Guide to the Research Collections




Bibliography--writings and compilations which deal with the description of books, and subject lists--is one of the strongest features of the library's collections. The collecting policy is comprehensive for general and national bibliographies, and representative or selective for booksellers' catalogs, auction catalogs, and catalogs of university and college libraries. Most of the general bibliographical works in the Research Libraries are housed in the general collections, but important holdings can be found in the Rare Book, Economic and Public Affairs, and General Research and Humanities Divisions, and in the Preparation Services. A great number of special subjects bibliographies, a particular strength of the library, are classed with subject materials. Most published bibliographies are secured, even those for subjects in which the library makes little or no attempt to specialize. Medicine and law, for example, are both adequately represented bibliographically, although the library has a relatively small representation of the works and journals cited. The only field that may be said to be seriously incomplete is the biological sciences. Although the researcher may find in the bibliographies citations to materials he cannot secure in the Research Libraries, he is able to do much of the initial research in the library; materials lacking are usually to be found in other large or specialized libraries of the city.

Before the widespread publication of periodical indexes, entries for bibliographies appearing in periodical and society publications were prepared for the Public Catalog. Since 1930 only items not likely to be indexed elsewhere have been entered.

The library has been keenly interested in bibliography from the beginning. In addition to building a bibliographical collection in the Astor Library, Dr. Cogswell, a collector and bibliographer as well as librarian, personally acquired many of the works needed in this field. Upon his resignation in 1861 he turned over to the Astor Library his collection of more than 4,000 volumes in the fields of bibliography and literary history, in return for an annuity of $300.00. In 1884 the Lenox Library received the Astoin collection (strong in French bibliography), and in 1890 the Stuart collection containing more than 200 volumes of bibliography and literary history. In addition, there was Lenox's collection of booksellers' catalogs and publishers' lists which he had checked and annotated, particularly important for information on Americana and the Bible. In 1938-39 a collection of French book auction sale catalogs for the period 1730 to 1930 enriched the library's resources. In 1939-40 Wilberforce Eames's personal library of books, manuscripts, and bibliographies came to the library; the Americana section of Eames's collection was particularly good.

The general collections devoted to bibliography have grown over the years as follows:

19219,010 volumes

The general collection is wide in scope and varied in content, containing a substantially complete representation of the works of the great bibliographers. Many of the standard bibliographies and current materials are kept in special divisions for greater public convenience. The general collection does not include bibliographies of special subjects, which are classified with subject materials. Some of the larger collections of bibliographies in the special divisions of the Research Libraries are described below.

Rare Book Division

This collection numbers some 4,000 volumes. It consists of general and special bibliographies of authors, special presses, and individual printers; and bibliographies of printing in specific cities or geographical areas such as Rare Kentucky Books, Manuel du bibliographe normand, Oklahoma Imprints 1835-1907. Materials in the collection have been chosen largely for their value in bibliographical and cataloging research in the field of rare books. Many of the items are duplicated in the general collections.

A subclass of unusual interest was originally intended to provide for the elaborately annotated catalogs and working lists of James Lenox, many of which are a valuable contribution to bibliography, particularly those having to do with Americana and the Bible. The scope of this subclass was later extended to include annotated lists of other bookmen and collectors whose collections have come to the library, or whose work has had some connection with its holdings. The more important of these lists and notes are those of Bancroft, Bryant, Dixon, Myers, and Westwood; those having to do with the South Sea Bubble; and the Tilden shelf inventory of 1887.

Preparation Services

The books located in the Preparation Services bear the classmark "Ref. Cat." (Reference Catalog); they are entered in the Public Catalog and may be secured for use in the Main Reading Room by submitting call slips in the usual manner. The section dealing with bibliography numbers about 1,000 volumes. It is composed principally of national bibliographies and the catalogs of important libraries such as the Bibliothèque Nationale, the British Museum, and the Library of Congress. Another collection, kept in the Acquisition Division, is most important for lists and directories of periodicals and serials. They are held for staff use in cataloging the books for the collections.

Economic and Public Affairs Division

The publications in bibliography to be found in the Economic and Public Affairs Division fall into three groups: (1) A group composed of one copy of all Library of Congress bibliographical publications; duplicate copies are located elsewhere in the collections for general use; (2) the official records of books, periodicals, etc., published by governmental agencies throughout the

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world, and (3) the catalogs of the book, periodical, and other accessions of governmental agencies throughout the world.

General Research and Humanities Division

More than 5,000 bibliographical volumes are kept at the Information Desk near the Public Catalog and in the Main Reading Room. At the Information Desk are the current American and English national bibliographies, large library catalogs, indexes to periodicals, and the various "best books" lists. In the Main Reading Room are subject and national bibliographies, less frequently used periodical indexes, the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, and similar materials.

