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Guide to the Schomburg Center's Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division: What to Expect

This guide is designed to help new researchers get comfortable conducting research in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Accessing the Collections

Due to Covid 19, The Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Division is open—by appointment only— and at a limited capacity. Book a virtual consultation with our staff for assistance with remote research.

Check-in Points

After conducting your preliminary research, and completing your research consultation to make an appointment, you will be ready to view collections at the Schomburg Center. There are a few things you can do to arrive ready to conduct your research and maintain stamina during your visit.

  1. Check-in
    1. Our welcome and security team is an important part of our team that keeps visitors and collection materials safe by managing crowds and directing visitors to exhibits and the appropriate research divisions.
    2. A few minutes before your scheduled appointment time, enter the Schomburg Center.
    3. Confirm your name and location of your research appointment with the welcome team and ask them to provide you with access to the second floor.
    4. Check all large personal items (coats, bags, etc) with security for storage.
  2. Check-in at the desk in the Reading Room 
    1. Once you reach the 2nd floor, please stop at the restroom to wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
    2. Proceed to the MARB reading room to register.
    3. Provide library staff with your NYPL Library card and photo identification.
    4. Store small personal belongings in a free locker. Check your confirmation email for a list of materials allowed in the reading room.
    5. Collect your cart of research materials and place it behind your assigned seat.
  3. Engage in Self Care
    1. Remember to stand up and stretch. Walk down the hall to the restroom or the water fountain.
    2. Pause for a lunch break at one of the many surrounding restaurants or food trucks.
    3. Take your time with the materials to ensure that proper care is taken while handling the documents.
    4. Please remember to only work through one box at a time, and one folder at a time.
    5. Book additional in-person appointments online.

Reading Room Policy

You are only allowed the following items in the reading room:

  • NYPL Library Card
  • Pencils (We will provide notepaper)
  • Laptops or tablets
  • Cell Phones
  • Cameras

All other items must be stored in a free locker.

Please view our General Regulations prior to your visit.

Email a librarian with any questions about your visit.

Reading Room Sculptures/African Pieces

  • Tree of Life (African Black Wood (Mpingo))
  • Ira Aldridge as Othello by Pietro Calvi, ca. 1860s (Marble and Bronze)
  • Political Prisoner by Elizabeth Catlett, 1971 (wood)
  • Standing female figure, Bamana, Mali, ca. 1950 (wood)
  • Equestrian Figure Horseman, Bambra, Côte d'Ivoire, ca. 1950 (wood)
  • Awakening of Ethiopia= Ethiopia Awakening by Meta Warrick Fuller, ca. 1914 (Bronze)
  • Paul Robeson as Othello by Richard Barthe, 1975 (bronze)
  • Female Figure, Bamana, Mali (wood)
  • Canada Lee by Richmond Barthe, ca. 1942 (bronze)

For more information about the artwork at the Schomburg Center, please contact the Art and Artifacts Division.

Ethiopia Awakening by Meta Warrick Fuller

Using Archival Material

We are proud to share collection materials with all of our patrons. Below are some guidelines for proper handling of our materials.

Boxes of Archival Material:

  • Please make sure that your hands are clean and dry before handling items.
  • Work through only one box at a time.
  • Remove only one folder of documents at a time.
  • Use our Out Card to keep track of where the removed folder should be returned to.
  • Keep all folder content in order, flat, inside of the folder.
  • Do not spread folder content out on the desk or floor, or rearrange items.
  • If you think items may be out of order, please ask the archivist for guidance.
  • Please do not place items on top of archival materials including phones, laptops, arms, or notepaper.
  • Ask for assistance if something is too heavy, or if you are concerned that something may be damaged while you use it.

Rare Books:

  • Please make sure that your hands are clean and dry before handling items.
  • Use a book cradle to protect the spine of the book
  • Ask for book weights to help keep pages gently open while reading, or taking photos.
  • For larger books or ledgers, make sure that there is enough space at your desk for the book cradle and the item.
  • Ask for assistance if something is too heavy, or if you are concerned that something may be damaged while you use it.

Covid-19 protocols

When you make an appointment to visit, you agree to:

  • Arrive for your appointment on time and leave when your designated time is over.
  • Maintain social distance and keep conversations with staff to 10 minutes or less.
  • Refrain from bringing your own cleaning supplies into the Library.
  • Cancel your appointment if you have or exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, have recently been in close contact with someone who has the virus or recently traveled to New York from another state or country and you are required to complete a quarantine period, which you have not yet completed.
  • Masks are recommended, but not required, while you are on NYPL premises.

Reading Room Tools

Researchers may be asked to use some of the following materials during their research visit. These tools are generally available to help protect archival materials. If you have questions about their use or think you may need something, please ask for assistance.

Book Cradles- Foam triangles used to protect the spines of rare books, scrapbooks, and bound material. Two pieces (or more) can be used to keep the spine of a book from cracking open and to protect pages from tearing. 

Book Truck/ Book Cart- Wooden book shelf on wheels used for transporting research materials. Each researcher will have their own cart assigned to them.

Cotton Gloves- While it is best to handle materials with clean, dry hands, gloves can be used to protect documents from oil and moisture on the skin. Please take care if asked to use gloves, as they limit the dexterity in our hands, and sometimes cause damage to brittle paper documents.

Mylar Sleeves- Clear plastic sleeve that help to protect documents. These are often used with newspapers and other paper-based items to protect them from crumbling. Please ask for assistance before removing documents from the protective sleeve.

Out Card- Large red and yellow laminated dividers used to keep track of where folders of materials should be returned when they are removed from archival boxes.

Photo Form- Most collection materials can be photographed, provided no flash is used. Please use our photo tracking form to tell us the number of photos that are captured from each folder of an archival collection.

String and Pillow Weights- Cord "shoestring" like weights or cotton pouches filled with small beans can be used to keep documents flat, or book pages open. Weights are often used to aid in taking pictures of an item. These protect books and documents from sustaining tears. Instead of pressing on an open book spine, bending or creasing pages, ask for weights to help gently keep items open or flat for viewing.

Assistive Technology

If you need assistance with using materials such as access to a CCTV, requesting a reader, or would like help using assistive apps, please contact us in advance of your visit.

If you have difficulty reading handwriting, or small text, or would like materials to be read to you, consider the free app SeeingAI as a possible solution. Don't forget your headphones!