection of histories of publishing, printing, typography, etc., this represents one of the library's major strengths. Important supplementary materials are found in the Rare Book, Prints, and Manuscripts and Archives Divisions.


An important and frequently used part of the reference collection, directories fall into four main groups:


Standard historical sets and the works of outstanding historians are available in addition to the basic reference works in the field. Most areas of world history are well covered with the exception of United States, Canadian, and South American history, which are represented in the American History Division, and United States and British local history, which are administered by the Local History and Genealogy Division.


Materials in this area are limited to United States and New York State statutes and court reports.


A comprehensive collection of definitive editions of the standard authors (with the exception of Oriental, Jewish, and Slavonic writers) is available, as well as the more important systematic critical and historical works.

Natural Sciences

A good collection of the standard reference works is maintained for natural history, biology, botany, and zoology, although these are fields in which the Research Libraries do not specialize.


Containing most of the standard and classic monolingual dictionaries in the Western European languages, the collection includes many bilingual dictionaries and works on etymology.


A working collection of general introductory material, philosophical dictionaries, histories, and other critical works is maintained.


A basic working collection of materials covering most Christian sects and the Bible, including encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, histories, and commentaries is available. A representative collection of books on liturgy and ritual reflects the latest forms or changes.


This portion of the collection is restricted to general treatises and reference works.


The materials available in this area include sports records, encyclopedias, and histories.


Cookery, gardening, navigation and naval art, and military art and science constitute the major strengths of this group of materials. Little attempt to cover the broad field of science and technology has been made.

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American Periodicals 1800-1930

General American periodicals are listed alphabetically by decades during which they were current (2,300 cards). The file does not include specialized periodicals such as historical journals and scientific publications. This classification by ten-year periods facilitates the study of trends of opinion about important historical events, social problems, etc.

British Periodicals 1700-1930

General British periodicals are listed alphabetically by decades during which they were current (1,400 cards).

Bookseller File

A file consisting of the names and addresses of booksellers in the New York City area arranged by subject specialty (1,000 cards).

 Bulletin of The New York Public Library Index

The General Research and Humanities Division indexes the Bulletin as it is issued; cards are discarded when a cumulative index is published.

Current Periodicals List

A "wheeldex" file listing some of the most commonly used Roman-alphabet magazines, chiefly those indexed in the Wilson indexes (2,000 cards). The library classmark for each title is noted, as well as the division or subject collection in which current issues are held.

Directory Catalog

This file locates and gives bibliographical information for directories throughout the collections of the Research Libraries: subject, commercial, professional, occupational, and many other kinds of directories are included (12,000 cards). The theatrical, musical, and dance directories housed in the library's Performing Arts Research Center at Lincoln Center are also noted.

Literary Form Headings

This file consists of author entries under literary form headings with national subdivisions (e.g., "Fiction, French"; "Drama, Brazilian"; "Poetry, Scottish-Gaelic") (450,000 cards). A full record of the editions of an author's works does not appear here; the reader must consult author entries in the Public Catalog to determine the complete holdings.

Before 1940 literary form headings were maintained in all languages. Since that time they have been partially discontinued with the exception of drama, which has been maintained in all languages. The state of particular files can be approximately determined by spot checking the dates of publication on cards entered under nationality subdivisions of the form in question.

Material on Careers File

An index to occupational monographs arranged by occupation (500 cards).

Newspaper File

An alphabetical record of newspaper holdings arranged by county, state, and city in the United States; and by country and city abroad (4,000 cards, domestic; 2,000 cards, foreign). For holdings of United States newspapers published before 1800 the reader is referred to the Rare Book Division.

Quotation File

A selection of quotations not readily found in standard books of quotations, the file consists in large part of entries from the question and answer column of the New York Times Book Review (12,000 cards). Quotations or their source are given, with many cross-references.

"Scrap Box" File

This file, arranged by subject, notes information and sources for quick reference in areas not readily covered by standard tools (3,000 cards). The file is in part an aid for locating items in sections of the Public Catalog with unusually complicated subject headings.

Special Collections File

A card file arranged alphabetically by main entry under the name of selected special collections, detailing the materials in those collections (40 card drawers). A listing of special collections for which there are cards, with an indication of the subject matter of each, follows.

Theatre Scrapbook File

An arrangement by title of plays performed in New York City itemizing and locating reviews, mainly from newspapers, of each play (10,000 cards). The author, date of performance, and theatre are noted on each card. This file serves as an effective index to the collection of newspaper clippings of dramatic criticism kept in the Theatre Collection at Lincoln Center.

Vertical File

This file is a ready reference collection, arranged by subject, built up as a result of questions from the public (12 file trays). It provides information not readily available in standard books of reference.

Who's Who File

Arranged by general subject and by occupation, this file lists the source and location within the Research Libraries of current biographical sketches.

Inactive Files

A 2,000-card index to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships for the World War II period and a 2,000-card index to articles in books and periodicals on the history of food discontinued after August 1937 have been preserved.