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Researching Labor Unions at NYPL: Introduction

The Union Telephone Operator journal, accessed via HathiTrust.

Scope of this Guide

The New York Public Library holds rich collections documenting labor movements and organizations in New York City, the United States, and beyond. Though all three of our research libraries contain materials of note, this guide focuses on the collections available in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street. Researchers who are interested in union songbooks or performing arts guilds will find their materials at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, while those focusing on Black-led labor movements and trade unionism should consult the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on 135th street.

The purpose of this guide is to show researchers how to use our catalogs, listed below, to identify collections related to labor unions and trade unionism. Though the Library has a number of archival and photograph collections that will be of interest to labor historians, this guide focuses on books and periodicals (available in print or on microfilm). See the Online Resources tab for a few suggestions of NYPL-subscribed databases to conduct research on labor unions.

Using our Catalogs

The Library uses multiple catalogs to classify and make findable our collections. Though these catalogs contain substantially the same materials, you may want to use different ones at different times.

Research Catalog ("Shared Collection Catalog") - Our default research catalog is also known as the Shared Collection Catalog because, in addition to materials from our three research libraries, the catalog includes material that our partner institutions store at our shared offsite storage facility in New Jersey. Use this catalog to see the full breadth of materials available to NYPL researchers. This catalog can also be used to request delivery of offsite items to the Library, and to request scans via Scan & Deliver.

Legacy Catalog ("Classic Catalog") - Our default research catalog prior to 2021, the legacy catalog includes results from the research libraries and the branches. Research librarians continue to use the legacy catalog regularly because of its robust search capabilities, including advanced search. This catalog is also best for searching for catalog records using foreign scripts, like Cyrillic or Hebrew. But be aware that materials from our partners at Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard will not show up in this catalog.

Dictionary Catalogs ("Black Books") - When the Library discontinued its use of card catalogs, the existing cards were Xeroxed and bound in hundreds of volumes. These "black books" are available in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room and in digital form on HathiTrust. Some pamphlets and periodicals are only indexed in the black books, and browsing by subject or author is sometimes easier in the black books than other catalogs. Read more here.

Though the materials they describe are outside the scope of this guide, researchers should also be aware of the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog and the Archives Portal.

Our amazing array of catalogs can be overwhelming. Schedule a virtual consultation with a librarian for help navigating them.

Before Your Visit

Whether you live in New York City full-time or are just visiting for the week, you can get a NYPL card to take full advantage of your time in the city. If you don't already have one, apply for a library card here and bring ID and proof of address with you when you visit.

For help finding relevant materials and planning your visit, schedule a virtual consultation with a research librarian.

If you have identified a list of items you want to view at the library, you can request them in advance using this link.


Reference Librarians