Specific Aspects of the Bibliography Collection

National and Trade Bibliographies

This is a comprehensive collection with complete files of series such as the Publishers' Trade List Annual, Bibliographie de la France, and Reference Catalogue of Current Literature. Historically the collections have excellent coverage for the United States, England, most European countries, and the USSR. There are substantial holdings of Latin American bibliographies, but only a fair representation for Oriental countries. Currently the library receives 130 national bibliographies, but the holdings from those countries where bibliographical facilities are not well established have many gaps. There is a concentrated effort, however, to keep the files of all national bibliographies as current and complete as possible.

Booksellers', Art and Print Dealers' Catalogs

Although the collecting policy for booksellers' catalogs does not aim for completeness, the library's holdings of this material are unusual. A great number of the dealers' larger compilations are classed by subject in the collections and are not shelved with the general bibliography holdings. The general collection includes important nineteenth-century catalogs of European and American booksellers. One bound series of 31 volumes covers the period from 1801 to 1828; perhaps even more rare are smaller and more general early catalogs. A large number of formerly uncataloged materials of this nature, which as early as 1902 numbered 7,000 items, have now been assimilated into the collections. These items have been cumulated into bindable volumes and a form card has been established in the Public Catalog under the name of the dealer, a card which indicates that numbered or unnumbered catalogs are available, but without further detail. A list of 28 United States, 13 English, and 18 European bookdealers has been established as those whose catalogs are to be retained in the future; other catalogs are discarded after they have been used by the staff for ordering. The list of dealers whose catalogs are retained is subject to constant review and revision. An attempt is made to secure missing catalogs from 1956 onward for dealers on the retention list. The greater part of the collection of booksellers' catalogs is held with other infrequently used materials at the library's Annex. Holdings are noted in the Central Serial Record.

Art dealers' catalogs form one of the stronger holdings in the Art and Architecture Division. The Prints Division retains all print dealers' catalogs that are received. Current items are retained and certain selected items are bound and added to the collections; mimeographed or other ephemeral materials are filed in envelopes. Form cards are prepared for the division's catalog.

Auction Catalogs

The collection of auction catalogs is representative for United States and English houses, but selective for French and most other European firms. Both priced and unpriced catalogs are retained, the priced being preferred. There is a bound file of the priced catalogs of the American Art Association Galleries from 1880; a fairly complete file for the Anderson Galleries from 1900; for the American Art Association from 1880; for the Parke-Bernet Galleries from 1938; and for Sotheby and Company from 1829, with some earlier scattered numbers. Auction catalogs of other American and European firms are present in large numbers. The larger, more important publications, located in the bibliography collection or classed by subject, are fully cataloged.1 An attempt is made to secure missing catalogs from 1956 onward of the active galleries and dealers whose catalogs the library currently receives and retains. In addition there are complete files of such auction records as American Book-Prices Current, Bookman's Price Index, and Book-Auction Records. Both the Art and Architecture and Prints Divisions maintain sales records and retain individual auction catalogs as received.2


In the Manuscripts and Archives Division are materials of bibliographic interest such as the Merle Johnson papers, the George Henry Sargent collection, and the Rodd family papers (1826-59). There is also the thirteen-volume manuscript compilation by H.O. Teisberg entitled "Records of Manuscript and Book Auctions in the United States, 1717-1889," which includes references to newspapers and catalogs.


The collecting policy for encyclopedias is comprehensive for all except the Oriental languages. The retrospective collection of encyclopedias is principally of historical interest. There is a good representation of editions of nineteenth-and twentieth-century American titles. Children's encyclopedias of the twentieth century are also present, although this is not a field in which the library has actively collected. Late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century German children's encyclopedias are found in the Schatzki collection. The British collection includes many of the nineteenth-century "universal" compendiums as well as various editions (English and American) of such

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standard works as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There are generally full representations of works in foreign languages, such as the German "Brockhaus" and "Meyers," and the French "Larousse." The general collections also include the concise compendium or "fact book"; the nineteenth-century representations of this type of reference work are particularly interesting. Of works such as Chambers' The Book of Days there are many editions.

The open shelves of the Main Reading Room house most of the recently published or current titles. In keeping with the cosmopolitan character of New York City, the many foreign-language encyclopedias are in constant use. Each year the Main Reading Room replaces a single English-language title with the current edition to insure that up-to-date information is always available. Among older standard works are complete sets of the Diderot Encyclopédie and Johann Heinrich Zedler's Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon.

The Oriental Division has English and German editions of the Encyclopaedia of Islam. One of the Chinese manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division is an eighteenth-century copy of sections 15,951 to 15,958 of the Yung Lo Ta Tien of the Ming Dynasty.

Encyclopedias of subject interest, such as those covering the fields of technology or art, are classified with the subject and are generally located in the reference collections of the subject reading rooms.