Guide to the Research Collections



The Science and Technology Research Center maintains a collection somewhat in excess of 500,000 volumes in the pure and applied physical sciences and related technologies and industrial arts. Approximately one quarter of the holdings represent pure and applied physical sciences, and about three quarters technology. Even though the number of volumes is not in itself a measure of quality or completeness of coverage, it may be assumed that the 133,700 volumes in the library in the pure sciences alone would include a sizable proportion of the world's important literature in these areas. The technology collection is rich in older, as well as more modern, materials, and thus provides documentation for the history of the subject. The coverage is comprehensive from all countries and in all languages (including Oriental, Slavonic, and Hebrew, although publications in non-Roman alphabet, are at present housed in the Oriental, Slavonic, and Jewish Divisions, respectively).

Periodicals and government publications form the major portion of the Science and Technology Research Center's resources noted in the preceding paragraph. The center has access to files of periodicals such as the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1665- ), and which include almost all of the relatively few European journals that commenced publication in the early 1700s. Holdings of the journals of general learned societies or national academies (many of which have scientific sections) also form a closely related and strong collection. Of the more than 4,000 periodical titles currently received in the center, 56 percent are in English with others in twenty languages including Afrikaans, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Fleming, French, German, Greek, Italian, Magyar, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Roumanian, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, and Serbo-Croation. This does not take into account the fact that a growing number of scientific journals are polylingual, with many articles appearing in the native language of the contributor. Approximately 190 current scientific and technological periodical titles in the Cyrillic alphabet are in the Slavonic Division. Another 260 titles in Oriental languages are divided roughly as follows: Chinese (50 titles), Japanese (150 titles), Korean (50 titles), Taiwanese (10 titles). The Jewish Division houses similar materials in Hebrew.

The center attempts to obtain almost all the basic indexing and abstracting services in the fields of chemistry, physics, mathematics, geology, meteorology, the nuclear sciences, astronomy, engineering, and technology, along with the basic standard works in these fields. It holds indexing and abstracting services in the natural and medical sciences such as Biological Abstracts and Index Medicus. Readers thus are able to view a field of science as a whole when working in such disciplines as biochemistry, even if the works cited in the indexes and abstracts are not found in the Research Libraries, but must be sought in other libraries in the metropolitan area.

The center has substantially all directories, biographical dictionaries, and encyclopedias in scientific and industrial fields; it holds government documents in the fields of geology, mining, hydrology, and meteorology.1 In addition, the center has special directories in such subject areas as ships and aviation, and works on the history of science and technology. Older and rare works in the sciences are usually kept in the Rare Book Division according to the normal practice of the Research Libraries; however, the Parsons collection in the Science and Technology Research Center contains many rare items which must be kept together as a provision of the bequest. There are also miscellaneous groups of materials consisting of pamphlets and brochures on many categories of the center's subject areas. In an uncataloged collection maintained at the Annex at 43rd Street are a number of pamphlets representing manufacturers' catalogs for scientific instruments, optical equipment, clocks and watches, chemical apparatus, laboratory apparatus, and the like, most of which are undated but apparently are of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Especially strong are the collections in aeronautics (19,700 volumes); astronomy (21,200 volumes); biography, research, and history (24,000 volumes); chemical engineering (15,100volumes);

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chemistry (35,400 volumes); electrical and electronic engineering (32,800 volumes); general technology and manufacture (20,200 volumes); geology (32,200 volumes); mathematics (20,000 volumes); mechanical engineering (33,300 volumes); metals and metallurgy (15,100 volumes); mines and mining (13,400 volumes); and physics (30,200 volumes). Collections in textiles number approximately 2,000 volumes; and in naval science and ships 3,700 volumes. Automobiles and railroads each number over 1,500 volumes.2

Certain subject headings in the Science and Technology Research Center catalog group materials in chronological order as well as by author or title.

Among the many compilations produced by members of the staff of the Science and Technology Research Center are William B. Gamble's History of Aeronautics; A Selected List of References to Material in The New York Public Library (1938),3 and Reginald R. Hawkins's Scientific, Medical, and Technical Books Published in the United States of America 1930-1944 (1946). Currently compiled by the center's staff is New Technical Books (1915- ), a selective annotated listing of new titles, most in the English language, submitted for monthly exhibit in the center.

