Guide to the Research Collections



Public library facilities in New York City consist of three separate systems. The Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Borough Public Library serve their respective boroughs, and the New York Public Library serves Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island (Borough of Richmond).

In considering the New York Public Library, however, the organic connection between the Research Libraries and the Branch Libraries must be understood. The New York Public Library, a

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corporation operating under state charter, has two major contracts with the city of New York. The first covers the arrangement by which the Research Libraries, supported in the main by private funds, occupy the building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street rent-free; the second details the stipulations under which the library operates the Branch Libraries for the city, primarily with city funds. (Other contracts relate to the library's operation of the Library and Museum of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, which encompasses units of both the Research Libraries and the Branch Libraries.) The two systems, the Research Libraries and the Branch Libraries, are separate collections designed to serve two widely different but equally important functions; common ideals of public service are assured by a single Board of Trustees and single administration. This relationship, frequently confusing to the public, is further outlined in the following paragraphs in an attempt to clarify the respective responsibilities of the two departments.

The Research Libraries, maintained largely by endowment and annual gifts, operate in addition to general, special, and subject collections in the Central Building, an Annex on West 43rd Street, the Performing Arts Research Center in the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

The Branch Libraries operate more than 80 circulating branches and 5 bookmobiles in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. They include such specialized collections as the circulating and information collections at the General Library & Museum of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Picture Collection in the Central Building; the foreign-language collections, the Central Children's Room, and the Nathan Straus Young Adult Library at the Donnell Library Center; the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; and the Mid-Manhattan Library. There is a total of more than 3,000,000 books in the Branch Libraries,1 with almost 2,000,000 pictures, over 90,000 phonorecords, and large numbers of talking books, tapes, films, etc.

A major confusion arises from the assumption that the Research Libraries are the "main branch" of the system, from which books may be borrowed as they are from neighborhood branches of the Branch Libraries. (Since 1970 the large publicly supported Mid-Manhattan Library has served such a function.) A common supposition is that as taxpayers, all should have the privilege of borrowing books from the Research Libraries. The Research Libraries' policy was most fully explained in the statement of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, approved December 10, 1913:

The Reference Department [now the Research Libraries] ... is frequently asked to lend books for outside use. These requests it must refuse, because the Reference Department is supported in the main from funds given with the understanding that books bought therefrom be used within the building....

As early as 1857 the Trustees of the Astor Library adopted a resolution declaring it to be "the settled and unchangeable basis of administering the library that its contents should remain in the library rooms, for use by readers there, and should not be lent out or allowed to be taken from the rooms." The same policy, though never formally declared, was pursued by the Lenox Library; and it has also been the policy of The New York Public Library. One result of this has been that scholars from all parts of the United States have felt confidence that they would be sure of finding in this building, at all times, whatever books of reference the library might possess....

Thus, no one has the privilege of withdrawing books from the collections of the Research Libraries, and no staff member is authorized to grant such privilege. Exceptions to this policy are made in the case of loans to other institutions for exhibition purposes, and in the case of the United Nations and federal, state, and municipal officials in New York City. Photocopies may be provided, however, under certain circumstances and with the approval of the officer of the Research Libraries having curatorial responsibility for the material to be copied.

The collections of the Branch Libraries, on the other hand, are largely for circulating purposes, and anyone who lives, works, or goes to school in New York State is entitled to a free borrower's card. Visitors from other states may borrow from the circulating collections by showing a local library card or by paying a fee for a nonresident borrower's card. Through the system of interbranch loans, books in most branches are available for issue from any other branch. A card is valid in any branch of the system.

For the Branch Libraries, a Union Catalog for materials catalogued before November 1972 (except those in the Mid-Manhattan Library and new branches) and published book catalogs for newly catalogued and Mid-Manhattan Library materials list the works in the branches (the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) and indicate their locations.2 Books in the non-Roman alphabets are cataloged and added only to the Union Catalog. The largest libraries in each borough provide extensive reference, advisory, and lending services. Ready reference service is available in every branch. Supplementing the advanced research collections in the Research Libraries, the Mid-Manhattan Library and some of the larger and more strategically located branch libraries, known as Library Centers and Regional Branches, have larger book collections and information files than the average neighborhood branch library. Most branch libraries have collections of

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current periodicals, but Library Centers and Regional Branches maintain files of back issues of many of the most widely indexed periodicals. A list of periodical holdings is available for consultation in every branch library.

The Branch Libraries offer a wide range of library services in addition to collections of books, such as readers' advisory services; adult education activities; extension work with schools; and loan facilities for phonorecords, orchestral scores, and sixteen-millimeter films, etc.

Although this Guide is primarily a description of the resources of the Research Libraries, a number of the specialized collections of the Branch Libraries of particular importance for research are described in conjunction with subject materials of the Research Libraries: the Picture Collection (in chapter 29); the Central Children's Room (in chapter 21); and the collections of the General Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (in the chapters on the Music Division and the Dance and Theatre Collections).

The largest and newest unit of the Branch Libraries is the Mid-Manhattan Library primarily at 8 East 40th Street, which houses more than 300,000 volumes including 2,500 periodical titles with 40,000 bound volumes of back issues and 15,000 microfilm reels. All books are on open shelves. The library consists of four departments: (1) a General Reference Service with a basic reference collection of books, indexes, and bibliographical tools in all subject fields; (2) a Science Department comprising materials in the fields of the life and physical sciences both pure and applied; periodicals include English translations of some major foreign publications; (3) a History and Social Science Department (the largest department) covering sociology, education, economics, business and industrial relations, psychology, philosophy and religion, history and government, and geography and travel; and (4) a Literature and Language Department (located in the Central Building) containing extensive collections of American and English literature and foreign literature in translation, including important works of fiction and current novels, non-fiction, and belles-lettres. Most books in the library are in English. In addition to standard reference books, one copy of most nonfiction titles is held in the library at all times for use by readers. There is, as noted above, a computerproduced book catalog of the collections.