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Guide to the Schomburg Center's Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division: Conducting Research

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.

Getting Started

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when starting a new research project:

  1. Identify formats of sources
    1. ​​The Schomburg Center is organized by format. Each of the 5 divisions offers a different research experience based on the medium that is housed there. 
    2. The Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division holds unpublished personal and institutional papers, and rare printed material. This means that you will find paper materials such as letters, newspaper clippings, passports, and other personal documents.
    3. This does not mean that other types of material is not available, only that you will need to go to another division to find things like photographs, sound recordings, artwork, or published books.
  2. Check for digitized material
    1.  Some of our collection items have been digitized and made available to you remotely. 
    2. This means, that you can view parts of collections, or in some cases, whole collections, from wherever it is that you enjoy using the internet.
  3. Start your searching
    1. There are a few tools available to help you identify materials to request to view.  Please see our five search platforms below.

Online Searching Tools


  • Identify a few subject areas that may prove helpful (e.g., Black Arts Movement, Labor, or Religion)
  • Identify collections listed under significant subject headings and search for them in the NYPL Catalog or the Archives Portal for more information.
  • Read the description to decide if you want to see the finding aid.

The New York Public Library Research Catalog allows you to do basic and advanced searches.

  • For basic searches you can narrow your search by:
    • Keyword
    • Author
    • Title
    • Subject
    • Location: Schomburg Center
  • The advanced search function allows you to do all of the above, but also narrow your search by:
    • Format (i.e., book, map, audio)
    • Specific Research Division (i.e., Schomburg Manuscripts and Archives)
    • Language
    • Year
    • Location: Schomburg Manuscripts and Archives

Advanced Searching tips:

  • Create a list of terms to use, and try different combinations of 2-3 terms to broaden and narrow your search results.

  • Use Boolean terms such as: AND, OR, NOT when searching to produce results using multiple terms.

  • Use Quotation marks (" ") for exact phrases and names.

  • Try local spellings of names for people, places or events.

To visit the Archives and Manuscripts Portal, visit

By searching for the title of the collection here, you will learn:

  • Where within NYPL the collection is housed

  • Citation information

  • Number of boxes or containers in the collection

  • Links to the NYPL digital collections

  • Subject headings to find additional collections and items

  • Access to the finding aid, if it has been published online.

Click on the tab that reads “Detailed Description” to locate the container list of the finding aid.  If that tab is unavailable, email us at to ask for the complete finding aid.

Use the “modify search” feature to narrow the location of collections. You can narrow to the Schomburg Center, or to specific divisions.

The New York Public Library Digital Collections contains 896,001 items and counting. While that is a small fraction of the Library's overall holdings, it is representative of the diversity of our vast collections—from books to videos, maps to manuscripts, illustrations to photos, and more.

Start with a search or begin browsing by itemcollection, or division. For a more extensive user guide and primer, see "NYPL Digital Collections Platform: An Introduction."

You can browse just the items that have no known U.S. copyright restrictions. When searching, select the "Search only public domain items" option to filter your results to items with no known U.S. copyright restrictions. On the Browse page, you can easily turn this filter on and off with the “Show Only Public Domain” button in the upper left corner of the page.

The Schomburg Center Web Archive Collections contain 12 collections relating to African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences with a focus on areas that correspond to the scope and strengths of physical collections in the Schomburg Center Research Divisions.
Start by browsing our collections or sites or by searching the text of archived webpages. You can narrow your search results by collection name, subject, creator, publisher, date, format or coverage. 

Archival Collections on Microfilm

Some of the Schomburg Archival Collections have been transferred to microfilm to aid in the preservation of these materials. Most of the microfilm collections are available to view in the Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division

There is no appointment needed to view items in that division, but you should contact them directly at

Once you are onsite there are digital microfilm machines that will allow you to scan the document page by page and either save the scans to a flash drive or you can email yourself the scanned attachments.

View the Schomburg Archival Collections on Microfilm Research Guide for a list of the collections available in this format.