Collecting Policy

The collecting policy is generally comprehensive in all disciplines with the exceptions noted below:

The center does not collect publications in the life or medical sciences, dentistry, or pharmacy. This does not apply to the interrelated life and physical sciences such as biochemistry or biophysics, which are collected on the same basis as the physical sciences. The Research Libraries hold only limited collections in the life sciences and, except for a very few standard or rare items, no volumes in the medical sciences other than material on the social and economic aspects of medicine administered by the General Research and Humanities Division. The policy of excluding or reducing holdings in these subject areas was predicated by the availability of adequate special collections in other libraries in New York City.

A strong collection of patents and trade marks, under the jurisdiction of the Science and Technology Research Center until 1962, is presently administered by the library's Annex Section at 43rd Street (see chapter 57 of this Guide).

The Science and Technology Research Center seldom collects standards and specifications; dissertations; trade literature as such; laboratory manuals; preprints; abstracting services on cards; engineering college student magazines; daily technical papers; popular scientific or technical periodicals; or house organs as such.

The center also does not collect cover-to-cover periodical translations,4 although monographic translations are added to the collections if an edition is unobtainable in its original language.

Historical Survey

The subject fields covered by the center have always been represented by strong collections. Unique stress was originally placed by the Astor Library on the applied or industrial arts; moreover, libraries were purchased in Europe in all the sciences, and some noteworthy private collections were added. The growth of the collections administered by the Science and Technology Research Center is indicated by the following:

1850 Astor Library10,000 volumes
1912 New York Public Library39,000

In 1934 the William Barclay Parsons collection came as the gift of Mrs. Parsons. The collection consists of 1,191 bound volumes, 27 pamphlets, 53 boxes of maps, and manuscripts which had been brought together by General Parsons, With the exception of the manuscripts, which are housed in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, the collection is maintained in the Science and Technology Research Center. Its major portions consist of "engineering classics" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; materials on railroads and canals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; documents on military engineering, mainly of World War I; and manuscripts principally relating to Robert Fulton. There are also 4 incunabula in the collection. Euclid's Elementa Géometriae (1482), Valturio's De l'arte militaire (1483), Vitruvius' De Architectura, Libri Decem (1496), and Polydorus Vergilius' De Inventoribus Rerum (1499). Among other items are eighteenth-century sets of playing cards engraved with engineering and geometrical instruments; an extensive group of Bradshaw's maps, timetables, and railway guides of the first half of the nineteenth century; and materials documenting the early history of the railway in the United States and the subway and elevated railway in New York City. The World War I holdings include 21 boxes of English General Staff maps.5

The Walter Weichsel transfer collection was donated by Weichsel in 1968. Now consisting of 109 loose-leaf scrapbooks, it is a very fine collection of old bus and street car transfers, ferry and toll tickets, passes, railroad and boat tickets, National Park tickets, and the like, for the United States from 1898 onward. Included are 25 similar books with transportation tickets from 50 of the largest nations of the world. In most instances Weichsel has gathered complete sets of the transfer forms.

Special Indexes and Files

There are few active special indexes and files in the center. So many commercial printed indexes are available in the field that the staff of the center do not generally establish separate ones. Nevertheless a few such indexes remain from the considerable number that once were maintained; although not always kept up to date, these contain information not generally accessible elsewhere.

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Clock-and-Watchmakers File

An alphabetical index to books about early timepieces and makers; it includes materials shelved in the Science and Technology Research Center and elsewhere in the Research Libraries (2 card drawers, inactive).

Directories File

An alphabetical index arranged by subject and then by country of directories available in the Research Libraries (4 card drawers, inactive). There is a notation of the years available, and often some indication of content or coverage.

Industrial Arts History

An index arranged alphabetically under subjects (such as bleaching, chewing gum, machinery, paper) for references to early industrial developments found in books and articles in the Research Libraries; the indexed material extends to 1940 (11 card drawers, inactive).

Mathematical Tables Index

A card index of mathematical tables which have appeared in books shelved in the center; the index is arranged alphabetically by subject (natural functions, solids, solutions, and the like) (2 card drawers, inactive).

Ships Index

An alphabetical index by name of ship (non-naval), uniforms worn on various ships, pictures of ships, portraits of captains, and the like (27 card drawers, active, limited). It indexes books and periodical articles in the Research Libraries and in the Picture Collection of the Branch Libraries. The cards also contain some descriptive detail. The file has been maintained on a very limited basis since the early 1960s.