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This page features books and articles that describe the contents in each collection at 42nd Street Library as they have developed over time. These sources are valuable for anyone who want to know where the Library's materials originated from, how they were collected and organized, and the myriad of ways the Library's materials have been made available to the public.
The Library's classification systems have their own fascinating histories which provide another entry point to exploring the history of the institution as a whole. The research collections at NYPL have been categorized in three distinct ways: Billings (1890), Fixed Order (1956), and Library of Congress (2006). The accompanying texts provide overview histories of the three categorization systems at NYPL and can be found using the Research Catalog.
Historic Library Handbooks
Staff prepared these booklets as introductions or handbooks for patrons learning to use the Library's collections. Below, you'll find a century of research advice!
Central Building Guide
Call Number: *HND (NYPL) (New York Public Library. Central building guide)
Publication Date: 1915
Do you want to discover how the Library operated on the first day? This book was created to introduce researchers to the "Central Building" in its early years of operation. It includes a floor-by-floor summary of the 42nd Street Library's rooms, descriptions of the officers and central building employees, and rules.
Handbook of the New York Public Library.
Call Number: *HND (New York Public Library. (1895-). Handbook) copy 1
Publication Date: 1916 (first edition), 1921 (second edition)
In June 1916, the New York Public Library printed 25,000 copies of the inaugural edition of the Handbook to assist users in utilizing our collections. This was revised and shared in a new edition in 1921.
Books, Please! The New York Public Library in 1936.
Call Number: *HND (NYPL) p.v. 23
Publication Date: 1937
A 1936 guide to the 42nd Street Library about ways one might use the collections to explore personal interests. It is one example of annual publications released in the 1930s and 1940s to share information about the Library with the public. See others - including "Sixteen million books" (1935), "No More Books" (1938), and "Books, Front & Center" (1942) - which are available in the catalog and digitally via HathiTrust.
The Library by
Call Number: F-10 387 no. 1-9
Publication Date: 1956
This brief introduction to the Library's resources, which first appeared in The New Yorker on January 27, 1940, is helpful for its images and discussion of reference problems handled by librarians during the 1940s and 1950s.
In the Library's Research Centers, divisions house materials focusing on specific subject areas. These sources are centered on particular materials at the Library and how they've evolved over time:
The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle by
Call Number: Pub. Cat. PR5433 .W34 1996
Publication Date: 1996-07-01
The Collection of Shelley and His Circle at the New York Public Library is one of the world's foremost repositories for studying English Romanticism. This illustrated volume includes a brief history of Shelley's life and writings, biographical biographies of the persons in his circle, descriptions of the collection's origins, and an informal inventory of its items.
The Color of a Flea's Eye: the Picture Collection by
Call Number: JQG 21-658
Publication Date: 2020-12-01
The Color of a Flea's Eye by Taryn Simon is a history of the New York Public Library's Picture Collection, a legendary collection of over one million prints, pictures, postcards, posters, and images from obsolete books and periodicals.
Rarity Revealed: The Benjamin K. Miller Collection by
Call Number: Pub. Cat. HE6207.M55 T74 c.2
Publication Date: 2006
The Benjamin K. Miller Collection of U. S. Postage Stamps, regarded as one of the world's finest collections of United States stamps, has been housed at The New York Public Library for over 80 years. Rarity Revealed explores the tale of Benjamin K. Miller and his famed collection for the first time. The New York Times published a story in 1977 on the search for the stamp collection's theft.
Slavic and Baltic Library Resources at the New York Public Library by
Call Number: Pub. Cat. Z2483 .N59 1994
Publication Date: 1994-11-01
This brief guide to The New York Public Library's Slavic and Baltic Division's collections, access tools, patron services, and organizational structure gives a historical overview of the collection's history.
Words on Pictures by
Call Number: JQE 20-70
Publication Date: 2020-12-07
The Picture Collection provided free circulation of prints, pictures, postcards, and other clippings to artists, illustrators, advertisers, and business people during the pre-digital period, the age of mechanical reproduction. It was essentially the Google Images of its day. The tale of the Picture Collection is also the story of Romana Javitz (1903-1980), the Picture Collection's director from 1929 to 1968. Words on Pictures includes previously unpublished articles and interviews by Javitz that illustrate her extraordinary knowledge of the societal influence of print and film media, particularly photography and cinema.