Guide to the Research Collections



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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